One visit around the garden, and it’s easy to believe the Lower Rio Grande Valley has more butterflies than anywhere in North America.
So, it’s only fitting that the National Butterfly Center built their home in Mission, Texas 16 years ago at the intersection of four different ecosystems.
“That incredible diversity of plant life literally feeds an incredible diversity of butterfly life,” says Marianna Trevino-Wright, executive director of the center.
However, this year is anything but sweet for the center. A wall is slated to be built straight through the center’s property.
“Ya know, all day, every day, it’s, ‘Can we stop it? How do we stop it?’ And honestly, I don’t think there is any way that we can,” says Trevino-Wright.
While President Trump’s wall along the United States-Mexico hasn’t yet been given a green light, in March, Congress did approve portions of wall, including a 25-mile stretch that would run through Hidalgo County near the Rio Grande.
The center sits on 100 acres of land, and according to Trevino-Wright, the center would lose about 70 acres due to the wall.
Trevino-Wright says construction crews have already shown up on their land. The center has filed a lawsuit to stop further action.
The government is exercising eminent domain—their right to take private property if they provide compensation. But for Trevino-Wright, that phrase now has a different connotation.
“The elimination of all habitat that supports life in that region,” says Trevino-Wright. “It’s a bleak, bleak scenario.”
But the butterfly center is not alone.
“Over 400 species of birds have been seen just at this park, says wildlife activist and photographer Tiffany Kersten.
“I’ve been a bird watcher since I was 12 years old, and that’s a good chunk of the reason that I decided to come to live in the Rio Grande Valley.”
By her calculations, over 6,500 acres of conserved green space will soon be on the other side of the wall, including the vast majority of Bentsen State Park.
In a letter to Customs and Border Patrol, Texas Parks and Wildlife officials expressed doubts about whether Bentsen could continue to ‘safely operate’ as a state park.
The NOW’s Chris Welch asked border officials about the considers raised. In an email, a spokesperson said landowners would continue to have access to land south of the wall. But as to whether all vegetation would be bulldozed, they say that’s still to be determined.
Regarding the concerns over loss of habitats, officials would only say that they’re working closely with fish and wildlife officials “to better understand all biological impacts” to “mitigate” potential impacts.
Trevino-Wright says whether or not they still have access to the land behind the wall, it will hurt the area.
“As properties like ours along the conservation corridor are decimated by the border wall or forced to close, people are going to lose their jobs, our econ is going to suffer…
“It’s a wall of shame. Really.”