SOURCE: The Intercept

DATE: February 6, 2020

SNIP: Contractors working for the Trump administration are blowing apart a mountain on protected lands in southern Arizona to make way for the president’s border wall. The blasting is happening on the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a tract of Sonoran Desert wilderness long celebrated as one of the nation’s great ecological treasures, that holds profound spiritual significance to multiple Native American groups.

In a statement to The Intercept, U.S. Customs and Border Protection confirmed that the blasting began this week and will continue through the end of the month. “The construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction, within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector,” the statement said, referring to an area also known as Monument Hill. “The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month.”

The agency added that it “will continue to have an environmental monitor present during these activities as well as on-going clearing activities.”

Rep. Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, told The Intercept that he has zero faith that the Department of Homeland Security’s “environmental monitor will do anything to avoid, mitigate, or even point out some of the sacrilegious things that are occurring and will continue to occur, given the way they’re proceeding.”

Grijalva’s blunt assessment is based on a visit he made to Organ Pipe last month, alongside archaeologists and leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, whose ancestral homelands and sacred burial sites are in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump’s border wall expansion. One of those burial sites lies just beyond the westward advance of the border wall, Grijalva explained. “It’s right in the path,” he said, meaning that “the one indignation of the blasting on the hill is shortly to follow with other indignations and disrespect.” According to Grijalava, “DHS had mentioned to the tribes that they would back off on developing the hill, but the work is still being done.”

The agency has consistently failed in its legal obligation to meaningfully consult with tribal stakeholders in southern Arizona, Grijalva said. The blasting that’s happening now, he added, “is just the crudest indication of what’s going on.”

Celebrated as “a pristine example of an intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem,” Organ Pipe was designated as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976. Even before the explosions began, the construction there was already one of Trump’s most controversial border wall projects, unfolding on the homelands of the Tohono O’odham and in areas that are ostensibly safeguarded by the strictest public-land designations on the books.

Neither factor has stopped contractors from drilling into the ground and draining water from a rare desert aquifer in order to mix concrete to support a towering, 30-foot barrier along the U.S.-Mexico divide. In working to fulfill the president’s chief campaign promise, construction crews on Organ Pipe have uprooted saguaro cacti, slicing the iconic plants into chunks and bulldozed a wide roadway to make room for trucks, cranes, and other construction vehicles.

With the wall in place, and its floodlights illuminating the area through the night, the migration of several rare desert animal species is expected to come to an end. The construction is particularly threatening to Quitobaquito Springs, the only naturally occurring source of fresh water for miles around. The desert oasis was once inhabited by the Hia Ced O’odham — a smaller band of the larger O’odham community — and remains a monumentally important spiritual site for the O’odham people to this day.

“A historically significant area is going to be changed irreparably,” Grijalva said. “You’re never going to be able to put it back together.”