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For Immediate Release, April 25, 2008

Contacts: Dr. Robin Silver, Center for Biological Diversity (602) 246-4170
Matt Clark, Defenders of Wildlife, (520) 623-9653 x 2
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 253-8633

Department of Homeland Security Ignored Warnings of Harm to
San Pedro River Prior to October 2007 Border Wall Exemptions

PHOENIX, Ariz.— Newly obtained Bureau of Land Management documents reveal that the Department of Homeland Security ignored warnings of damage to the San Pedro River, prior to exempting the border wall across the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area from all environmental laws.

“The callousness displayed by Homeland Security in ignoring warnings to damage a national treasure is mind-boggling. The border wall does not stop humans, but it will destroy the southern part of the San Pedro,” said Dr. Robin Silver, board member of the Center for Biological Diversity. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff exempted the border wall across the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area from all environmental laws on October 22, 2007.

“The Bush administration keeps claiming that they are taking environmental impacts of the border wall into consideration, but time and time again their actions prove that sensitive wildlife and protected lands are being ignored and neglected in their rush to build expensive, ineffective walls" said Matt Clark, Southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "The San Pedro River is treasured by Americans because it is a ribbon of life that sustains diverse bird and wildlife populations in an otherwise arid landscape. To handle such a fragile, important area with such disregard is reprehensible.”

In 1988, Congress created the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area as the country’s first National Conservation Area to protect the San Pedro River. The San Pedro is the last free-flowing, undammed desert river in the Southwest. It is renowned for its huge diversity of wildlife and the millions of songbirds that migrate through the area each year. The Bureau of Land Management manages the area.

“The San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area is an amazing and unique area that supports a large diversity of wildlife including mule deer, javelina, bobcats, mountain lions, and several species of bats, among many others,” said Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director with Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “It is unconscionable that Homeland Security did not even consider how this massive wall would damage such a sensitive and critical area.”

The Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife requested Bureau of Land Management border wall documents on October 27, 2007 under the Freedom of Information Act. The agency responded on April 8, 2008 with partial document release.

The documents reveal:

- “The BLM met with USACE, Border Patrol, and Granite Construction Company on site 9/26/07 to discuss BLM resource issues. It was apparent at this time that USACE [Army Corps of Engineers, construction managers for Homeland Security], Border Patrol, and Granite Construction Company had failed to read the BLM Environmental Assessment...” (10/4/07)

- “The hydrologic report provided to the BLM does NOT account for debris build-up in proposed pedestrian fence. Instead, NO build-up of debris was assumed in the modeling process...” (10/4/07)

- “...timing and intensity of seasonal flood flows in the San Pedro River are essential for maintaining riparian function as well as recharging the alluvial aquifer. Regardless of the maintenance commitments by Border Patrol, the proposed/existing fence could inadvertently act as a flood control structure altering natural flood characteristics...” (10/4/07)

- “...Changes in flood timing and intensity altering recharge and riparian function may impact pending BLM in-stream flow water rights claims in the San Pedro River.” (10/4/07)

- “...The BLM EA identifies approximately 65 washes with the watershed that will require constant maintenance...Existing maintenance at drainage crossings is not evident...debris build-up could extend into Mexico preventing adequate removal. The end result would be a wall of sediment in the drainage, above the fence, in Mexico that would require more routine maintenance and money...” (10/4/07)

- “Existing structures (remarkably similar to proposed design) have considerable problems with debris build-up...” (10/4/07)

- “...we were advised that the debris there (the fence further east of the SPRNCA) was to be removed by the Mexicans...Mexico has failed to hold up their part of the agreement...” (9/26/07)

Homeland Security officials are copied in the Bureau of Land Management correspondence.

On October 14, 2007, Secretary Chertoff’s spokesman Russ Knocke addressed anticipated environmental law waivers for the San Pedro. He said that "...when weighing a lizard in the balance with human lives, this border infrastructure project is the obvious choice." (Arizona Daily Star, Chertoff may void judge's order to halt border Fence, October 14, 2007)

Knocke's reference to "endangered lizards" presumably refers to the Flat-tailed horned lizard, a sensitive borderland species that resides southwestern Arizona and southern California, 250+ miles west of the San Pedro River. This lizard and its habitat have nothing at all to do with the San Pedro area of southeastern Arizona.

On November 1, 2007, the Center requested under the Freedom of Information Act Secretary Chertoff’s briefing documents upon which his public San Pedro River statements were based. On March 5, 2008, Homeland Security released the statement accompanying Secretary Chertoff’s October 22, 2007 exemption of the San Pedro wall from all environmental laws.

The document is titled, “Homeland Security: Statement Regarding Exercise of Waiver Authority.” It addresses the "inhospitable nature of the SPRNCA and surrounding area...” and states that, “14 illegal entrants died in the SPRNCA in Fiscal 2007...”

Homeland Security acknowledges no negative impacts on the area that the Bureau’s Web site describes as “one of the most important riparian areas in the United States...a rare remnant of what was once an extensive network of similar riparian systems throughout the American Southwest.“

The border wall continues to be widely criticized for its failure to stop human entry. The laws exempted by Secretary Chertoff (the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act) mandate careful planning for federal projects with significant and controversial environmental impacts.


1. BLM memo October 4, 2007; Topic: BLM Issues and Concerns (with images)
2. BLM Memorandum September 26, 2007; Re: Preconstruction meeting, September 26, 2007
3. Department of Homeland Security: Statement Regarding Exercise of Waiver Authority, October 2007


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