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Allee writes: "National Butterfly Center employees are watching in horror as their 100-acre butterfly sanctuary in Mission, Texas, faces immediate seizure by the federal government for the erection of Trump's 'beautiful' border wall."

Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly in Southwest Texas. (photo: JNB Photography/Shutterstock)
Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly in Southwest Texas. (photo: JNB Photography/Shutterstock)

Crushing Blow to Butterflies as Border Wall Construction Starts at Sanctuary

By Jessica Allee, Reader Supported News

06 February 19

Wildlife habitat officials are told that their property is now government land, even though they’ve received no compensation or eminent domain hearing.

ational Butterfly Center employees are watching in horror as their 100-acre butterfly sanctuary in Mission, Texas, faces immediate seizure by the federal government for the erection of Trump’s “beautiful” border wall. Located in the Rio Grande Valley, at the southernmost tip of Texas, the center sits near the eastern limits of the US/Mexico border. It is home to hundreds of species of wildlife, including numerous endangered and threatened animals and insects that rest and mate there, some on migratory paths, others in their native habitat. It is also the location of 33 miles of proposed wall that federal authorities are taking control of, roughly 200,000 acres on the north shore of the river. Among these properties are privately-owned and publicly-owned lands, such as Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. They all have one thing in common: federal disinterest in public welfare.

While Congress approved approximately 1.1 billion in funds for the project in March 2018 via the omnibus bill, the Trump administration has acted illegally in taking the land. The government hasn’t held an eminent domain hearing for the sanctuary; rather, it has plowed forward, more interested in expressing political might than stewardship. In addition to illegal seizure, the feds are bypassing 28 federal laws, most of which are environmental, to materialize this project of dominance.

The center is working on legal action to stop the seizure and has set up a fundraising page to cover costs. However, according to the center’s Facebook page, construction begins on Thursday, February 6th. And, in keeping with poor communication from the government, equipment showed up a day earlier than they were told by Customs and Border Protection to expect it. This past Sunday, a massive earth mover and eight law enforcement units were first spotted next to the wildlife habitat. That is when the center was notified by a Mission Police Department officer that as of Monday they would “have NO ACCESS to [their] own land south of the levee” and that it is effectively government land. The Trump administration will essentially carve a militarized zone through a major portion of the privately-owned land, practically cutting off 70 acres from the wildlife habitat, or 70% of their property.

While the first signs of this seizure had popped up in July with the appearance of survey stakes, there was no basic information provided to the center until mid-December, leaving the habitat caretakers out in the cold wondering what would become of the oasis. “They have been completely uncommunicative, and generally they have obfuscated or straight-up lied,” Marianna Treviño-Wright, the director of the National Butterfly Center, told the Texas Observer. When details were finally relayed of the plan to transform the sanctuary into a heavily barricaded “enforcement zone,” they learned that a 150-ft corridor along the wall will be razed of plant life for border patrol access. They most recently learned of the lighting.

Imagine for a moment oneself as a visitor, looking across a pristine wildlife habitat at a 36-foot-high wall built of concrete and steel, raised up on an earthen levee and crowned with a series of industrial lights that constantly flood the night sky. How is this a habitat for anything? It certainly isn’t for the native Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, who only flies about six feet high and has no hope of overcoming the wall to get to the river. It is not alone, as other birds and insects, including butterflies, will be blocked from routine movement despite their ability to fly.

The center has explained some of the devastation this separation wall will bring for a variety of wildlife:

5) Nocturnal and crepuscular wildlife, which rely on sunset and sunrise cues to regulate vital activity, will be negatively affected by night time flood lighting of the “control zone” [also called the “enforcement zone”] the DHS CBP will establish along the wall and new secondary drag roads. The expansion of these areas to vehicular traffic will increase wildlife roadkill.

6) Animals trapped north of the wall will face similar competition for resources, cut off from native habitat in the conservation corridor and from water in the Rio Grande River and adjacent resacas. HUMANS, here, will also be cut off from our only source of fresh water, in this irrigated desert.

Tribal members including those from the Carrizo/Comecrudo Tribe marched along the levee on Tuesday, walking on the path where the wall will soon exist. They sang songs in the Lakota language that spoke of the sacredness of everything. “We have an association with nature, we are a part of it,” Carrizo/Comecrudo tribal chair Juan Macias says. Sadly, he may lose the gravesites of his ancestors who are buried at the Eli Jackson Cemetery and in the planned “enforcement zone” of the wall. “You come over here, you see the butterflies here, the animals here, and you also see gravesites that have been here since 1865.”

Whether the condition of illegal seizure, the threat to wildlife habitat, or the desecration of graves gets one’s gall more on this issue can be put on hold, because there is one more aspected impacted in this crisis. Tourism. The National Butterfly Center is a non-profit organization that is dependent on funding from visitor’s dollars, 30,000 visitors a year, to be specific.

When a place of beauty and refuge is reduced to 30% of its size and framed by a structure that is not only ugly but symbolizes control and ethnocentricity, it ceases to draw interest. “The more we create the look of a war zone, the more unpleasant it becomes,” says Jeffrey Glassberg, president of the North American Butterfly Association.

If all of these injustices don’t break the spirit of the site and its inhabitants, it is very likely that the subsequent damage dealt by reduced revenue will crush the sanctuary’s future.

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Jessica Allee is a staff editor for Reader Supported News as well as an editor for Red Wedge Magazine.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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