Despite Sunday’s spring-like temperatures and sunny skies, a crowd of people attended The Land Trust’s second Wild and Scenic Film Festival. Like last year, the films brought the wide world and a range of actions — from conserving millions of acres in Chile and Argentina, to the possibility of reintroducing wolves to Colorado — to Vashon’s doorstep. But one film in particular provided insight into an important issue that has not received enough attention in recent months: the ecological damage building a wall along the full United States-Mexico border would bring.
“The River and The Wall,” less than five minutes long with a full-length documentary coming this year — is available online as well as part of the festival. It takes viewers from a President Trump rally with chants of “build that wall,” to narrator Ben Masters paddling a canoe in the middle of the Rio Grande River, which begins in Colorado and forms the United States-Mexico border in Texas. On both sides, Masters tells us, there are national parks, state parks, wildlife areas and historic ranches that go back for centuries.
The breathtaking cinematography shows the deep river canyon, huge rock formations and all kinds of wildlife: desert bighorn sheep, black bears and mountain lions, among them.
Masters tells us that the area, the Chihuahuan Desert, holds an array of life that rivals Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Serengeti. The Rio Grande is the heartbeat of the region, a lifeline during drought.
“I wish that everybody who wanted to build an actual, physical wall could come and see this place first because I think if they came and saw it and realized what the wall was going through and what it would do, it would have a profound impact on their way of thinking,” he says from his canoe.
Many of us will never make it to the Chihuahuan Desert, but we should not need to take a trip there to understand that building a nearly 2,000-mile long wall would be extraordinarily environmentally damaging.
In fact, nearly 3,000 scientists from more than 40 countries endorsed an article published in the journal BioScience last summer, stating that the wall would be harmful to “wildlife, habitat and binational collaboration in conservation and scientific research.” It received some attention, but not enough.
They state that the border wall bypasses environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act; harms wildlife populations by eliminating, degrading and fragmenting habitats and devalues conservation investment and scientific research. The issues should get our attention and our advocacy.
There are countless reasons to oppose the building of a wall, ranging from financial to humanitarian. But as the government shutdown drags on — day 24, as we went to press — and the national conversation continues about the wall, we hope there will be more attention given to the land and water of this region and the damaging effects the wall would bring to the 1,500 native plant and animal species that live there.