Previous WITNESS: Poetry penned in civil wars of Central America
The bulldozers have
arrived at the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, in preparation for
their clearing 150 ft. on either side of the proposed border wall, gearing up
to demolish a 900-year-old cypress tree. Contrary
to promises from the Trump administration, the staff have
been banned from accessing their private land on 70 of the center’s 100 acres,
and have been told “it’s all government land now”.
To the Esto’k Gna [ESH toke NAH] or Carrizo-Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, it’s not just the loss of a beloved wildlife habitat. Much of this land still belongs to the Esto’k Gna, who have a strong connection to the land and who feel a strong sense of responsibility to protect the graves of veterans and relatives who are buried here. They understand the connectedness of the pollinators, predators, and ecosystems whose very existence will certainly be destroyed if the Trump administration goes ahead with its plan to construct a border wall here.
Esto’k Gna and others are engaging in Non-Violent Direct Action to protect
their land and prevent the terrible destruction that a wall would cause here.
“Let me just start by saying: We’re still here,” spokesperson Juan Mancias began in the interview we taped with him recently. Many of us know very little about the Esto’k Gna, because bullies write the history according to their perceptions, and often leave out important information. In fact, the Esto’k Gna have a rich culture which they are revitalizing, and a history of many generations living in this area of Somi Se’k, along the “Texas-Mexico” border..
The name of their tribe derives from the Spanish word “carrizo”, as the people were observed building their homes from reeds, in actuality, sotol stems. But the Esto’k Gna is their Native language name for the people who traditionally lived in villages, visiting and trading with family and friends, on both sides of the Rio Bravo (the Spanish name for the Rio Grande River).
Funding for this section
of the wall was approved by U.S. Congress in March 2018, and at least 28 laws,
such as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the
Endangered Species Act, and the Safe Drinking Water Act, were waived as part of
the approval process. Although appeals ensued, in late 2018 the Supreme Court
of the United States declined to repeal a lower court’s ruling, which allowed
plans for the wall to advance.
Observer recently reported that plans for the wall
include a concrete base, 18′ of steel bollards, topped by industrial
lighting that will shine all night long; this will devastate the natural
rhythms of nocturnal wildlife.
When my husband and I
spoke with the National Butterfly Center Director of Operations Max Muños in
January 2019, he discussed many of the ongoing programs at the center, and the
years of work it has taken to get to this point. Girl Scouts earn their Nature
badges here, and adults and children from both sides of the river have the
opportunity to learn about the plants and animals who thrive in the interdependent
As a sign at the
Butterfly Center informs us, a wall on the border would:
1) Eradicate an
enormous amount of native habitat, including host plants for butterflies,
breeding and feeding areas for wildlife and lands set aside for
conservation of endangered and threatened species–including avian species
that migrate or over-winter, here, in the tip of the Central US Flyway.
2) Create devastating
flooding to all property up to 2 miles behind the wall, on the banks of the mighty
Rio Grande River, here.
3) Reduce viable range
land for wildlife foraging and mating. This will result in greater competition
for resources and a smaller gene pool for healthy species reproduction. Genetic
“bottlenecks” can exacerbate blight and disease.
4) Not all birds can
fly over the wall, nor will all butterfly species. For example, the Ferruginous
Pygmy Owl, found on the southern border from Texas to Arizona, only flies about
6 feet in the air. It cannot overcome a 30-foot vertical wall of concrete and
5) Nocturnal and
crepuscular wildlife, which rely on sunset and sunrise cues to regulate vital
activity, will be negatively affected by nighttime flood lighting of the
“control zone” the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Customs and
Border Protection (CBP) will establish along the wall and secondary drag roads.
The expansion of these
areas to vehicular traffic will increase wildlife roadkill.
6) Animals trapped
north of the wall will face similar competition for resources, cut off from
native habitat in the conservation corridor and from water in the Rio Grande River
and adjacent areas. Humans, here, will also be cut off from our only source of
fresh water, in this irrigated desert.
And, as people on both sides
of the border told us, people know each other here and know what’s going on; a
wall here would actually decrease border security, by limiting visibility and
access to personnel, and by supplying a false sense of security.
We are inextricably
linked to the ecosystems around us; what fate befalls these plants and animals
awaits us all.
help support the Butterfly Center, the Esto’k Gna and
allies in their efforts to educate people and prevent this tragedy from taking
place, please call your Congressional representatives.
Janie Stein grew up in a family of conscientious peace activists and attempts to carry on that tradition, working on intersectional social justice, along with her husband Martin Bates, a 20 year USAF Veteran For Peace, and long-time human rights activist.