TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - It’s a small win for wildlife in Southern Arizona and activists fighting the federal government.
“Everyday that we delay construction is a win for wildlife here," said Laiken Jordahl.
Jordahl is the Borderlands Campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity. The Tucson-based group, along with other conservation groups, filed a preliminary injunction earlier this month to block construction of President Donald Trump’s border wall through protected wilderness in Arizona until a judge rules on a pending lawsuit.
In a filing Tuesday, the federal government confirmed it would delay most construction to replace waist-high barriers with taller fencing in a wildlife refuge, national monument and conservation area until October.
“Today, government attorneys agreed that they would not break ground on border wall construction in ecologically sensitive areas in Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta and along the San Pedro River in Arizona," said Jordahl.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Department of Homeland Security had said construction would begin August 22, 2019 through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge.
“It’s a small and temporary win, but it is a critical win for Arizona’s wildlife and public lands," Jordahl said. “A wall specifically in Organ Pipe National Monument would divide the best expanse of Sonoran desert habitat in two.”
For an interactive map of the borderlands, click here.
Jordahl documented his trip to the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, south of Ajo, earlier this month.
“We saw survey stakes in the ground," said Jordahl. "It’s clear that construction preparations are moving forward and moving forward quickly. This commitment by DHS to delay construction is a good sign and it means, I think, that we have a good case.”
It’s the Center for Biological Diversity’s case to leave hundreds of miles of wilderness, wildlife refuges and national park lands in the Southwest, alone.
Jordahl said a wall through the key ecological sites in protected borderlands will hurt the country more than help it.
“Essentially they are waiving all these laws to keep the public in the dark and to minimize our ability to monitor the damage they are doing when they put these walls up,” said Jordahl.
The Department of Homeland Security is set to start construction next week on two miles of replacement wall already in the Organ Pipe NM, according to Jordahl.
The government said the fencing is crucial to national security.
Here is a statement from Jean Su, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity:
“Our national parklands and the imperiled animals they safeguard will be protected from Trump’s destructive wall for at least a few more weeks, but they need permanent protection,” said Jean Su, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s ridiculous that it took legal action from us to get accurate information from the government about its plans to bulldoze the borderlands. But this kind of secrecy is the disturbing result of waiving dozens of environmental laws, including those requiring public notice. We’ll do everything in our power to shine a light on the government’s actions and to stop this disastrous wall.”
This is the federal government’s opposition brief submitted to the court late Tuesday, provided by Su.