American Birding Podcast



#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.