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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

Texans have always been proud of what is inside our borders. Our unique and diverse cultures, cuisines, dialects, ethnicities, music, art and literature are all points of considerable pride for those of us who cherish all things Texan. The same is true for another important element of our state's heritage … the natural kind.

Not unlike our state's rich and varied cultural fabric, our natural heritage has always been strongly influenced by factors that transcend our borders. The hordes of waterfowl that winter along the coast spend most of the spring and summer in the prairie potholes of the Dakotas or the wetlands in the Boreal forests of northern Saskatchewan. Many of the colorful songbirds that come to breed in the spring have just returned from a winter in the pine-oak woodlands of southern Mexico and Central America. The black bears that may be found in the Big Bend country move back and forth between West Texas and the Serranias Del Burros and the Maderas Del Carmen mountain ranges of northern Mexico.

Suffice to say, for wide-ranging and migrating wildlife, geopolitical boundaries are not much of a consideration. That dynamic is changing, however, in the deepest reaches of the Rio Grande Valley, as the Department of Homeland Security proceeds with the construction of a new border wall along portions of the Rio Grande. The wall, a 16- to 18-foot-high barrier, is being constructed to aid federal agencies in their battle against illegal immigration, drug trafficking and prospective terrorism.

A rather unfortunate consequence of this project will be its likely impact on a range of border wildlife species such as ocelots and indigo snakes that can neither fly over, nor tunnel under, the wall. The wall's long-term impacts on a landscape that is already heavily fragmented by many decades of intensive agriculture and urbanization remains to be seen. At the department, we are concerned not only about the wall's impacts on wildlife, but also on our ability to manage certain portions of our wildlife management areas that will soon be situated between the border wall and the river.

For many in deep South Texas, the wall stands in stark and diametrical contrast to a three decade, bi-national partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, private landowners, local communities and many conservation organizations on both sides of the border to conserve the ecological treasures of the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo. Well over 130,000 acres of conservation lands have been preserved for the benefit of birders, hunters, nature enthusiasts, scientists, and of course, nature itself. Local communities have prospered with the influx of nature tourists from around the world, who come to see plants and animals that can be found nowhere else but this region. Whether the public may still safely access conservation areas located behind the wall is an open question.

Nobody said conservation would be easy.

Thanks for caring about Texas' wild things and wild places. We need them more than ever.

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