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CENTER for BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY Because life is good

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The lands surrounding our international borders contain spectacular landscapes and crucial habitats, from the vast expanses of desert along the U.S.-Mexico border to the snow-covered mountains near our border with Canada. Unfortunately, imperiled border habitats and species aren’t always given the protections they need to withstand new threats and human-caused pressures.

Joining the United States and Mexico, our borderlands to the south comprise one of the biggest ecosystem complexes in North America, with some of the least populated areas and the most important wildlife habitats remaining on the continent. This border region is also host to a diverse array of threatened, endangered, and rare species — including the Sonoran pronghorn, lesser long-nosed bat, cactus ferruginous pygmy owl, and jaguar — and it contains millions of acres of public lands, such as Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, Big Bend National Park, Coronado National Forest, and Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. Tragically, the current situation on the border has exposed this area’s unique species and rugged terrain to unprecedented and often damaging human activity.

To preserve the borderlands’ remote beauty and amazing biodiversity, the Center is working to increase environmental oversight of activities affecting public lands near the U.S.-Mexico border and to protect endangered species and their habitat from the effects of rapidly increasing border militarization. We seek rigorous enforcement of environmental regulations along both our northern and southern borders to ensure that imperiled species in terrestrial and aquatic habitats are respected and protected.


Protecting Wildlife From Border Militarization

Desert lands along the U.S.-Mexico border — along with the myriad species that depend on them — are highly vulnerable to resource exploitation and abuses. Legally protected natural resources are damaged, and rare and endangered wildlife are disturbed, by increased activities of the Border Patrol, Joint Task Force, and U.S. military — including on- and off-road patrols, road construction, aircraft overflights, military training, depletion and contamination of water sources, installation of stadium-style lights, construction of walls and fences, and intrusive remote sensing and surveillance operations. The Center watchdogs these activities on public lands to ensure that recovery of imperiled species isn’t slowed by increasing infrastructure and that more species aren’t being pushed to the brink.

We’re strongly opposed to the construction of walls and barriers that block critical wildlife migration corridors, and we’re working to ensure enforcement of environmental laws regarding border construction and activities, including the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. 

As part of this strategy, we encourage the use of wildlife-friendly vehicle barriers in strategic and sensitive areas like the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, the Goldwater Range, the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, and the Coronado National Forest. Such barriers have proven successful in other areas, like the Organ Pipe National Monument. We also advocate for foot or horse patrol where roads are unavailable or traverse through wildlife sanctuaries. 
Learn more about recent and current federal legislation affecting border wildlife and wildlands.

Protecting the San Pedro River Watershed

The San Pedro River watershed, located along the Sonoran and Chihuahuan desert interface, is one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth, as well as one of North America's most important wildlife havens. More than 400 bird species live in or migrate through the basin, which is also home to 180 species of butterflies, 87 species of mammals, and 68 amphibians and reptiles. The Center has worked to protect the San Pedro and its wildlife since filing our first Endangered Species Act petition to protect the Mexican spotted owl in 1989, and we’ve won designation of specific protected critical habitat areas along the river for other endangered native birds and fish. The Center is actively advocating for the reformation of water use in the basin to ensure the San Pedro remains a free-flowing river, pressuring Fort Huachuca to adequately mitigate its presence both on and off the base, challenging the hydrologic basis of Arizona water law, and asking the state of Arizona to designate the San Pedro River basin as an "active management area."

Saving Mexico’s Borderland Predators

The Center is leading efforts to protect and reintroduce borderland predators such as the Mexican gray wolf, jaguar, ocelot, and Mexican bobcat. Protecting predators at the top of the food chain helps preserve a whole range of species — both animals and plants — and maintains general ecosystem health. Unfortunately, predators like the Mexican gray wolf and jaguar are some of the rarest mammals in North America.

Restoring the Lower Colorado River and Delta

For millennia, the untamed Colorado River flowed from the Rocky Mountains of Colorado to the Gulf of California, nourishing along the way vast wildlands and abundant wildlife. Roughly 90,000 acres of cottonwood-willow riparian forest once covered a massive Colorado River floodplain from the Grand Canyon downstream to what’s now the international border with Mexico — but dams, diversion canals, and channelization have converted much of the river to little more than a conveyance canal for delivering water to sprawling southwestern cities and big agribusiness. Precious little flow remains to maintain the river's riparian forest corridor through the delta and nourish the estuary at the river's mouth.  A diminished delta also threatens to diminish Gulf of California species found nowhere else in the world that depend on freshwater flows and a healthy estuary ecosystem, including the Gulf of California harbor porpoise (or vaquita), a vanishing fish called the totoaba, and the Colorado Delta clam.

The Center is working to restore the lower Colorado River Delta and upper Gulf of California. We’ve put ceaseless pressure on water agencies to acknowledge the ecological importance of the region, and we’ve sponsored research on the location, importance, and amount of water necessary to maintain delta wetlands. We’ve also organized an international coalition that released a set of principles to guide restoration, and we’ve taken legal action to reduce the harmful effects of U.S. dams and water diversions on endangered species in the delta.

Safeguarding Birds on Baja’s Coronado Islands

The Center has been leading international efforts to protect endangered seabirds on the Coronado Islands, a biodiversity hotspot off Baja California, from a liquefied natural gas development. The Coronado Islands are home to 10 species of plants and animals found nowhere else in the world and provide nesting habitat for six threatened or endangered bird species, including the largest nesting area for the rare Xantus’s murrelet. U.S. and Mexican conservation organizations, including the Center, filed a petition with an international environmental commission established under the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge a liquefied natural gas facility that threatened the island. One month after the commission ordered an investigation into whether its approval of the “energy maquiladora” violated environmental laws, Chevron abandoned its plans.

Protecting Whales in the Gulf of California From High-intensity Blasts

In 2002 the Center stopped an acoustic blasting project in the Gulf of California that was harming beaked whales. The National Science Foundation was bombarding the Gulf of California with 220-decibel sound blasts from acoustic cannons to map portions of the sea floor, and the ear-shattering noise appeared to be killing beaked whales. Dozens of beaked whales in the Bahamas have been killed by similar sound levels blasted into the ocean by the U.S. Navy. When the foundation refused to stop the deadly research project, the Center filed suit and won a restraining order stopping the project. The order protects one of the largest and most important beaked whale populations in the world and establishes that U.S. environmental laws apply to U.S.-funded projects that kill wildlife outside of the United States.

Learn more about the Center’s Ocean Noise Campaign.

Funding Mexico Biosphere Reserve Protection

In 1999, the Center helped secure funds for Mexico’s Reserva de la Biosfera Alto Golfo de California y Delta del Rio Colorado (Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Biosphere Reserve) to assist in protective management. The funds were used to purchase fuel for boat patrols to enforce a fishing ban, as well as to finance a new run of educational Reserve brochures. The Upper Gulf of California and Colorado River Biosphere Reserve was established by the Mexican government in 1992 in an effort to reverse declines in upper Gulf fisheries and protect riparian and marsh habitats scattered throughout the former terminus of the Colorado River.

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park

The Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park became the world’s first peace park when it was formed in 1932 with the merging of Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada and Glacier National Park in Montana. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 when the advisory committee determined it warranted listing due to its scenic values and cultural significance. 

Unfortunately, climate change is causing the rapid disappearance of glaciers and significant damage to vegetation and wildlife in the park. To save it from these climate-change impacts, in 2006 the Center led a dozen conservation organizations from the United States and Canada in petitioning the World Heritage Committee to include the site on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger. In response to the petition, the Bush administration countered with a position paper claiming that the site should not be listed because “there is not unanimity regarding the impacts, causes . . . or if man can affect the changes we are observing.” It also claimed that putting a site on the List of World Heritage Sites in Danger requires the consent of the state concerned, even though it’s not required by the World Heritage Convention. The petition was ultimately denied; however, a new petition is currently before the Committee to list the park due to threats from a nearby strip mine and coal-bed methane project.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument photo © Robin Silver