Border wall at National Butterfly Center violates property rights and worse

If I ever pulled up to our Llano River ranch road to find a work crew, heavy machinery, pink flagged survey stakes, and trees slashed to the ground, I’d likely grab my husband’s shotgun.

Marianna Wright, Director of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas –courtesy photo

But Marianna Treviño Wright, director of the National Butterfly Center, has more self-control than me. She peacefully, but forcefully, ordered five contractors off the 100-acre private property owned by the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas along the U.S. Mexico border. Then she took to the media.

Wright told local reporters that the National Butterfly Center received no notices or requests for access to the property–even though “no trespassing” signs were prominently displayed. According to a story in the local Mission, Texas paper, the crew wielded chainsaws, two mechanized brush cutters and other pieces of heavy machinery. They told her they were on assignment from the Tikigaq Construction LLC firm in Point Hope, Alaska. Their job: mark a 150-foot clearance for President Trump’s border wall.

X marks the spot where contractors planned to dig core samples for a future levee at the National Butterfly Center. Courtesy photo

“Just about every type of wildlife is here,” Wright told Progressive Times reporter Jose de Leon III. “This habitat is rich and diverse….What will happen to them if the wall is built here?”

Next door to Wright at the 2,000+ acre Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, planning for Trump’s border wall has been underway for months. According to a July 14 story by Melissa del Bosque in the Texas Observer,  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have been meeting quietly with private contractors to plot out the first piece of Trump’s border wall here for half a year. Plans call for 28 miles of a new levee wall system in the Rio Grande Valley and 32 new miles of border wall system here. An 18-foot levee wall will stretch for almost three miles right through the Santa Ana wildlife refuge. Construction could begin at Santa Ana as early as January 2018, a federal official who asked to remain anonymous told the Observer.

The stretch of South Texas destined to host Trump’s border wall includes at least three wildlife areas. Photo via National Butterfly Center

Designated by the federal government in 1943 as a sanctuary for migratory birds and managed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Santa Ana straddles the Rio Grande and is considered one of the most diverse ecosystems left in the United States. Along with the NBC and the Bentson State Park, the natural areas collectively provide habitat for the endangered ocelot, the jaguarundi, coyotes, bobcats, armadillos and 400 species of birds. See video below.

Known as one of the top birding destinations in the world, Santa Ana is being sacrificed precisely because of its federally protected status. Since the U.S. government owns it, they won’t be subjected to pesky lawsuits from private landowners like Marianna Wright and the National Butterfly Center. As another story in the Texas Observer noted in June, a third or more of 320 condemnation suits filed against private landowners to build a wall in 2007 are still unresolved.

In contrast, the National Butterfly Center (NBC) is a project of the North American Butterfly Association (NABA), a privately funded, nonprofit organization. Like its Santa Ana neighbor, NBC is devoted to the conservation of wildlife–specifically wild butterflies in their native habitats. NBC features a native species garden, offers walking trails, observation areas, educational exhibits and a plant nursery.

In a four-and-a-half minute video posted on Generosity.com on July 22,  Wright describes the flagrant disregard for the rule of law exercised by the work crews.

“They flat-out  ignored the private property sign and began work clearing trees along our road and the Rio Grande River,” she says in the video, as the South Texas breeze blows across the microphone.

******

           “this is not just about the butterflies….”

–Legal Defense Fund to Stop Trump’s Border Wall started by National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas

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“You may have heard about what’s happening with the Trump border wall and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge,” says Wright, her voice rising as she refers to her government-employed neighbors. “Well those people can’t talk to you. But we can. And I’m gonna show you what’s about to be lost. And how the government is operating.”

She chronicles the violations and encourages contributions to a legal fund set up to fight it. The Generosity.com campaign specifically states “This is not just about the butterflies.” The federal government “will do as it pleases with our property, swiftly and secretly, in spite of our property rights and right to due process under the law,” states the campaign.

She describes the future loss of habitat that will result when “thousands of acres, 38 miles of river between Bentsen State Park and Santa Ana Wildlife will be cleared for this border wall that people climb over.  A border wall that already exists in places….It’s barely a deterrent.”

Canopy Walk, feels like the jungle at Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Canopy Walk at Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge, 2012. Will this view soon include a border wall? Photo by Monika Maeckle

Calling the border wall a waste of taxpayer dollars and an environmental disaster, she concludes what those of us who live in South Texas know well: border walls don’t stop illegal immigrants. We’ve had one, with gaps and gates, for years.

According to the American Immigration Council, approximately 650 miles of border fence already exists as of early 2017. We have 350 miles of primary pedestrian fencing, 300 miles of vehicle fencing, 36 miles of secondary fencing behind the primary fencing, and 14 miles of tertiary pedestrian fencing behind the secondary fence. These barriers run the gamut from tall metal and concrete posts to solid corrugated steel walls, metal fencing, and combinations thereof. Then there’s the surveillance tools–towers, cameras, motion detectors, thermal sensors, stadium lighting, ground sensors, drones. This montage of deterrents comprises the existing infrastructure aimed to stop the unauthorized entry of people, drugs, and arms into the United States.

But as former Department of Homeland Security Secretary under Obama Jeh Johnson said in a November 2016 speech: “We can spend billions of dollars to build a 10-foot wall on top of a 10,000-foot mountain. But if you’ve come all the way from Central America, it’s not going to stop you.”

Last weekend, as Wright posted her video, dozens, perhaps hundreds of illegal immigrants who tunneled, hiked, swam or waded across our border were discovered packed in an unairconditioned semi truck in a San Antonio Wal-Mart parking lot. The temperature climbed to 104 degrees here on Saturday, and was likely higher on hot asphalt.

Police officers gather around the tractor-trailer and tow truck outside of Walmart where ten people died last weekend. Photo courtesy Bonnie Arbittier, Rivard Report

When a Wal-Mart employee noticed people streaming from the back of the truck, he rushed over to provide assistance and dialed 911. Several people were already dead; more than 20 were sent to local hospitals with extreme dehydration, asphyxiation and other health issues. By Monday 10 people had perished.

Wright is right: It’s NOT just about the butterflies. Nor is it just about property rights. It’s about much much more than that.

Find the National Butterfly Center’s Stop Trump’s Border Wall Legal Defense Fund campaign here.

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Alamo, Texas, a Great Base for South Texas Sojourn of Bugs, Butterflies and Birds

For a fun outdoor getaway filled with butterflies and birds, look no further than Alamo, Texas. No, not The Alamo.  Alamo, Texas.

Empress Louisa butterflies at the Alamo B & B Inn

Empress Louisa butterflies at the Alamo B & B Inn

The small town in Hidalgo County may seem like an unworthy stop on the drive to South Padre Island with its strip malls and fast food joints dotting the highway.   But the former headquarters of the Alamo Sugar and Land Company sits in the center of the Rio Grande Valley and makes a perfect base for exploring the bird and butterfly hotspots of South Texas.

A Fourth of July trip took Bob and me to the National Butterfly Center, the Global Birding Center and the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge in a 48-hour off-season nature sojourn that made us want to rebook in the “high season” of October or March.

We stayed at the Alamo Inn B & B, a historic naturalists’ retreat just five miles from the fabulous Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge.  Our new friend Ro Wauer, butterfly guidebook author extraordinaire, who we met at the Wings Over the Hills Festival in Fredericksburg this spring, recommended it highly.  And despite the historic part of the hotel being closed for the off-season, Proprietor Keith Hackland made us feel welcome with his profound hospitality, charming South African accent, and dog friendly accommodations in adjacent studio apartments (Cost:  $78 per night).  Our dog Cocoa made friends with Hackland’s sweet pooch Henry, and roamed a huge, fenced yard.

Hackland offered hefty 20-page handouts of bird species we were likely to see upon check-in, retrieved from his well-stocked outdoor store which was also closed for the off-season.  Alas, we’re not serious birders and I’m a novice (but extremely enthusiastic) lepidopterist, more interested in the whole life cycles of plants, creatures and ecosystems than checking species off a life-list.  Yet the pages and pages of species had me intrigued:  were there really 500 species of birds and at least 200 different butterflies cruising the area around our hotel?  Apparently so.

Termite hatch left bug detritus everywhere

Termite hatch left bug detritus everywhere

We arrived Sunday afternoon and planned a late morning visit to the National Butterfly Center.   (One of the best things about chasing butterflies is that they don’t get up early.) As we sat on our front porch Sunday evening and watched buff-bellied hummingbirds nectar on Turk’s Cap, a thunderstorm blew in, dropping a quarter-inch of rain on the Alamo Inn’s garden.

Ten minutes later, a torrent of flying creatures filled the air–a massive hatch like we had never witnessed.  I thought at first they were Mayflies, but Hackland nabbed one with one hand and provided a positive I.D.: termites. “This happens pretty regularly after it’s been dry,” he said.

Empress Louisa butterflies at the National Butterfly Center

Empress Louisa butterflies at the National Butterfly Center

The next day, Empress Louisa, Asterocampa louisa, butterflies filled the air at the National Butterfly Center.  They fluttered along the pathways, nectared on lantana, and rested on miniature log roosts assembled by the Center.    This video provides a great overview.

The 100-acre park, opened in 2004, is a project of the North American Butterfly Association, which planted hundreds of host plants to draw butterflies from all corners of the Valley and northern Mexico.  More than 200 species have been identified along the Center’s trails.

Lake Flato's World Birding Center Headquarters in Mission, Texas

World Birding Center Headquarters in Mission, Texas, photo courtesy Lake|Flato Architects

Ambling the park-like grounds last week, we saw Queens, Sulphers, Whites, Swallowtails, Zebra Longwings, unusual hairstreaks and brush foots.  We had the place to ourselves, and enjoyed the solitude in spite of a muggy heat.  Tip:  be sure to bring your own snacks and drinks as the Butterfly Center offers no refreshments.  According to office manager Flora Vela, the Center had contracted with a restaurant to open a cafe on the premises earlier in  its history, but the deal fell through.

At the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley

At the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge in the Rio Grande Valley

Next stop: the World Birding Center ecotourism headquarters, built by San Antonio’s  AIA Firm of the Year, Lake|Flato Architects.  The award-winning building anchors nine birding destinations that dot the Valley and draw thousands of ecotourists each winter.  Unfortunately our trip here was cut short by another downpour.  A lovely Black Witch Moth kept us company under the eaves of the magnificent galvanized metal quonset-hut style patio. As a drumbeat of raindrops pounded on the tin roof, we were able to observe the rainwater collection system in action.  It felt like the tropics.

Canopy Walk, feels like the jungle at Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge

Bob Rivard on the Canopy Walk at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge

At the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, some of the wetlands were dry, but those back-to-back thunderstorms created a steamy, fertile backdrop for a hike.  We hoped to spot the Valley’s signature Green Jay, and helpful attendants at the front desk offered to spread birdseed in the feeding area to increase our chances.

No luck, but Kiskadees, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and other flying creatures kept our walk interesting and the screaming cicada chorus and tropical bird sounds provided an apt soundtrack as we traversed the Canopy Walk and climbed the Tree Tower.

An off-season visit has the advantage of  no crowds, but we’re already planning our high season return.

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Saving Texas Butterflies Highlighted by WFAA in Dallas

WFAA television in Dallas assembled a beautiful segment on the new National Butterfly Center in Mission.  The two-minute segment provides footage of the new facility and offers tips on how we can all pitch in to help save Texas butterflies.

You can view the clip here and get a taste of what’s in store in Mission.

National Butterfly Center Opens in Mission, Texas

Our favorite local newspaper, the San Antonio Express News, turned in some excellent coverage of the opening of the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas today.   Given that I couldn’t make it myself, it was the next best thing to being there.

The president of the North American Butterfly Association, Dr. Jeffrey Glassberg, compared visiting the Center to “going on a butterfly safari.”  Dr. Glassberg spoke last week at the Austin Butterfly Forum and caused a bit of befuddlement among some of us when he said that butterfly nets deter interest in butterflies because “no one wants to run around a field with a butterfly net.”

That comment caused a stir in my circles, where many of us choose to get up close and personal with our butterflies.  Few tools are as useful in exposing children to the gravitational magnet of butterfly marvels as a butterfly net, which allows us to feel, touch and witness their magic first hand and up close.

What do you think?  Do nets hinder or enhance the butterfly experience?  Let us know.

National Butterfly Center to Eclose this Week, National Butterfly Association Biennial Meeting to Follow

Straddling the Rio Grande and offering more than 300 species of butterflies, the National Butterfly Center opens its welcome center in Mission, Texas, on Thursday, October 28 at 2  PM.

Mexican Bluewing, photo courtesy of National Butterfly Center

The opening will be followed by the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) Biennial Members’ Meeting October 28-31.  The meeting will be held in association with the Texas Butterfly Festival. 

According to NABA, the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas is the best location in the United States for a butterfly facility because of the diversity of butterfly species that inhabit and frequent the multiple ecosystems that comprise the landscape–from Falcon Dam to Boca Chica where the Rio Grande empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s not too late to register for the meeting.