Desert Devastation

Border wall construction could destroy 22 archaeological sites across Arizona

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is in the direct wake of President Trump's proposed border wall. (Courtesy Trevor Huxham/Flickr)

A new 123-page report by the National Park Service (NPS) has detailed the potential loss of ancient artifacts at the southern border as the United States continues to construct an extensive border wall. The culmination of a project conducted by NPS archaeologists at Arizona’s Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the report highlights up to 22 endangered archaeological sites along a short stretch of the wall’s path.

The report, obtained by The Washington Post via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), is especially significant because of its authorship; the internal report shows concern coming directly from a sector of the federal government.

The Organ Pipe Cactus area, which is also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, received U.S. National Monument status in 1937. The area covers 330,688 acres of desert land southwest of Phoenix, and the 11.3-mile strip along the border has already seen significant physical damage from increased traffic of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents using all-terrain vehicles. The proposed plan to replace the existing 5-foot-tall vehicle barrier with a 30-foot illuminated steel wall has the potential to cause irreparable damage to archaeological fragments spanning the area’s 16,000 years of inhabitation.

Photo of a cactus preserve

The reserve is home to wide variety and configurations of cacti. (Courtesy Trevor Huxham/Flickr)

Concerns also stem from the ecological implications of dropping such a towering structure in a designated biosphere reserve. Environmentalists have repeatedly fought the federal government’s plans to run the wall through protected areas like the this, citing impositions on wildlife migration and the neglect of critically endangered species. Of particular concern is the Quitobaquito Springs area, an oasis 200 feet from the barrier that is inhabited by a number of threatened and declining species.

The identification of these risks comes at a time when CBP is scrambling to complete 500 miles of barrier before the 2020 election at the request of President Trump. As the president continues to share the wall’s progress on social media, his administration continues to fight off lawsuits over construction on protected lands.

Construction on the Organ Pipe Cactus reserve-area border wall officially began last month, as construction geared up for part of a 43-mile fence span that also cuts through Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Regufe. Kevin Dahl, Arizona’s senior program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association, described how the time constraints are eliminating steps in the careful process of protecting Arizona’s archaeological sites: “Archaeology takes time, and they have a deadline,” Dahl told The Washington Post. “Putting a wall there is insane. This is just one more reason why ramming this wall through, using illegal, unconstitutional money, is damaging to these public resources. We’re destroying what the wall is supposed to protect.”

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