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LRGV NWR Tracts and Associated Impacts Due to Border Fence Construction

The LRGV NWR owns and/or manages approximately 80 of the 275 miles of land adjacent to the Rio Grande. The primary purpose for the establishment of the refuge was to create a continuous vegetative corridor for wildlife, particularly for the endangered felids found only in the southern counties of Texas. The Starr County border fence segments, as proposed, may impact some of the best habitat(s) in the U.S. along the final portion of the Rio Grande. General Impacts The Starr County border fence segments, as proposed, will cut off access to the Rio Grande for wildlife, which in many areas serves as the sole source of fresh water. Some of the best, most suitable and diverse habitats are found along the bank of the Rio Grande, where wildlife is most prevalent. The footprint of the three fence segments in Starr County as well as the additional 15 wide roads used for maintenance and patrols on each side of the fence will remove approximately 22.33 acres (60 x 16,210) of Refuge habitat. This figure only represents native vegetation. Fence alignments on Los Negros Creek and portions of the Los Ebanos Tracts of the LRGV will effectively make these habitats north of the fence unusable for species like ocelots and jaguarondi. The fence will cut off access to approximately 600 acres of ocelot habitat (418 acres on the Refuge) and prevent this cat species from getting to the river for water. The habitat value of these tracts will become primarily for migratory birds. This is a semi-arid area and the vegetation grows more slowly. Lack of rainfall/water and the soil conditions make it more difficult to restore native vegetation. Most segments of the fence are located directly adjacent to the Rio Grande, leaving only a narrow corridor of habitat between the river and the fence. The narrow width and length of these segments makes it unlikely that terrestrial wildlife like ocelots and jaguarondi will ever use these areas, effectively cutting off the wildlife corridor through the segments. Construction in these areas will cause escalated erosion and revegetation will be difficult if not impossible because of the steep slopes and eroded landscapes. Soil disturbance and increased invasive grasses prevent the reestablishment of native plants and increase the potential for fire danger. CBP is proposing lighting at gate locations, which will negatively impact the movements of endangered nocturnal mammals like the ocelot and will render adjacent habitats unusable. Utility easements from adjacent developed areas will inevitably impact additional habitat so that utilities can be brought to the fence segments.

Arroyo systems in Starr County will be significantly compromised by current fence alignment. This will lead to increased flooding upstream after significant rain falls.

Border Fence Segment PF225: O-1 This westernmost border fence segment would cut across the southern boundary of the Los Negros Creek Tract of the LRGV NWR for 0.33 miles, separating all terrestrial wildlife from water. The alignment of the fence is along the river on the west side of Roma. The length of this segment and the narrow width will effectively cut off movement east for wildlife species like ocelot and jaguarondi. These tracts are important due to the habitat and cultural values, including remnant fossilized oyster reefs that pre-date human kind and critical habitat for an endangered plant, the Zapata bladderpod. This stretch of the Rio Grande is also known to have four species of birds found nowhere else in the United States. Red-billed pigeons, brown jay, Audubons orioles and white-collared seedeater provide unique bird-watching opportunities that draw wildlife enthusiasts from across the U.S. and many countries. Loss of habitat and associated disturbance from construction would significantly impact current and future nature tourism opportunities in Starr County. This segment calls for infrastructure on both sides of the Roma-Miguel Aleman International Bridge which would obstruct the natural views of the Rio Grande from the overlook constructed to support the Roma Bluffs World Birding Center. Border Fence Segment PF225: O-2 This segment is east of Segment O-1 and has a proposed length of 3.74 miles. Border fence segment would impact three tracts of the LRGV NWR (Rio San Juan, Los Velas and Los Velas West) and compromise a recently signed bi-national agreement between the U.S. and Mexico to create wildlife corridors between both countries. The LRGV NWR is in a partnership with the National Commission on Natural Protected Areas in Mexico to establish international wildlife corridors that connect the Laguna Madre in both countries, as well as a corridor that would establish connections for wildlife to travel between the Picachos mountain range in Mexico and the Rio Grande near Rio Grande City, Texas. Proposed corridors within this plan follow major drainage systems that meet at the Rio Grande. One of these systems, the Rio San Juan, flows from Mexico to the Rio Grande and is on the south side of the Rio San Juan Tract of LRGV NWR. The current alignment of the border fence would bisect that corridor and eliminate the connection to Mexico. Border Fence Segment PF225: O-3 This segment would impact more than half a mile of the Los Ebanos Tract. This segment also calls for infrastructure on both sides of the Los Ebanos Ferry Bridge, which is the last remaining hand-pulled rope bridge in the United States. The alignment of this segment is close to the river and the length of this alignment will effectively eliminate movement of terrestrial species like ocelot and jaguarondi along the river.