Day 6

In Texas, a border wall is already being built and it could mean a 'quick death' for wildlife

Despite a deal to fund the U.S. Government, the standoff over President Trump's border wall continues. But in Texas, plans for a 53-kilometre section of wall, which cuts right through a wildlife preserve, are already a done deal.

The wall would cut right through the middle of the National Butterfly Center

A border wall will bisect the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, which sits north of the Rio Grande river. (Luciano Guerra)

A Mission, Texas, sanctuary known for its swarms of monarch butterflies will be home to a new spectacle beginning next month: a 10-metre wall separating the U.S. from Mexico.

The soon-to-be-built concrete and steel structure will put more than half of the National Butterfly Center's privately-owned, 40 hectare property behind a wall.

"I can imagine trees, plants, shrubs, vines, grasses, all being bulldozed. And this is habitat for all kinds of wildlife — some of which is threatened," Luciano Guerra, an education coordinator at the centre, told Day 6 host Brent Bambury.

The centre sits just north of the Rio Grande River. Luciano and his colleagues were told in July 2017 that the wall was being built along a flood levee halfway between the river and the centre.

The Texas border wall portion was approved and funded last year, before the U.S. government shut down over $5.7 billion in border wall funding began on Dec. 22. A deal to reopen the government was announced on Friday. 

The National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, is a landing zone for monarch butterflies migrating north and south. (Edgard Garrido/Reuters)

In an area where 95 per cent of wild habitats have disappeared, Luciano says, the butterfly sanctuary plays a key role in sustaining biodiversity.

"What we once used to have here ... is gone due to development; due to farmland, due to cities going in, due to businesses," he said.

Aside from the wall itself, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has said they will clear cut up to 45 metres of land on the southern side of the wall and install flood lights facing the Mexican border.

'A quick death'

More than 200 butterfly species have been counted at the National Butterfly Center, and on an average day, visitors can find dozens of varieties.

But the area is home to far more than just winged insects. Coyotes, tortoises, birds — including some that won't be able to fly over the wall — lizards and javelenas, a type of hog, all call the National Butterfly Center's grounds home.

We have Girl Scouts that camp out here at the National Butterfly Center ... Would their parents allow them to do that if it was a dangerous place?- Luciano Guerra, education coordinator

Guerra believes that many species will be immediate victims of the construction, while others will survive, but lose their habitats.

"For some wildlife it's going to be a quick death with the bulldozers and for a lot of others is going to be a slow death," Guerra said.

The National Butterfly Center filed a lawsuit, but the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the federal government last month. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol will bypass 28 federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, to build the barrier.

"It makes me really sad to think about it," Guerra said. "It makes me angry as well."

Not a 'dangerous place' 

U.S. Customs and Border Control says that people who want to access the centre will still be able to get to the southern portion of the property, though how remains unclear.

Though Guerra voted for Trump in the 2016 election, he thought that the now-president's promise of a wall was just election pandering.

"I have never been a Trump supporter. I never wanted him to get the nomination, but he did," Guerra said. "I literally held my nose as I placed my vote for Donald Trump."

Former Texas Democratic Congressman Beto O'Rourke, right, passes a 'No Border Wall' sign during a visit to the National Butterfly Center. (Eric Gay/Associated Press)

He's confident that there's no need for a border wall across his group's land.

While the Rio Grande River separates the National Butterfly Center's land from Mexico by only a few hundred metres, he says the area is safe.

"We have Girl Scouts that camp out here at the National Butterfly Center; spend the whole night here. We have up to 6,000 schoolchildren that come through the National Butterfly Center on field trips every year," Guerra said.

"Would their parents allow them to do that if it was a dangerous place?"

To hear the full interview with Luciano Guerra, download our podcast or click 'Listen' at the top of this page.


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