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#MySantaAna: What Birders Can Do RIGHT NOW

Following our concerns about the construction of a wall on Santa Ana NWR, we asked our friend Ellen Paul, who has a great deal of experience in these matters, for practical advice on what birders can do in this situation. 

By Ellen Paul

It’s a very long shot but we must take it. Call or e-mail your members of Congress and ask them to stop the construction of a section of border wall across the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. Yes, you’ve been inundated with calls-to-arms for the past six months. Every day brings a steady stream of e-mails, tweets, and Facebook posts exhorting you to call Congress. The pace will almost certainly pick up in the coming months and years.

This is different. This is no mere threat. This is happening. Right now.

The Texas Observer reported on July 14 that “For at least six months, private contractors and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have been quietly preparing to build the first piece of President Trump’s border wall through the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge…”

The planned wall would run nearly three miles. Its 18-foot structure would consist of a concrete base topped with a fence made of steel bollards. Plans also call for a road south of the wall and clearing refuge land on either side of the wall for surveillance, cameras, and light towers. The CBP has acknowledged that planning is underway.

On July 12 the House voted 232-187 to approve the rule stripping anti-wall language from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

On July 18 the House appropriations committee approved a bill that included $498 million for 28 miles of new levee wall in the Rio Grande Valley.

Even worse than that, House majority leaders decided to attach that money to a spending bill for the Defense Department, making it even more likely that it will pass when the full House votes next week.

The wall money is strongly opposed by Democrats and some Republicans, especially those who represent the border states.

Why should birders focus their efforts on this one bit of bad news in a deluge of bad news? Simply put, because we are birders [Editor’s note: See a recent post at The ABA Blog for a reason why Santa Ana is important to the ABA and the birders we represent]. Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is internationally recognized as ‘a birder’s paradise.’ Its 2,088 acres of subtropical thorn forest host many South Texas specialties. Many migrants depend upon this refuge to escape harsh winters or as a critical stop-over as they head to the tropics. The Santa Ana refuge welcomes 165,000 visitors a year, including birders from across the world. A 2011 study by Texas A&M University found that nature tourism in the Rio Grande Valley brought in $463 million a year, most of it from birding.

There’s another reason for birders to step up on this one. Though these calls and e-mails are a long shot, they may be the only shot. Unlike most other potential wildlife conservation and environmental setbacks, litigation can’t stop the wall. Legislation (the Real ID Act of 2005) enacted after the 9/11 attacks gave the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to waive any legal requirements that would impede the expeditious construction of barriers and roads along the border. That means that the many environmental analyses such as an environmental impact statement, Endangered Species Act consultations, and Refuge Improvement Act of 1997 can’t slow, much less stop, this destruction. The law even prohibits lawsuits except on Constitutional grounds.

Appeals to the Department of the Interior are the very definition of the word “pointless.”

That leaves only the calls and e-mails. So do it. Do it now.



Find your Senators’ phone numbers and webforms at and your Representatives at

Calls are fine but it can be hard to get through. If you call, keep it VERY short. Be polite. Give your name, address, and zip code so you are recognized as a constituent. Simply ask that the Senator/Representative vote against any legislation that would fund construction of the border wall across the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.

If you use the webform, you can say more, but it isn’t really necessary. The staffers simply record the issue and the position you support.

The National Wildlife Refuge Association has provided a form that is already filled out.  If you want to add something, here are some talking points:

  • Santa Ana is the “crown jewel” of the National Wildlife Refuge System and it is enjoyed by the 165,000 visitors who bring $463 million in revenue to the region.
  • The wall and associated roads and lighting will all but destroy the refuge and its wildlife, resulting in a loss of revenue to nearby communities.
  • Local residents and nearby jurisdictions oppose the wall!
  • Other efforts to deter illegal border crossing have been working. In early July, CBP reported a huge drop in arrests along the Southwest border, down 53% from a year ago, and to a six-year record low. At this special place, use alternative methods to deter illegal border crossings.

Thanks for your help.

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The ABA Blog's Open Mics offer an opportunity for members of the birding community to share their voice with the ABA audience. We accept all and any submissions. If you have something you'd like to share, please contact blog editor Nate Swick at [email protected]
  • Pingback: Protect #MySantaAna From a Proposed Border Wall « ABA Blog()

  • Cc

    Just called, told them to SUPORT the wall. We need it now more than ever.

    • Cliff Hawley

      You’re a garbage person. I notice you don’t use your real name, coward.

      • NinaBirder

        Cliff, calling names doesn’t change opinions. Only calm, reasoned conversation will do that. I’ve been to the Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a beautiful place and needs to be preserved so that future generations will be able to see and enjoy the wildlife there. The wall would be an ineffective deterrent to illegal border crossings, and the price for it in terms of destroyed habitat is far too high. Cc probably has not had the opportunity to visit this place. He/she also probably is not aware that birds are to the environment like a canary is in a mine — when the canary dies, so do the miners. When the birds die, so does humankind!

        • Cliff Hawley

          Trolls don’t comment to have their minds changed. There’s no explanation or reasonable discussion to be had with a dumpster fire like that.

    • Walter Wickenburg

      Obviously you are a Trump supporter since you can’t even spell “support” correctly. Why don’t you go join the NRA. The ABA cares about the environment and it seems like you don’t.

    • Fawn Bowden

      If you’re going to SUPPORT the wall, learn how to spell the word correctly troll.

    • I AGREE.

    • Plans also call for a road south of the wall and clearing refuge land on either side of the wall for surveillance, cameras, and light towers. The CBP has acknowledged that planning is underway.

  • Justin Cale

    Done! While I’ve not yet been there, the thought of tearing through the refuge with a ridiculous border wall is disgusting. I would love for my first visit to be border wall free! Many thanks to Ellen for writing this!

    • Justin Cale

      I’d also like to point out that I have no issue putting a NAME to my comments…

    • On July 18 the House appropriations committee approved a bill that included $498 million for 28 miles of new levee wall in the Rio Grande Valley.

  • NinaBirder

    Just wrote three letters and will put them in the mail tomorrow morning.

  • Eric Scholz

    I love Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge and have beautiful memories from there. I fully support the border wall and believe unchecked immigration and its attendant population growth is destroying our wildlands far more than the wall will. This is not racism but environmentalism, and was the Sierra Club’s position until 1996. Sierra Club did not endorse mass immigration until 2013, and that position is environmentally untenable. There is no good reason for the ABA to take a political position that is not grounded in ecology, and it should not claim to represent birders–at least not this one–if it does so.

    • Bastante

      Eric – I am not an ABA employee and I am not speaking for the ABA. I wrote this and offered it to the ABA for their blog, having noticed on FB and elsewhere that birders were concerned about the issue.

    • Justin Cale

      Eric, I’d also like to point out that I’m not speaking for the ABA nor am I an employee. However, organizations are bound to do what is in the best interest and more often than not, popular interest, of it’s members. I’m quite sure their aim is not to offend members that disagree, but to empower and support the vast majority of members that DO want to take action.

      You’re more than free to hold your position, and to speak out in opposition of a stance if you choose, just remember that it’s your stance and the ABA needs to do what’s best for it’s membership as a whole.

    • Andy Boyce

      As others have said, you are entitled to your opinion about the wall, but to say that the ABA’s stance isn’t grounded in ecology is ludicrous. There are a ton of data out there showing and predicting massive (negative) ecological impacts of such a wall on everything from tortoises to birds to jaguars. Your assertion that immigration somehow impacts population growth doesn’t really make much sense to me. If a bunch of crossbills move north of the Canadian border for the summer, does their population somehow change? If your driving interest is population control than elevating quality of life for everyone should be something you are passionate about. People are risking their lives via immigration for just that reason — to improve their quality of life and escape danger. When people are secure and well educated, birth rates drop. Perhaps you should be pro-immigration?

      • Eric Scholz

        Andy, you make the best argument that can be made for mass migration, based on the observation that increased income correlates with decreased fertility. The idea is that we import poor people, raise them to Western living standards, and within a generation or two their fertility will drop to Western levels. Continue until the problem is solved. Can you think of anything wrong with this reasoning?

        • Andy Boyce

          My arguments against the wall are many, and not appropriate here. I’m only pointing out that your ‘ecological’ argument is bananas. This is a birding board, not a political one so no more from me.

  • Barbara Volkle

    Can you point to a list of local Valley representatives to contact… The ABA must itself step up and advocate for all of us! And for the birds and habitat!

    • Bastante

      Barbara – do you mean the U.S. Representative for the congressional district or do you mean state senators and congressman for that area, or….? If you can clarify what you mean, I will provide the info.

      • Barbara Volkle

        Great question. Federal elected officials from that area, as well as US senators, local mayors, state officials (if you think that will help). This will potentially have a crippling economic impact in the area, and they need to hear from us that we take our money somewhere else. Please think about adding an appeal to local bird clubs and all birding organizations to contact their reps and the above folks in Texas. This is being portrayed as a done deal! Thanks for your efforts!

        • Unless you are a constituent of those districts, contacting those representatives (who are uniformly against this fence anyway), will have little to no effect. You are far better off contacting your own congresspeople.

          • Congressman Vincente Gonzalez, who represents the district that includes Santa Ana, made this statement yesterday.


          • Bastante

            Absolutely correct, and that’s why the webforms ask for your address and zip code.

          • Bastante

            That is absolutely correct. And please realize that you should always contact your legislators, even if (a) you think they share your views or (b) even if you think they are utterly beyond hope. Why? Well, your representatives in Oregon need to know that you care about an issue that is half a country away. They need to know that you want them to make it a priority among the dozens and dozens of issues on their plate As for the lost cause types, they also need to know that they don’t have a blank check to ignore you in perpetuity. And many may be worried about 2018.

        • Bastante

          The U.S. Senators in Texas are John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. The refuge is in the 34th congressional district, represented by Filemon Vela. He has spoken out against the wall but if he is your representative, write anyway. They always need the support of their constituents. The LA Times article quoted Vela ““Clearly, it’s all being done in secret and it’s not transparent at all,” he said. “I can tell you we’re going to fight like hell to stop it.”

          “These refuges are national treasures and sacred places, and we have to do everything we can to stop the Trump administration from putting this wall into place,” said Vela, who opposes all border walls in his district, famously telling Trump in an open letter last year: “Mr. Trump, you’re a racist and you can take your border wall and shove it up your ass.”

        • Bastante

          The Texas state legislators: Texas State Senator

          Texas State Senate District 27–Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr.
          Capitol Office: CAP 3S.5
          Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0127
          Capitol Address: P.O. Box 12068, Capitol Station
          Austin, TX 78711
          District Address: 7 North Park Plaza
          Brownsville TX 78521
          Phone: (956) 548-0227
          State District Offices

          Texas State Representatives

          Texas State House District 37–Representative René O. Oliveira
          Capitol Office: CAP 3N.6
          Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0640
          Capitol Address: P.O. Box 2910
          Austin, TX 78768
          District Address: 855 West Price Road, Suite 22
          Brownsville TX 78520
          Phone: (956) 542-1828

          Texas State House District 38–Representative Eddie Lucio, III
          Capitol Office: CAP GN.8
          Capitol Phone: (512) 463-0606
          Capitol Address: P.O. Box 2910
          Austin, TX 78768
          District Address: 1805 Ruben Torres Blvd.,, Suite B-27
          Brownsville TX 78521
          Phone: (956) 542-2800

    • We are advocating for birders in the way that we can. We are a small organization. But our friends at ABC and Cornell Lab of Ornithology are also standing alongside us. We encourage birders to make their voices heard here.

      • Barbara Volkle

        If the ABA is to mature as an organization, this is the obvious next step. Your headquarters are a couple of hours from Washington DC. Organizations that are WAY smaller than the ABA are advocates for their causes. This is a crisis. You have got to be kidding. If there was EVER an issue for birders and their organizations to speak out, this is it. No excuses! No excuses!

        • Chris Feeney

          I fully agree with this. The ABA should stand up and do something.
          For the leadership just to pawn off the responsibility to it’s members is a non-response to this critical issue.

          • Birders can help the ABA become a more active advocate for issues like this by making a generous donation to the ABA’s Conservation and Community programs.

            Here’s the link:

          • Bastante

            Absolutely! People don’t realize that the kinds of activities that comprise policy advocacy require resources – human resources in the form of experienced, skilled staff. And that takes the other kind of resource – money. Which means more members and more contributions beyond membership dues.

          • Bastante

            It is good to hear various views about the role of the ABA but I feel as though I’ve inadvertently given a misimpression that I want to correct. The ABA leadership didn’t pawn anything off on members. The blog was my idea and I offered it to the ABA leadership to publish on their blog. Grassroots organizing is a very important and legitimate policy tool.

        • Justin Cale

          I’d just like to point out, that one of the most important things that an organization like the ABA can do is empower it’s members, and that is exactly what they’re doing here. Reserving a pessimistic attitude does nothing for the Santa Ana NWR. While I am sure they are exploring any and all options to make an impact, empowering their members with with both information and insight is one of the strongest actions to take.

          Completely personal opinion here, but movements aren’t won on the backs of organizations, they’re won on the backs of many of like minded people that have joined as a single voice.

      • Barbara Volkle

        Just to clarify. The ABA is stepping up to the plate letting members know what the situation is and what we as individuals can do about it. As an organization, I know they are working find out more about the situation and what can be done. Just like everyone else, I’m totally upset by this horrible situation. I’m just urging using this one tactic in addition to the load of work they’ve already done and will continue to do on behalf of birds and wildlife.

  • Signed and sent!

  • J. London

    Done. Emailed my Senators.

  • Sharon Kanareff

    Signed and sent. As a former congressional staffer, I can say that even opponents need to hear from you. If you can personalize the note with any of your experiences at Santa Ana, even better, just don’t go overboard.

    • That’s great insight. Thanks.

  • Dominic Cormier

    Any suggestions on what I and the hundreds of thousands of other non americans that support the refuge can do to make our voices heard? So many birders from Canada and elsewhere have made the pilgrimage to that refuge.

    • A great question and one I don’t know the answer too, sadly.

      • Bastante

        Support organizations that are trying to protect this refuge, other refuges, our national parks, national monuments, and birds.

    • Liz Gordon


  • Bastante
  • Pingback: American Birding Podcast: Birds Over the Top with Seabird McKeon « ABA Blog()

  • Bastante

    Update, 27 July. The House appropriations committee passed the “minibus” defense spending bill that includes funding for the wall.


  • SeEtta

    Phone calls to Congressional representatives are very effective. Please call your Senator:
    go to and put your address in to get info on your Senators and Representatives including phone numbers to their offices. Since the Senate is staying in Washington 2 weeks into August, I suggest you call their Washington office.

    What to say: I am opposed to building Border Wall through Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge because (choose one or two)
    If you have been to Santa Ana NWR says something about that.
    Santa Ana one of the top birding destinations in the United States, the refuge
    attracts more than 165,000 visitors each year and generates an estimated
    $462 million to the local economy.
    Clearing 150 feet of vegetation next to wall will destroy a significant amount of vital biodiverse habitat in the Rio Grande Valley where 95% of the native habitat has been removed.

  • SeEtta

    no border wall

  • SeEtta

    Now the Administration is moving to wave all environmental regulations in California so additional border wall can be built where 3 bird species that are designated Endangered are found. And the $1.6 million for additional Border Wall was passed by the House and will go to the Senate. So please call your Senators and tell them ‘ no more border wall in the Rio Grande Valley or in California. Find Senators and their contact info on

  • Jason Crotty

    Perhaps I missed this in the discussion, but why isn’t the ABA itself writing and sending a letter on behalf of the organization and its members? This is an issue that goes to the core of the organization and its mission. Why not take an organizational position?

    • Jason–

      To me, it seems like we’ve done far, far more than merely send a letter or two, and taken a stronger position against this than any other birding org.

      Still, if there’s somewhere you think we can help by sending out an org letter, we’ll consider it, certainly.

      I will be heading down to Texas late this week to help lead at the walk/rally there. I’ll be meeting with a number of people to develop ways we can keep applying pressure and keep Santa Ana, and the myriad great birding areas along the US-Mexico border open to birders. Watch the blog for more info on all this.

      I’d be happy to talk with you further by phone, etc, if you’d like to help in these efforts. Thanks for your interest and support.

      • Jason Crotty

        I think all the things that I have seen from the ABA so far are great, and I certainly don’t have a problem with this post calling for action by individual birders or appearing in Texas. Those are all great and I support them without reservation.

        My thought was that given the amount of thought an research that the ABA has dedicated to this issue, another step might be to write a letter on ABA letterhead and send it to the relevant political actors and/or use it as a basis for an op-ed piece somewhere. It could also be posted on the ABA website and be a model of sorts for individual letters.

        The ABA as an organization that represents the community of American birders might have some institutional clout that individuals do not.

        Keep up the good work on this issue! (Also, thanks for the response!)

  • Luis Falcon

    Don’t bother, this is the new America thanks to all of you Trump supporters! Oh am by the way, I wonder how many birds will go on the endangered list from all the Nuclear fall we are going to from Trump running his mouth and antagonizing that other imbecile?!


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