Border wall construction begins in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

September 16, 2019, 2:02 p.m.
photo of an Organ Pipe Cactus in the biosphere reserve
Photo: Burley Packwood [CC by SA 4.0]/Wikimedia Commons

The only place in the United States where the organ pipe cactus grows is set to receive a section of President Trump's planned 30-foot-tall border wall. A federally protected and UNESCO-recognized reserve, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument also shares a border with the Mexican state of Sonora. According to government court filings, the 175-mile-long border expansion will stretch from Texas to New Mexico to Arizona. Roughly 44 miles of the wall will be built in Organ Pipe, Cabeza Prieta national wildlife refuge and San Pedro Riparian national conservation area.

Once considered the "most dangerous national park," the reserve southwest of Tucson was largely closed to tourists from 2003-2014, following the death of a park ranger who was killed while pursuing a drug cartel hit squad. The park's notorious reputation persisted for years, thanks to the large amount of human and drug trafficking that occurred in its 517 square miles, 94 percent of which is designated wilderness. Increased border security and patrols have made the park more attractive to visitors since then, but now the park faces a new problem.

"What is being proposed is bulldozing one of the most biologically diverse regions of the entire United States," Amanda Munro of the Southwest Environmental Center told The Guardian. "Walling off these precious places would be a colossal mistake and a national tragedy."

The park, home to 28 species of cacti, was named an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations in 1976. Numerous species of animals, many of them threatened or endangered, also make their home in the park, including javelinas, jackrabbits, Sonoran pronghorns, and the Quitobaquito pupfish.

Critics say the more substantial wall and proposed lighting will hamper animal migration and cut off wildlife off from the few desert water sources available.

In addition, construction crews have been pumping groundwater from the site of an ancient spring to mix concrete for the project and tamp down dust, according to Tucson.com.

Environmental and immigration rights groups have protested the building of a border wall in this fragile reserve. Kevin Dahl of the National Parks Conservation Association told The Guardian: "This is one of the true gems of the Sonoran desert. It would be a tragedy if it all was lost for an unnecessary and deadly wall."

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