Sixteen years ago, a group of folks in Texas planned to create something unique along a lovely river.
And in this situation, setting anything up meant letting things be. The National Butterfly Center allowed the trees that grew there in the fertile Rio Grande Valley to continue to thrive. They allowed wildflowers, bushes, and natural undergrowth to continue to blossom.
People even assisted nature on the center’s one hundred acres of protected land by planting native flowers to attract a variety of butterfly species as well as various bird species to establish their nests there.
Over two hundred species of wild butterflies eventually made this place their home.
“Walking amid clouds of butterflies is just amazing,” Marianna Wright, the center’s director, told The Dodo. “There is nothing artificial about any of this. We just plant the host and nectar plants, and the butterflies arrive on their own.”
However, the fragile and colorfully winged animals that create this place’s ethereal ambiance — and the humans dedicated to defending them — are suddenly confronted with a harsh reality.
“It’s things I never imagined I’d have to deal with,” Wright added.
Surveyors began to turn up in the summer of 2017. Wright discovered pegs in the ground while surveying. Contractors had begun to take down some adjacent trees and rip up flowers, she saw.
Even before any plans were made official, it’s already all too evident what was going on: A 36-foot-tall wall would be erected along 33 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, adding to the almost 700 miles of barriers now in place. Six of the 33 kilometers pass straight through the butterfly refuge.
It’s not only the butterfly refuge that’s on the line. The government’s own scientists at the US Department of Fish and Wildlife warned people at the US Department of the Interior, led by Secretary Ryan Zinke, about the potentially disastrous consequences of building the wall through this ecosystem for all kinds of species, including those on the verge of extinction.
They erased the warnings instead of paying attention to them.
Furthermore, the current administration has opted to waive 28 federal laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and even laws promoting human health and well-being, such as the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“Plant species and butterfly species are inextricably linked,” Wright noted. “Most people are aware that a monarch butterfly requires milkweed… Every other species has the same [dynamic].” According to Wright, each butterfly species is reliant on one or two plant species for survival: “They can’t just use any green material. If we get rid of the plant, we’ve basically gotten rid of the species.”
For monarch butterflies, the butterfly center is especially vital. “We are a key oasis for monarch butterflies on their migration route,” Wright explained. “There are urban developments, livestock ranches, and commercial agriculture to the north and south of us.”
It isn’t just about butterflies.
Only around 50 wild ocelots remain in the United States, all of which are found in this part of Texas. A wall would make it much more difficult for these wild cats to thrive by fragmenting their habitat. Also dependent on this ecosystem is the Texas tortoise, a vulnerable species, as well as the numerous migrating birds that pause at the butterfly center for some of their most important life events.
“What will happen to these creatures? Where are they going to lay their eggs?” Wright remarked. “You have curtailed the capacity of those butterfly species, as well as other terrestrial creatures, to wander for food or a partner, for refuge or escape.”
The National Butterfly Center will most certainly be taken over by the government through eminent domain, which empowers the government to take control of private property. The land seizure notice, according to Wright, will be sent out in January. After that, the bulldozers will most likely arrive in 30 days to remove the vegetation and excavate for the footing of the 18-foot slabs, which will be topped with 18-foot steel poles.
Because of the fragile nature of ecosystems, the disruption of a wall, which can potentially lead to more catastrophic floods, might have long-term consequences for wild species.
“Every year on the banks of the Rio Grande River, we have a sleepover beneath the stars,” Wright added.
If the bulldozers arrive early next year, this might be the final year for the girl scouts to enjoy such an opportunity.
“Every single animal has a part in the ecosystem’s health,” Wright explained. “What exactly is an ecosystem? It’s our world… Everything is linked and intertwined.”