The rerouting of water around Las Playas has wiped out entire groves of mesquite trees and vegetation; birds and mammals have largely disappeared; and land that once hosted grasses and small trees is now bare.It’s an almost solemn moment: A single saguaro cactus, perhaps 10 feet tall, is ripped from the desert to make way for President Trump’s border wall. This scene was one of the many videos and photographs to emerge in late September as the Department of Homeland Security began to clear large swathes of once-protected habitat in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a 517-square-mile preserve in Arizona.
Another video shows a bulldozer pushing saguaros out of the way, scraping bare the Sonoran Desert landscape. (US Customs and Border Protection said that it has relocated more than 100 cacti.) And it’s not just the plants—some older than the 82-year-old monument itself—that are being sacrificed to allow for the border wall. In order to mix cement to build the structure, DHS is also planning to pump millions of gallons of water from underground aquifers; one area of particular concern is the Quitobaquito Springs in Organ Pipe, which is home to the endangered Sonoyta mud turtle and the Quitobaquito pupfish, a species found in only one other place in the world.
Thanks to a 2006 agreement, the Border Patrol has broad authority to use wilderness areas near the border with Mexico for enforcement, allowing the agency to dramatically widen roads and install surveillance towers.