Since 1976, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument has also been the Organ Pipe Cactus Biosphere Reserve, a world heritage site sanctioned by UNESCO as the most pristine examples of intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem. The otherworldly beauty of the monument brings visitors who come to gawk at the towering forms and hike the gravel-strewn trails. It also attracts scientists from around the globe who study the inhabitants of the desert and their adaptation to this incredible environment.
And now it’s home to one of the greatest acts of ecological vandalism in a century—carried out in an effort to hurry construction of Donald Trump’s border fence.
Despite Trump’s many tweets, announcements, and rally speeches, until the last few weeks, it was easy to characterize the real length of his wall: Zero. Not a yard of new fence had been built in a place that didn’t already have some existing barrier when Trump stepped into office. But Trump has made it a priority to add some miles to the total before he has to go back in front of his “Build the Wall!” rally crowds for the 2020 election. The easiest way to do that has been by avoiding potential lawsuits from private landowners that could tie up progress for months. Instead, Trump has been counting on his hand-picked cronies at the EPA and Interior Department to ignore every law and regulation concerning construction, environmental impact studies, and protection of archaeological artifacts.
Even after miles of border fence were erected in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument between 2012 and 2017, the striking beauty of this Sonoran Desert jewel was preserved. There is no question that the original fence was destructive. Following the border as closely as possible meant that not only were saguaro and other cactus that had grown over a space of centuries removed to provide highly questionable “security,” but the ranges of rare and endangered desert animals were permanently altered. Disturbing as it was at the time, that initial fence was placed with some care, often without disturbing ancient, towering examples cactus within just a few feet of the fence. Images from 2017 show a relatively low fence that, while it certainly doesn’t vanish into the landscape, is also not a jarring disruption of the otherwise gorgeous scenery.
Now those ranges, and cactus older than the nation are simply being bulldozed aside as Trump carves a scar across the desert.
That original fence was in no sense attractive, and the damage it caused to the site was real. But compared to what Trump is doing in an effort to claim miles for his “wall,” it’s a paper cut.
Saguaro cactus being bulldozed in advance of building Trump’s border ‘wall’
In a video shot by Kevin Dahl, senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, bulldozers can be seen cutting through the Saguaro and heaping them like rubbish.
VIDEO: Saguaros are being bulldozed for the #BorderWall in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. Trump's reckless border hysteria is destroying our environment and killing the very species this national monument was designated to protect.
— Laiken Jordahl (@LaikenJordahl) October 4, 2019
In September, the defense department claimed that saguaro in the path of the barrier construction would be “relocated” to other sections of the monument. But Dahl’s video reveals that this is a flat-out lie. The rare and iconic cactus are instead shown being pushed along by bulldozer and piled into heaps with other ripped-up plants.
These areas of the desert will not be repaired in the lifetime of anyone now looking at their events. Or their children’s lifetime. Or their children’s. Even if Trump’s pointless, useless, ugly barrier were ripped down tomorrow, it wouldn’t begin to repair the damage that’s underway — damage that is expected to stretch 78 miles across the ecological fragile park.