Posts Tagged ‘Sabal Palm’

Central Park to Sabal Palms

April 8, 2008

Nailing down Homeland Security’s plans is like trying to spot the elusive ocelot. When asked whether the agency intends to build the Fence north of the sanctuary, its chief spokesman, Russ Knocke, said: “I can’t rule that out, but I cannot also definitely tell you that that will be the case.”

It is quotes like this which make Dan Barry’s New York Times article about Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary important in framing our national conflict over the Secure Fence Act. The wall has millions of detractors with very valid reasons, from my students whose heritage and extended family would be affronted by such a wall to outspoken advocates for the endangered species huddling in these last remaining stands of a lost ecosystem. The federal government and a few outspoken, if misinformed, syndicated talk-show hosts keep lauding the wall as an answer to everything from immigration to terrorism and drug smuggling. They do not let the facts get in the way, nor their own statements about the wall being a $50 billion deterrent rather than a panacea.

New York Central Park, 2006

The indefiniteness of the Secure Fence Act could be attributed to either indecision or misdirection, and since the United States government seems more determined than ever to build a wall, one must assume the latter. Last week, heavy equipment cleared brush from the levee in Brownsville’s Southmost community, presumably in anticipation of wall construction through this tight-knit community. Some residents hadn’t ever caught wind of a wall, perhaps because the proposed plans were 600+ pages in English and only 30 pages in Spanish. Other people we talked to in the Amigoland Mall community this week doubted that the wall would bisect their houses. They had heard that the plans for the wall circumvented their community; what they didn’t know was that this was only Plan B, and the government has still not specified which plan they will follow or how faithfully they will follow these plans. The only clarification they keep reiterating is this: it is coming, and it is coming fast.

Jimmy Paz, the director of Audobon’s Sabal Palms Sanctuary, is equally at home with noisy chachalacas and my students he also refers to as “Chachalacas” because their incessant teenage chit-chat sounds like the birds nesting in his refuge. At 62, he has walked these paths more than 50 years, observed Border Patrol and new immigrants come and go, seen some birds make a comeback and other species fade into shadows. He realizes the importance of the ground he stands upon, the grounds he invites my students to walk and clean sometimes. Paz, whose Spanish surname means “peace,” realizes the tranquility his stand of virgin Sabal Palm forest can offer city dwellers and native Brownsvillers. He understands that wildlife is one of the Rio Grande Valley’s greatest assets, with eco-tourism being the 3rd largest industry in Brownsville. It is with the full weight of this knowledge, then, that he says building a wall to cut of his wildlife sanctuary is akin to “…putting a fence around Central Park.”

Having lived in both Manhattan and Brownsville, I can recognize the collective pride both communities share for their parks. What the Brownsville sanctuary lacks in park benches and ice-skating and dog-walkers it more than makes up for in endangered species, migrating butterflies, and bird-watchers. Central Park is the pride of New York, and to see my students’ eyes light up as birders told them the distances they’d traveled to come for Brownsville’s beauty, it was clear that refuges like Sabal Palms are the pride of la frontera.

Dan Barry’s article in the New York Times is noteworthy most because it connects these two distant communities. If New Yorkers could understand the peaceful coexistence here on the border, they would most assuredly stand in opposition to a wall’s disruption. If the refugees with whom I waitered could see the harmony of new immigrants and old residents, Spanish-speakers and English-only citizens in the Valley, they would be outspoken against this symbol of division. If the NYPD could see the way the Border Patrol lends its watchtowers for hawk-sightings sometimes or the way Sabal Palms has sensors to monitor illegal activity, they would surely campaign for more of this cooperation and less rigid and costly barriers. If Times Square were made aware of Jimmy Paz and his birds in Brownsville, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would seem the unconscionable, ill-planned, destructive and distracting suggestion that it truly is.

Sabal Palms Spanish Moss, November 2007

A Jaguarundi Sighting…

March 30, 2008

Jaguarundi

    Running along Border Patrol trails in a wildlife refuge area near the Rio Grande, I came upon it. It was a blur at first, but as it scuffled through the cane and underbrush, I am sure of it. I saw the ever elusive jaguarundi.

    Elusive enough that researchers have no official estimate of their wild population in South Texas, these weasel-like cats once roamed the Sabal Palm jungle of the Rio Grande Valley. Now, however, the jaguarundi is fighting for its life. Along with the ocelot, of which there are only 100 left in the South Texas wild, the jaguarundi is one of the endangered animals which a border wall would irrevocably drive out of South Texas and into Mexico. The wall itself would cut off these cats of prey from their source of water and food, while the major disturbance and deforestation associated with a border wall would harm their fragile ecosystem. Animal rights groups, winter Texans, local residents, and Federal agencies have spent millions of dollars procuring wildlife refuge land near the river in hopes of saving numerous endangered species like the jaguarundi I saw darting away into the underbrush yesterday.

 

    The fate of the jaguarundi and other native flora and fauna has inspired many wildlife activist groups to oppose the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Recently, Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club published a public statement stating their opposition to the REAL ID Act which waives important environmental laws (like the 19 waived in the Arizona portion of the border wall). Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, petitioned the Supreme Court to hear their case.

By granting one government official the absolute power to pick and choose which laws apply to border wall construction, the REAL ID Act proves itself to be both inherently dangerous and profoundly un-American. The issue here is not security vs. wildlife, but whether wildlife, sensitive environmental values and communities along the border will be given fair consideration in the decisions the government makes…We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will take up this case in order to protect the fundamental separation of powers principles enshrined in the United States Constitution. (http://www.notexasborderwall.blogspot.com/)

Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope echoed the stance of Defenders of Wildlife, stating,

Laws such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act are part of America’s enduring legal framework, and no agency or public official should be allowed to ignore them…Our laws have provided Americans a voice in the decision-making process that affects their lives, their human rights and the protection of wildlife; our government must not exempt itself from obeying those laws. (http://www.notexasborderwall.blogspot.com/)

The Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife are just a couple of the many groups advocating for the fragile frontera region and campaigning against a border wall.

    It is vital that we oppose this wall on all levels – social, political, economic, financial, and environmental. The national outpouring of disbelief and justified indignation at an environmentally-destructive border wall must continue. I was incredibly fortunate to come across a jaguarundi on one of my many border runs, and I would like my children and my children’s children to be able to run these same gorgeous trails and see what I saw, a sleek jaguarundi scampering off through Sabal Palm trees and towards a beautiful Rio Bravo.