Information About Environmental Impacts of US-Mexico Border Wall Suppressed by DOI Officials

In August 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) requested input from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on how animals and their habitats would be affected by constructing 60 miles of the US-Mexico border wall in south Texas. 

Emails obtained by the Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act show that biologists and wildlife managers at FWS drafted a letter to USCBP in September 2017. DOI  sent a final copy of the letter to USCBP officials on October 13, 2017 in which key information had been deleted. Namely, the draft letter stated that construction would reduce “habitat connectivity” for rare ocelots and jaguarundi in national wildlife refuges near proposed construction, but that information was not in the version published by USCBP. The draft letter also recommended “considering technology, additional border patrol agents and other mechanisms, when possible, instead of installation of levee or bollard walls,” but again that recommendation was not in the version of the letter published by USCBP.

Ohio State University associate geography professor Kenneth Madsen said the concerns raised in the draft letter are widely acknowledged in the scientific community and “the types of things that people are talking about.” When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s office was asked why the edits were made, a spokeswoman said DOI “doesn’t comment on leaked draft documents” despite the fact that the Washington Post obtained the documents through public-records laws.