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Know the West

Border wall construction in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a travesty

The barrier divides the monument and nearby wildlife refuges.


Border-wall construction is starting within Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a national park unit, in Arizona this week. Workers will use machinery to rip saguaro roots out of the sandy soil, pinching and twisting the thick cactus skin.

They’ll tear apart creosote bush, coating their clothes in the unmistakable smell of petrichor — razing hundreds of years of botanical mastery. A mere five minutes will decimate this unique example of a species’ astonishing evolutionary ability to thrive in the Sonoran Desert.

Members of the Tohono O’odam Nation harvest saguaro fruit and perform their sacred salt ceremony in and around Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. But the monument will still get two new miles of border wall in August and September. In October, it will gain dozens more, as will the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge that sits to the west. The construction will also slice through the San Pedro Riparian Conservation Area. The border wall here is likely to function as a dam, potentially clotting the last free-flowing river in Arizona. All these lands contain indescribable richness, both in biodiversity and in Indigenous culture and ceremony.

Meanwhile, with the flood of Pentagon funds, approved a mere three weeks ago by the Supreme Court, the Rio Grande Valley and the Butterfly Center in Texas could once again be targeted by attempts by the Trump administration to erect the wall.


Steel bollard slats wait, stacked in rows along the border outside Santa Teresa, New Mexico. Though these places — Organ Pipe, Cabeza Prieta and San Pedro — may not roll off most Americans’ tongues the way “Yosemite” or “Yellowstone” do, they are just as much a part of the shared heritage of federal public lands that belong to all of us. 

As Borderlands organizers and activists, we have struggled to keep pace with lawsuits and outreach efforts. Sometimes we wonder: If a more recognizable national park or wildlife refuge were slated for such construction, would the public cry out? Would the outrage at these atrocities happening to the communities and biodiversity in and around the parks be loud, clear and direct? 

We sit weeping over the irreversible harm that is unleashed as the plans are laid, the engines rev, the news cycle drones on. It’s in this moment, with the air hot on our necks, that we in the Borderlands beg you to bear witness with us. We must call upon Congress to ensure that no border wall funding is allocated in the 2020 appropriations cycle, and we must let the gravity of what this wall is doing to our wildlands sit heavy on our hearts.


The Endangered Species Act, the Indian Religious Freedom Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and numerous other important laws have been disregarded in the name of an alleged national emergency.

The only emergency is that this administration has unequivocally committed to the destruction of Indigenous and public lands through the construction of a border wall, and that the world is still, somehow, turning.

Erica Prather is the national outreach representative for government relations for the environmental advocacy organization Defenders of Wildlife.

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