Carbondale high school students learn in two languages about border walls and black bears

Roaring Fork High School students engage as Wildlands Network ecologists Mirna Manteca and Myles Traphagen talk about how proposed border barriers could affect wildlife. The presentation is part of a week of events on borderland ecology issues organized by Wilderness Workshop's Latino outreach program, Difiende Nuestra Tierra.
Thomas Phippen / Post Independent

Myles Traphagen believes there’s an impending crisis at the border, but this one is about wildlife.

“It’s not a political thing, there is a real crisis occurring there,” Traphagen told a group of Roaring Fork High School students on Friday.

“It’s going to change the evolutionary history of North America if we divide the continent completely, because animals have been moving back and forth for tens of thousands of years,” Traphagen added.

Traphagen, who coordinates the borderlands project for Wildlands Network in Tuscon, Arizona, presented his work on borderland ecology along with Mirna Manteca, a Wildlands ecologist based in Sonora, Mexico, as part of a series of bilingual talks organized by Carbondale nonprofit Wilderness Workshop.

In some of the proposed new border barrier construction areas, hundreds of miles of vehicle barriers would be converted to high steel fences designed to prevent humans — and coincidentally wildlife — from passing through.

The presentation to students is part of a week of events focused on borderland ecology issues put on by Wilderness Workshop’s Latino outreach program, Defiende Nuestra Tierra, which means “Defend Our Earth” in English.

The two ecologists Traphagen and Manteca took turns presenting in their native language, with the other translating for the rest of the classroom.

But when Manteca shared her experiences working on the U.S. side of the border, she translated her own words.

Once, Manteca and a group of Mexican students were returning to their truck after a field training north of the border, and had an awkward encounter.

“We were just walking, and we see this older white couple who were staring at us, and pointing, gasping. And we see them take out their phone,” Manteca said.

As soon as they got onto the highway, a Customs and Border Protection agent pulled them over and said he had received a report of people running for trucks north of the border. The agent let them go immediately.

The Sonoran pronghorn, Mexican wolf, jaguars and black bears were identified in a 2017 Wildlands Network study as most at risk of extinction if border barriers prevent their free movement through the Southwest.

Another issue of concern is that border barrier construction can go ahead without the federal government’s many environmental reviews under the Real ID Act of 2005, Traphagen said.

Manteca works on both sides of the border to track wildlife fatalities on highways and coordinates with 11 sister parks in Mexico and the U.S. where biologists can share information and work together.

Challenges both cultural and legal exist for people working on two sides of the border, Manteca said.

“There are also safety challenges for the project, and not just in Mexico. The borderlands are kind of an unsafe place. There’s a lot of illegal trafficking going north to south, and south to north. It’s not just on the Mexico side,” she said.

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