In addition to losing the presidential election, soon-to-be-former President Trump took another L last week in a battle with birders. The Trump administration had planned to purchase a 2.5-acre stretch of land in Texas that is home to the Salineño Wildlife Preserve with the intention of building its border wall on the plot. But that plan was rejected, thanks in large part to the vocal objections of birders who have long treasured the territory for its population of rare birds.
It looked like the conservation site was done for on Election Day, November 3, when US Customs and Border Protection announced that it had acquired the land from the Valley Land Fund, a group dedicated to preserving native habitats throughout southern Texas. Border Report, a publication that focuses on news and developments surrounding the southern border, first reported the acquisition. The report cited administration officials and included an official statement from the CPB that claimed the Valley Land Fund voluntarily signed an offer to sell the land to the federal government. The plan was for the preserve to be converted into an “enforcement zone," where more of Trump's planned border wall could be built.
When word broke, the birding and environmentalist communities were up in arms. Salineño Wildlife Preserve is a wildly popular destination for bird watchers. Jeffery Gordon, president of the American Birding Association, told Border Report that the conservation site is "one of the top two or three destinations on the continent of North America.” The land was referred to by Gordon as “hallowed ground” for birders, a place where many rare species can be spotted. "We look at it like paradise," he said.
Gordon's group, along with other conservationists, flooded the Valley Land Fund with calls, emails, and letters demanding that they not sell the land.
But the administration and its absurd border wall project have been successful in uprooting others, including indigenous people who have been pushed out of their homes to make room for the construction of the wall. Farmers have seen their farmland cut into by the border wall, towns that are dependent on cross-border commerce have taken a major economic hit, and it has put structures including homes, businesses, and even chapels at risk of being destroyed.
Much of the outcry must have come as a surprise to the Valley Land Fund, which disputed ever agreeing to sell its land off to the government. In a statement on Facebook, the organization acknowledged that it had been approached by the federal government and had been asked to sell the land to be used to expand the border wall, and had initially signed an agreement to sell, but had not finalized anything. The government jumped the gun in making its announcement, and the Valley Land Fund ultimately backed out of the deal. "Today, we believe the best outcome will be achieved by rescinding any and all agreements with US Government that we have regarding the Salineno Preserve and hold strong in the hopes that we will be able to preserve this land for future generations," the group said.
Trump's loss at the hands of birders is fitting for a final act of his administration, which has been anything but friendly to birds during these past four years. Even with this small victory for environmentalists, the wall has done more harm than good when it comes to biodiversity in the region.