Sunday, November 18, 2007

Public Comments for the Border Wall Compatibility Determination that USFW is Preparing

From: No Border Wall

Below is the comment that I prepared for the Compatibility Determination that USFW is considering. Essentially, the private contractor (E2M) has asked for permission to carry out surveys of the natural and cultural resources that are in the path of the border wall on USFW refuge tracts. USFW has to decide whether or not this activity is compatible with their mission statement. The public comment period on this lasts until Monday.

This is particularly interesting, since E2M just issued their draft Environmental Impact Statement for the first 69 miles of border walls that will slice through the Rio Grande Valley beginning in the Spring. How did they assess the natural and cultural resources that will be impacted if they did not carry out the surveys on refuge lands that they are asking USFW for permission to do?

You can download the draft Environmental Impact Statement here:

You can send your own comments regarding the compatibility of the surveys on refuge lands here:

Refuge Manager

Lower Rio Grande Valley NWR

Rt. 2 Box 202A

Alamo, TX 78516 (Subject line: Draft Compatibility Determinations: Border Fence)

I have copied the comments that I prepared on behalf of the No Border Wall group below. Feel free to crib from these or quote. It is important that we send comments. A lack of response will almost certainly be used as an excuse for restricting opportunities for public input in the future.

Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge manager,

On behalf of the No Border Wall Coalition I would like to submit a public comment on the draft Compatibility Determination relating to the “Issuance of a Special Use Permit to Engineering-Environmental Management (e2M) to conduct Natural Resource Surveys, directly associated with determining the environmental impact(s) of the proposed Border Fence (PF-225) on several river tracts on the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge (LRGVNWR).” Acts that are nothing more than precursors to construction of the border wall, and have no use outside of its construction, should be viewed as facets of construction rather than independent actions. Just as the impact of the entire wall must be evaluated rather than the impact of each individual brick or strand of wire, actions such as the surveys that have been proposed should be evaluated in the context of the entire border wall rather than individually. Our group contends that the border wall, as described by the Secure Fence Act, is fundamentally incompatible with the mission of our National Wildlife Refuges. It will do tremendous damage to the natural resources that are at the heart of the LRGVNWR. Permission to carry out surveys should therefore be denied, just as permission to construct the wall on refuge lands should be denied.

According to US Fish and Wildlife regulations (603 FW 2), “The refuge manager will not initiate or permit a new use of a national wildlife refuge or expand, renew, or extend an existing use of a national wildlife refuge unless the refuge manager has determined that the use is a compatible use.” It goes on to say, “Fragmentation of the National Wildlife Refuge System's wildlife habitats is a direct threat to the integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System, both today and in the decades ahead. Uses that we reasonably may anticipate to reduce the quality or quantity or fragment habitats on a national wildlife refuge will not be compatible.” As the intent of these surveys is to pave the way for the construction of border walls which will seriously degrade and fragment the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, they are incompatible with the mission of the refuge.

The Secure Fence Act mandates, “[at] least 2 layers of reinforced fencing, the installation of additional physical barriers, roads, lighting, cameras, and sensors… extending 15 miles northwest of the Laredo, Texas, port of entry to the Brownsville, Texas, port of entry.” This will bisect numerous refuge tracts, cutting off animals such as the endangered ocelot from the Rio Grande, isolating wildlife populations, interrupting the watershed, and eliminating vegetation from hundreds of acres. Compatibility Determinations and Environmental Impact Statements must take into account the effects of the entire wall, rather than just the initial 69 miles that the Department of Homeland Security plans to build in 2008. If a CD or EIS is based on the false assumption that portions of the wall will not be built the damage to the environment will almost certainly be dramatically underestimated. No Compatibility Determination should be approved based on such false assumptions.

The proposed natural resource survey is further compromised by its limited duration. E2M employees will only spend 10 days surveying the natural and cultural resources in the wall’s path. That is utterly insufficient. Endangered species are by definition extremely rare, so the odds of seeing one during any 10 day period are next to nothing. As the Central and MississippiRio Grande Valley the habitat that the wall will bisect is important for migratory birds, bats, and butterflies. Whether or not the surveyors see a given migratory species will be a matter of which 10 days they are in the field. If they fail to see a particular migratory or endangered animal during their brief visit the final report may give the false impression that they are not present and will not be impacted by the wall. Surveys that incorrectly indicate the absence of particular species and underestimate the damage that the border wall will do may be used to facilitate construction of the wall, and are therefore a direct threat to the integrity of the refuge. flyways converge on the

The No Border Wall coalition has no faith in the impartiality of the private contractor E2M. If the Department of Homeland Security is paying E2M, and will be hiring them to handle future projects, they may well tailor their report to the outcome that their client desires. This is the same company that is preparing the Environmental Impact Statement for the initial 69 miles of border wall in the Rio Grande Valley. During the EIS public comment period the website that E2M maintained to provide limited information and accept public comments was frequently offline, and the fax number that they posted to accept public comments was turned off. Whether this was due to incompetence or an effort to limit public comments, E2M should not be in charge of surveying the LRGVNWR. It should instead be carried out by local US Fish and Wildlife biologists who are familiar with the natural resources that are present in the Lower Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge. Our group is aware that our nation’s refuges have been chronically underfunded and understaffed. We therefore recommend that funds that would be paid to E2M to carry out surveying instead be given to the refuge to carry out long term surveys that would provide the type of data that would be useful for the preservation of the refuge’s natural resources. A thorough, multi-year survey of the refuge carried out by qualified refuge staff would be a valuable tool for refuge management, and would show that the wall’s impact will be tremendous.

While we appreciate the opportunity for public comment on the draft Compatibility Determination, we are deeply concerned that the Department of Homeland Security is merely going through the motions of compliance with refuge policy and environmental law. Recent events in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge and the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area have shown that DHS intends to build the wall regardless of its impact on what are supposed to be protected lands. We hope that this lawless attitude will not extend to the Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge. Our concern is that any surveys that are conducted will be used for public relations, to give the public the false impression that the border wall will not adversely impact the refuge’s ecosystems, rather than honestly. There is no indication that a finding by surveyors that the wall will cause irreparable harm would prevent construction.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Construction, Maintenance, and Operation of Tactical Infrastructure in the Rio Grande Valley Sector was released to the public on November 16, 2007. This raises serious questions about the use of any surveys that E2M conducts. If the draft EIS is released 3 days before the end of the public comment period on the USFW’s Draft Compatibility Determination, are the subsequent surveys going to be incorporated into the final EIS, or are they merely “window dressing” to give the appearance of compliance. If a Compatibility Determination regarding survey work in the refuges has not yet been issued, how was the Environmental Impact Statement prepared? Did E2M leave out impacts on the refuges, merely guess at what was there, or sneak onto refuge properties and conduct surveys without permission? This calls into question the validity of the Environmental Impact Statement that has been produced and the conduct of the private contractor that DHS has hired.

Thank you for providing this opportunity for public input. Our organization greatly appreciates the efforts of US Fish and Wildlife personnel who are trying to carry out the wildlife refuge mission in the face of tremendous political pressure.

Contributed by:
No Border Wall
La Nueva Raza News