Trump Tried to Scoop Up a Popular Birding Preserve for His Border Wall, But You Don’t Mess With Birders

Trump Tried to Scoop Up a Popular Birding Preserve for His Border Wall, But You Don’t Mess With Birders
A loader grades land near a section of privately-built border wall under construction on December 11, 2019 near Mission, Texas. (Photo: John Moore, Getty Images)

The Trump administration was reportedly all set to purchase the Salineño Wildlife Preserve, a 1.01 ha stretch of Texas so popular among birders that it’s been called “hallowed ground,” to make way for its infamous border wall. But the deal fell apart at the last minute on Friday after the land’s owner bowed to pressure from pissed off environmentalists and bird enthusiasts nationwide, per Border Report.

According to the outlet, which first broke the news of the pending federal acquisition on Thursday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said they reached an agreement on Nov. 3, aka election day, with the nonprofit that owns the land, the Valley Land Fund. (The group later disputed CBP’s account of the date of the agreement). The Valley Land Fund agreed to voluntarily sign over its rights to the 2.5 acres, located in a remote part of the Rio Grande Valley in Texas, so the land could be converted into an “enforcement zone,” per a CBP statement.

Negotiations were apparently kept under wraps, as caretakers at the preserve later told Border Report that they had no idea the land had been sold. They said operations had continued as usual after it reopened on Nov. 1 for the winter birding season. The preserve is apparently an extremely popular destination for birdwatching, with the president of the American Birding Association, Jeffrey Gordon, calling it one of the top two or three destinations in North America for birders.

“It is for us absolutely hallowed ground because it is so rich,” Gordon said in an interview with Border Report. “Species that are hard to find elsewhere can be found there and it’s just a wonderful opportunity to enjoy them. We look at it like paradise.”

Environmentalists and birders purportedly flooded the Valley Land Fund with hundreds of letters imploring them not to sell the land. Debralee Rodriquez, the nonprofit’s executive director, told Border Report that the group held an emergency board of directors meeting on Friday and decided to renege on the deal despite having already agreed on a “set price” with CBP. That same day, the Valley Land Fund posted on Facebook that it was “rescinding any and all agreements” with the U.S. government regarding the preserve.

“With the outcry of the community, the flooding of information coming into our office, the board of directors called an emergency meeting and discussed this and decided that we would walk away from any deal that was being presented to us,” Rodriguez told the outlet.

She said that while the Valley Land Fund did already sign an agreement with CBP, no money had exchanged hands yet and closing documents had not been drafted. She declined the outlet’s request to disclose how much money federal officials offered for the land. However, she did add that CBP officials were “premature” to release their statement to Border Report about the sale being finalised on election day.

“It was not signed on Election Day,” Rodriquez said. “It may have been executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Election Day but it was not signed by us. With that said, that was just an agreement to sell.”

Construction on President Donald Trump’s racist vanity project has wreaked havoc on the surrounding desert ecosystems and is considered the “greatest threat” to eight endangered wildlife species in the region, according to officials at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition to killing off wildlife, the administration has also proven it has zero qualms about blasting through archeological sites and national monuments to build its senseless border wall. President-Elect Joe Biden has pledged to halt wall construction and the seizure of land by the Department of Homeland Security for construction efforts, but with Trump still refusing to concede and tantruming about imaginary voter fraud on a daily basis, inauguration day can’t come soon enough.

[Border Report]