UNESCO urges end to border wall threatening World Heritage site, wildlife in Mexico

FUZHOU, China– The UNESCO World Heritage Committee today urged the United States to stop construction of the border wall. The committee also called on the United States to work with Mexico to assess the damage caused by the wall to a World Heritage site in Mexico and adjacent protected lands in the United States and to recommend ways to restore the landscape and l wildlife habitat.

Today’s resolution approved by the committee, the official decision-making body under the World Heritage Convention, follows a 2017 petition from conservation groups and representatives of the Tohono O’odham of Sonora, Mexico . This petition called for “endangered” status for the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve on the US-Mexico border. This 2,700 square mile World Heritage Site shares a border with the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in the United States

“This is an important step towards repairing the devastation the border wall has caused to communities and wildlife,” said Alex Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We share the responsibility of protecting wildlife in the Sonoran Desert and reversing the horrific damage caused by the construction of the wall on both sides of the border.”

In its resolution, the committee stated that “the negative impacts of the border wall on the biodiversity and conservation of the property are of the utmost concern”. He urged the United States to stop the construction of a border wall between the biosphere reserve, Organ Pipe and Cabeza Prieta, assess the damage and “develop appropriate measures to ensure the restoration of ecological connectivity”.

In 2013, UNESCO designated El Pinacate Biosphere Reserve as a World Heritage Site in recognition of the region’s exceptional biodiversity, including the desert fauna that has evolved over millions of years by freely crossing the US-Mexico border. The border wall blocks essential movement and migration, fragments habitat, and limits the ability of animals to search for food and water.

The wall also harms the Tohono O’odham people, who historically inhabited El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar and whose traditional lands are divided by the US-Mexico border. El Pinacate is sacred to the Tohono O’odhams, and the site is regularly used for ceremonial purposes, including a sacred salt pilgrimage across the border to the Gulf of California.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order on day one in office that suspended construction of the border wall. In June, the administration canceled plans for walls financed by embezzled military funds.

Conservation groups have called on the Biden administration to immediately begin restoring more than a dozen ecologically sensitive and culturally significant areas damaged by the construction of walls, including areas bordering El Pinacate.

The coalition sent the administration and members of Congress a document detailing the criteria and specific areas in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas where the wall is expected to fall and the land allowed to heal. These include wildlife refuges, sacred sites, wilderness areas, wildlife corridors and rivers.

“Restoring these fragile ecosystems must be a binational effort, and we are grateful to UNESCO for taking the lead to address it,” Olivera said. “We hope the Biden and Lopez Obrador administrations will work closely with border communities and tribal nations to fix whatever has been destroyed.”

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