Border wall seen as threat to Big Bend beauty, wildlife

BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, Texas (AP) — Opponents of a vast border wall championed by President-elect Donald Trump say it will impair tourism and conservation efforts at Big Bend National Park and beyond, according to a newspaper report.

They contend Big Bend was first envisioned in the 1930s as Big Bend International Peace Park, extending from Texas into Mexico, and that a wall will ruin that original vision.

But supporters of the wall argue border security is paramount and that concerns it would threaten wildlife and undermine the park's beauty are secondary, The Dallas Morning News reports (http://bit.ly/2fPcHyq ).

"The idea of putting a wall up from Brownsville to San Diego can't be discounted," said Shawn Moran, vice president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing Border Patrol agents.

The union supported candidate Trump and now it's advising him about border security issues.

"We can look at each sector of the border and decide. Are we able to control an area without a fence? If the answer is yes, then we can look at that," Moran told the newspaper. "Security really has to come first."

But Rick LoBello and others counter that enhanced security measures can be introduced without constructing a border barrier, and this approach would allow for promising conservation gains to continue, such as the remigration of black bears into Texas from Mexico.

"A big wall in Big Bend would basically destroy the wilderness quality Big Bend has protected," said LoBello, a member of the Greater Big Bend Coalition, a nonprofit pushing to create a binational park or protected area.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt wrote to Mexican President Manuel Avila Camacho in 1944, the year the national park was created, to say Big Bend would not be complete until "both sides of the Rio Grande form one great international park." The current boundaries of the park extend along 118 miles of the border.

"It's hard to live up to the original vision of Big Bend if there's a big wall going through it," LoBello said.

But Moran said the aim must remain a continuous wall inaccessible at any point to smugglers. He points to problems on the Arizona-Mexico border in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, which became a hot spot for smugglers carrying loads of marijuana and people crossing illegally into the United States after security was tightened elsewhere on the border, according to the newspaper.

"My concern is you leave Big Bend National Park open but fortify the areas around it, then you could have thousands of people coming through Big Bend National Park," Moran said.

Not likely, said Mike Davidson and others living in the rugged, remote West Texas region.

Davidson runs the Boquillas International Ferry along the Rio Grande and believes the area could never become a major smuggling route.

"Only three paved roads come out of Presidio and Brewster counties and they all have (Border Patrol) checkpoints," Davidson said.

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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