Border Fence Set to Destroy Habitats That Have Cost Millions to Preserve

Los Angeles Times:

The lush, meandering lower leg of the Rio Grande is one of the most biologically diverse places in North America. More than 300 varieties of butterflies and half the bird species in the United States can be spotted here. So can two endangered species of wild cats: the ocelot, which resembles a miniature leopard, and the jaguarundi, an otter-faced relative of the puma.

Over the last 30 years, ranchers, conservationists, and state and federal officials have strung together a delicate necklace of nature sanctuaries along the river’s final 275 miles. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service alone has invested more than $100 million to buy land and restore it to its native state, creating a riverside corridor called the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

Now the new federal directive to build 21 fence segments here threatens to trample the lands the government and private groups spent decades nurturing. A Fish and Wildlife analysis found that up to 75% of the nature corridor could be harmed, for just 70 miles of fence.

“In this little area, you will find more species in four counties than in all but three entire states,” said Martin Hagne, executive director of the Valley Nature Center in Weslaco, a vacant lot that was transformed into an educational park filled with malachite and pixie butterflies, Texas tortoises and cottontail rabbits.

“Now they’re going to spend billions of dollars to undo the work that cost millions of dollars. These are your tax dollars at work,” he said.

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