Walls on the Border

This section of the US/Mexico border parallels Mexico Highway 2 and currently has metal fencing that impedes vehicular incursion but does not slow down someone on foot. It is not much of a barrier to wildlife either.

A few years ago, we climbed a restored segment of the Great Wall of China near Beijing. This incredible fortification, which began as early as 700 B.C., was re-built, added to and repaired up to about 1600 A.D. The main section, built by the Ming Dynasty, the last ones to add to the wall, was over 3,000 miles long. The intent of this architectural marvel was largely defensive, but it also controlled immigration and commerce. Today, with the exception of some renovated segments, the wall is largely in various states of ruin, much of it unrecognizable as stone has been carted away and incorporated into local projects.

Camped at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona last week, we were just a scant five miles from another proposed border wall, this one on the international boundary between Mexico and the United States. One day we drove 15 miles west from Lukeville along the border on the USA side, to get to a wetland in the Monument. For much of the drive, the border was just feet away and we could watch traffic on Mexico Highway 2 which also parallels the border. Twice we were stopped by Customs and Border Patrol agents and park rangers warning us of the potential dangers from drug and human smugglers in the area, warnings that were unnecessary because of the ample signs saying the same thing.

There is much debate about the efficacy of this proposed wall. Will it stop the illegal immigration it is intended to thwart? Illegal immigration has changed in the past decade. Once, immigrants were mostly young males with criminal records. According to a report in the Yuma Sun newspaper, today many of the immigrants are families from Central American countries, not just Mexico, who just want to get across the border where they turn themselves in hoping for political asylum. In the middle of January, a group of more than 300 Guatemalans slipped under an existing border wall and did this very thing. I am proud to live in a country considered by the world as a refuge from evil and corruption, but I am also leery of open borders. It is a true moral dilemma.

 There is argument that the up to six-billion-dollar or more cost would be better spent on high-tech surveillance equipment, much more sophisticated than most of us can imagine. Are we relying on 15th century technology to correct a 21st century problem or would this new wall be a superior mix of the two?

Much has also been written about the impacts such a wall, called an impermeable barrier in bio-speak, will have on wildlife and the ecological integrity of this incredibly diverse and fragile area. The proposals for the wall change by the day and it is difficult to pin down exactly what this wall will look like. There are 1,989 miles of border and a solid wall could be incorporated into some or all of it. Regardless, in 2005, the U.S. Congress passed the Real ID Act which allows the Department of Homeland Security to waive any laws, including the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, if they impede wall construction. This carte blanc approach could spell ecologic disaster, as wildlife and environmental concerns don’t have to be a consideration in the design and construction. Habitat loss, population fragmentation, home ranges divided, migrations curtailed, localized extinctions—wildlife and nature once again required to suffer for the “greater good”. 

If this wall comes to fruition, I wonder what it will look like to our posterity 400 years from now. Will it be a strong, standing symbol of our nationality or will it be a ruin like China’s Great Wall? Will our successors consider it to have been worth the cost, not in dollars, but ecologically?

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from Nature-track.com!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

TAX DAY is coming! Here is a chance to do something good with a bit of your tax return and make the day less painful.

Donate part of your tax return to support wildlife in Idaho!

On the second page of the Idaho Individual Tax form 40 you have the opportunity to donate to the “Nongame Wildlife Conservation Fund”.

Check-off this box on your next return or ask your tax preparer to mark the Nongame check-off on your behalf. You can donate any amount you wish, it all helps to support the wildlife you love.

If you are not from Idaho, check with your own state wildlife agency about how you can help. Many states have a similar program.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho