SAN PEDRO RIVER — “This breaks my heart. It’s irreplaceable.”
As Patricia Larson, who lives near the border, looked around at the flagged Freemont cottonwood trees with pink stakes reading “Remove tree,” she could not believe the federal government was proceeding with building the controversial border wall across the San Pedro River in the protected San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area (SPRNCA). More than a dozen trees of varying ages are flagged along the river bed.
“This is so important to the birds and wildlife,” she continued. “There’s history here. There is no way to reproduce this.”
The cottonwoods not only provide bank stabilization and shade, but safe harbor for the million of birds which pass through the desert oasis on their annual migrations.
She pointed out the wide floodplain of the riverbed scoured by rushing water and questioned the logic behind building a wall which would stop the flow of water so important to the 57,000-acre SPRNCA and the habitat it provides for threatened and endangered species.
Just across the anti-vehicle barrier backed by barbed wire in Mexico, huge snags of woody debris from storms indicated the power of monsoonal flooding and the problems it brings.
“It’s just not going to work,” she continued. “We should have had a say in this. They should leave it alone. Give the money to education, Meals on Wheels, take care of our own.”
Glenn Spencer, who also lives on a 104-acre ranch which touches the international boundary, is anything but happy with the Trump Administration’s decision to “waste” millions of dollars on a wall, but for a different reason.
He believes technology can resolve the problem of illegal border crossers for far, far less. Since his background is systems engineering and operations research, he researched and developed a remote, seismic sensor system and drones for the border. He holds two patents from his system.
The technology, called Sidearm, uses hidden sensors to detect any footfalls crossing the border, he explained. The data is immediately transmitted to his computer and a drone is released to get an aerial view of the area and the number of illegal border crossers, all in just minutes.
Spencer is president of the American Border Patrol and insists he is not racist, nor is he against legal immigration.
He said his desire to protect the border area stems from drug and human trafficking and provide safety to his neighbors along the border. He takes the situation seriously and has footage from his technology proving it works.
Northrup Grumman and the Department of Homeland Security took his work serious as officials began talks with him. Those talks abruptly ended.
“This is a simple approach to the problem and a lot less expensive,” he noted. “It’s stupid to spend millions. And this will work across both the southern and northern borders.”
He told President Trump as much in a letter.
It has personally cost him around $300,000 to put the technology in place. He sold his plane, his vehicles and other personal possessions to come up with the money.
Larson agrees with Spencer and approves of his far less invasive program to protect the border.
‘This really upsets me’
“We don’t have to destroy anything with Glenn’s technology,” she added. “This really upsets me.”
Laiken Jordahl, borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, visited the area last month and stated in a video, “I spoke with a Border Patrol agent and he said within weeks they are going to start building a wall across the last free flowing river in Arizona. And there is no way to build a wall across this river without creating a dam. Anything that would stop people from crossing here will also stop the flow of water, cause debris buildup and, of course, stop the wildlife from crossing. We are just days if not weeks away from breaking ground here and changing this beautiful and sacred place forever.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is charged with the preservation of the SPRNCA which relies on the river and currently awaits a court ruling on a claim for water rights its scientists say is necessary to maintain the 57,000 acre national conservation area and its threatened and endangered species. The ruling is due sometime this year.
The Herald/Review contacted the BLM and requested any and all documents and communications with the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Defense, Department of the Interior and all agencies involved with the construction of the border wall through the SPRNCA.
BLM has assured the Herald/Review it will provide the information as soon as compilation is complete.
The Cochise County Board of Supervisors have also been contacted with questions concerning the wall construction.