For Immediate Release, September 13, 2023
Alejandro Olivera, (202) 849-8403, firstname.lastname@example.org
World Heritage Committee Urges U.S. to Protect Mexican Site From Border Wall
El Pinacate Reserve Could Make List of ‘World Heritage in Danger’
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia— The UNESCO World Heritage Committee requested today that the United States restore ecological connectivity to a Mexican World Heritage site harmed by the U.S. border wall. The wall impedes wildlife passage, including for the Sonoran pronghorn, between the United States and the El Pinacate and Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve in Mexico.
The committee requested that the United States and Mexico develop an action plan to assess and mitigate the wall’s impacts and restore connectivity. They further urged monitoring of key species, a Sonoran Pronghorn recovery plan, and conservation measures for a proposed transmission network and a photovoltaic project in Puerto Peñasco, Sonora.
“The whole world is watching what the U.S. wall is doing to El Pinacate and border wildlife. This call-out should make the Biden administration sit up and take notice,” said Alejandro Olivera, senior scientist and Mexico representative for the Center, who is attending the committee meeting in Riyadh. “The border wall has been a disaster for the Sonoran pronghorn and other species. The wall also completely disrespects the traditional ceremonies of the Tohono O’odham people, whose use of this sacred landscape must be preserved. The United States should tear down the harmful wall, but at the very least, officials must find a way to let wildlife freely cross the border.”
If the United States does not take action to restore wildlife connectivity, the site could be inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger at the 2024 meeting. Under the World Heritage Convention, a site may be listed as “in danger” if “development projects” or “major public works” threaten the natural values the site was designated to protect.
As a result of today’s request, Mexico and the United States are required to cooperate on and submit a report on the state of conservation of El Pinacate and the implementation of the connectivity measures. The report is due to the World Heritage Center by February 1, 2024, and will be examined by the committee at its 46th session next year.
Last week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a damning report detailing the severe damage the border wall caused to wildlife, public lands and Indigenous sacred sites and burial grounds at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, directly adjacent to El Pinacate.
During the Trump administration, the United States completed 455 miles of border wall along the Mexico-U.S. border. The 30-foot-high wall was built across the boundary of El Pinacate and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, blocking critical wildlife migration in and out of this unique protected habitat and endangering the area’s connectivity and integrity. The wall now runs along the full 87 miles of Pinacate’s border, leaving just 14 miles in the mountains without a barrier.
UNESCO designated the El Pinacate Reserve as a World Heritage property in 2013 in recognition of the area's outstanding biodiversity. Desert wildlife in the reserve evolved over millions of years, freely crossing the Sonoran Desert over what is now the U.S.-Mexico border.
In February the Center sent a letter urging the World Heritage Committee to recognize the damage being done to El Pinacate and borderlands wildlife. The Center and other conservation groups and representatives of the Tohono-O'odham of Sonora also petitioned for “in danger” status for El Pinacate in 2017.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.