The Border Wall and Wildlife: Construction Proceeds in Irreplaceable Habitats

Audubon's Oriole is one of the bird species likely to be impacted by border wall construction. Its population has been declining in Texas for decades, and habitat loss is a primary concern. Photo by Dennis W. Donohue/Shutterstock

(Washington, D.C., March 9, 2020) American Bird Conservancy (ABC) is deeply concerned about the loss and degradation of wildlife habitat resulting from installation of the new U.S.-Mexico border wall in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

“It's challenging to obtain a complete overview of this extremely complicated, fluid process, but we do know that construction is already taking place in federally protected public lands,” said Steve Holmer, ABC's Vice President of Policy. “Dozens of environmental laws have been waived in order to construct segments of the wall in places that contain endemic animals and plants found only in this region, such as the Reticulate Collared Lizard and Sand Dollar Cactus.”

Border wall construction is underway in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge. Plans indicate that the wall from San Bernardino will extend to the San Pedro River. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security has announced a contract to wall off the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge by the end of 2020. The Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge is also at risk.

These federally protected public lands include some of the most biologically diverse and important ecosystems in the country, supporting a staggering number of bird, butterfly, reptile, amphibian, and mammal species. Some birds breed in the narrow riparian habitats provided by the Rio Grande and nowhere else in the U.S., including the Red-billed Pigeon and Hook-billed Kite.

Other highly localized birds threatened by the wall construction include the Audubon's Oriole, Rose-throated Becard, and Northern Beardless-Tyrannulet. Many migratory birds pass through the region twice a year, including species of concern such as the Common Nighthawk, Golden-winged Warbler, and Painted Bunting. (Painted Buntings also nest along the Texas-Mexico border and in parts of New Mexico's border region as well.)

“We frequently hear folks ask, ‘what's the issue for birds? They can just fly over the wall,'” said ABC's Holmer. “The issue for birds is the destruction of vital habitat, a threat that has already contributed to the loss of nearly 3 billion birds from North America in a single human lifetime. In the biologically diverse border region, such damage is especially hard-hitting.”

In 2018 and 2019, ABC joined a large national coalition, organizing a Bird Conservation Alliance sign-on letter in support of protecting certain vital wildlife areas along the Rio Grande from border wall construction. The coalition was ultimately successful in having language inserted into the annual appropriations bill protecting the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, and National Butterfly Center. In spite of this commitment, the federal government has started or is planning border wall work in parts of these biologically critical areas.

“Because Congress passed a law waiving environmental laws for border wall construction, there are few good policy options to prevent or even modify the construction,” said Holmer. “Impacts to birds, other wildlife, and habitats are currently being ignored by federal agencies.”

ABC is advocating to Congress that the environmental waivers be withdrawn. In addition, said Holmer, “We're asking that wall construction be halted in wildlife refuges and other designated protected areas. In these places, border wall construction and its associated levees, fencing, roads, and lighting pose an unacceptably high risk to flora and fauna.”

American Bird Conservancy recommends that concerned U.S. citizens call their Representative and Senators (202-224-3121) and ask that they oppose the destruction of wildlife habitat for border wall construction, and the waiving of environmental laws being used to expedite the process.


Media Contact: Jordan Rutter, Director of Public Relations, 202-888-7472 || @JERutter
Expert Contact: Steve Holmer, VP of Policy, 202-888-7490 |

American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).



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