Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Trump’s Border Wall Is an Ecologist’s Nightmare

Blowing up mountains, bulldozing sacred sites, guzzling groundwater—the wall is turning border ecosystems into a grim dystopia.

Kelsey Yule

 by OtherWords

I have spent the past seven years studying the rich biological communities of Arizona’s Sonoran Desert.

Few places there are more captivating than the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The monument is home to breathtaking cacti that have stood for over a century, as well as several endangered animal species. It’s also the rightful, sacred land of the Indigenous O’odham Nation.

This irreversible destruction is an atrocity for our communities and our planet.

Despite the awe I have felt there in the past, I haven’t visited Organ Pipe recently. It’s just too heartbreaking.

Why? Because right now, President Trump’s border wall is turning the landscape into an ecological dystopia.

The Department of Homeland Security is leveling this precious habitat with absolutely no regard for the delicacy of this place’s unique cultural and ecological resources, ravaging one of the most iconic sites in the Western hemisphere. They’re even blowing up mountains like Monument Hill, an O’odham sacred site, to make way for the wall.

This irreversible destruction is an atrocity for our communities and our planet.

Wall construction is shaping up to be an all-out assault on all of Organ Pipe’s resources. Over the last few months, the Trump administration has been draining millions of gallons of groundwater to mix the wall’s concrete.

Because groundwater in our region often takes tens of thousands of years to recharge and is connected to springs in the region, this extraction is bringing about the death of Quitobaquito Springs, which is the only home of the Quitobaquito pupfish and sustains wildlife that would not otherwise be able to exist in this desert landscape.

Located on the traditional land of the Hia-Ced and Tohono O’odham Nations, Quitobaquito is surrounded by a host of sacred sites and archaeological resources worthy of protection. Scarce resources like water — and the communities and natural systems that depend on them — as well as cultural sites dating back centuries may never be replaced.

The Tohono O’odham Nation penned a powerful letter to the U.S. Border Patrol calling for a halt to the destruction, stressing the many tragedies occurring on their sacred lands: bulldozers ripping up their ancestors’ burial sites, their water resources being stolen, and the agency consistently ignoring their pleas for consultation.

The borderlands are rapidly turning into a hyper-militarized zone. As Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva put it so accurately and tragically, “to DHS, nothing is sacred.”

One of the last times I visited Organ Pipe, I was stopped for “suspicious behavior.” I had simply pulled over my car to photograph and take notes of plant species. These are public lands that the Trump administration has taken over — all for a cruel and unpopular agenda — and yet they treat members of the public with deep suspicion and discrimination.

Even worse, the administration can waive all laws that protect our environment and health to wreak this disaster due to the READ ID Act — an overshot of authority DHS was given to strip protections like the National Environmental Policy, Endangered Species, and Clean Water Acts when building the wall.

Already, 41 laws have already been waived. These include nearly every act put in place to protect air, water, wilderness areas, and endangered species, as well as historic, archaeological, and human burial sites.

No wall is worth this damage.

The irreversible extraction of groundwater, the destruction of what is rightfully O’odham land, the disruption of animal migrations, and the human rights implications represent a grave injustice. We cannot stand for the militarization and destruction happening at places like Organ Pipe and across the border states.

The courts must stop the Trump administration from any further destruction. These places — and the life they sustain — are irreplaceable.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Kelsey Yule

Kelsey Yule is a PhD ecologist and evolutionary biologist and volunteer with the Sierra Club’s borderlands campaign. This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Architect of Texas Abortion Ban Takes Aim at LGBTQ+ Rights While Urging Reversal of Roe

"Make no mistake, the goal is to force extreme, outdated, religious-driven values on all of us through the courts."

Jessica Corbett ·


Ahead of Canadian Election, Bernie Sanders and Rashida Tlaib Endorse NDP

"Bernie, you have fought courageously for public healthcare, affordable medication, making the rich pay their fair share, and tackling the climate crisis," said party leader Jagmeet Singh. "We're doing the same here."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Urged to End Drone Strikes After Pentagon Says Killing 10 Afghan Civilians Was 'Horrible Mistake'

"That was not a 'mistake,'" said journalist Anand Giridharadas. "War crimes are not oopsies."

Brett Wilkins ·


40+ NYC Activists Arrested for Protests Against Banks Fueling Climate Emergency

"We're sending a message loud and clear that the little action that politicians and greenwashing CEOs have taken so far does not begin to deal with the magnitude of this crisis."

Jessica Corbett ·


FDA Panel Recommends Pfizer Booster Shots for People 65+ and Especially Vulnerable

The scientific advisory committee voted down a recommendation for other adults.

Common Dreams staff ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo