Interior Secretary Zinke visits Arizona borderlands to talk up Trump’s wall

SASABE – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – arriving on horseback in full cowboy gear – met last weekend with law enforcement and local officials to tout the progress of President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Clearly, we are going to build a wall,” Zinke said. “Clearly, the design is not finished.”

During his visit, Zinke also spoke with members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose land runs along both sides of the the border. The tribe opposes a border wall, saying it would divide their land and people.

“Our tribal members need to be able to cross the border for cultural and ceremonial reasons, to visit family, to obtain governmental services such as health care, and for other purposes,” Tohono O’odham Chairman Edward Manuel said in a letter to Zinke dated March 17.

According to the Border Patrol, the Department of Interior controls about 80 percent of the Tucson border sector, which runs 262 miles from New Mexico to the Yuma-Pima county line.

Zinke also toured the biologically diverse Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, established to help protect rare plants and animals native to the Sonoran Desert.

Border Patrol Agent Charles Trost, who works the Tucson sector, said the existing border fence actually has helped the wildlife by deterring people from crossing through the refuge.

“Because of the establishment of the pedestrian barrier here, we’ve been able to help defragment the Buenos Aires,” Trost said.

But some environmentalists, including the Center for Biological Diversity, said a border wall would be a disaster for wildlife.

“We have an amazing array of plants and animals that live in the border region, many of whom rely on crossing the landscape to find mates, food and water,” said Randy Serraglio, a spokesman for the center.

“Sacrificing the borderlands for this completely unnecessary and wasteful border wall makes no sense.”

The Center for Biological Diversity was the first to file suit against Trump’s planned border wall. But that has not stopped the administration from commissioning prototypes erected near San Diego and planning for construction.

Zinke, who recently has pushed to conserve wildlife corridors through public lands, said the plan to build a wall isn’t perfect, but a wall would keep more Americans safe.

“It doesn’t fix everything,” he said. “But it fixes certainly a class of problems. As a nation, we have to look at a policy that’s sustainable.”

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