Tuesday, July 2, 2013
A photographer documents the ecological impacts of the border wall between the United States and Mexico
Crouched in a photo blind near the border between the United States and Mexico, Krista Schlyer heard voices—beneath her. As if checking for a heartbeat, she pressed her ear to the ground to diagnose the source of the sounds. What she got was an earful of squeaks and chirps from a prairie dog family scurrying about in their burrow.
To untrained eyes, or ears, not much appears to live in the lands straddling the border between the United States and Mexico. And yet this region is one of the most biologically diverse in all of North America. The varied ecosystems include deserts, grasslands, "sky island" mountains and the Rio Grand Valley—the midpoint between the tropics to the south and the temperate zone to the north. More than half of North America's bird species, 3,000 plant species and more than 100 different mammals inhabit the borderlands.
"If you were just looking at a place for its biodiversity, you have all the reasons you need to conserve this special part of the North American continent," Schlyer says.
While most photographers rely on their eyes to help them understand a place, Schlyer interprets the U.S.-Mexico borderlands with all of her senses. It's a good strategy in this arid desert region. Ground surface temperatures can soar to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, and according to Schlyer, "Most life is lived out of sight, under ground or by shadow of night."
While the survival of many species in the borderlands depends on conserving energy by staying put, others can only survive by constantly moving. Large mammals including coyotes, bobcats and foxes must travel to seek water, food and mates. Whether they venture into the United States or Mexico is irrelevant as long as they find what they need. But what if their survival depends on being able to move freely between the two countries? And what if they run smack into a giant concrete and steel wall? This is the issue that Schlyer addresses in her new book, Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall (Texas A&M University Press).
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