The National Butterfly Center is a private nonprofit with around 100 acres of land dedicated to providing habitat for wild butterflies, along with birds and other wildlife.
But executive director Marianna Trevino-Wright told the San Antonio-Express News in a story published Thursday that planned wall construction ― which could begin as early as February ― will put about 70 percent of the sanctuary’s land on the Mexico side of the wall. Photos published by the outlet show land surveyors and Border Patrol vehicles on property owned by the Butterfly Center.
“Just like farmers get crop yield in acres and inches, we get butterflies based on what we have planted in acres and inches,” she told the Express-News. “So having a wide swath of our property bulldozed is going to negatively impact the volume of the species and diversity of the species.”
An Instagram post from the center warns that construction will destroy habitat, contribute to flooding and block migration routes for animals ― including species of birds and butterflies that fly relatively low to the ground.
NPR notes that Customs and Border Protection denies it will clear the land completely. When asked for comment by HuffPost, a CBP spokesman pointed to the “Environmental and Cultural Stewardship” page on the agency’s website.
Though the Butterfly Center is private property, the federal government is able to seize the land for its own use via eminent domain laws, according to NPR. But Trevino-Wright told the outlet that she was taken by surprise last year when she first spotted workers on the property surveying the land and cutting down trees. The center is in the process of suing the federal government, alleging that those workers didn’t have the legal right to enter the property at the time.
That lawsuit is ongoing, but the recent outcome of a different suit filed by animal rights and environmental groups doesn’t bode well for wildlife along the border. The Center for Biological Diversity, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and Defenders of Wildlife were challenging the waiver of dozens of laws ― many of them environmental laws ― to allow wall construction to proceed. The groups argued that a 1996 law permitting the executive branch to waive environmental regulations for border construction is unconstitutional, according to CNBC.
A federal judge in San Diego sided with the Trump administration in February. The groups appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to hear their case on Monday, meaning that the earlier ruling will remain in place.
Numerous environmental experts have warned that Trump’s proposed border wall would be catastrophic for animal and plant life in the region. In July, a scathing scientific report condemned the planned wall as an environmental disaster that would “threaten some of the continent’s most biologically diverse regions.”
This story has been updated with comment from Customs and Border Protection.