Former wildlife refuge manager fighting for nature against border wall

Learning from the past, a South Texas man who used to run three wildlife refuges on the Texas border is warning of potential government land grabs for a border wall that could put one of those nature centers in jeopardy.

MISSION, TX - Learning from the past, a South Texas man who used to run three wildlife refuges on the Texas border is warning of potential government land grabs for a border wall that could put one of those nature centers in jeopardy.

President Trump talked about the possibility of a government shutdown if Congress doesn’t approve funding for the wall.

Ken Merritt, 65, retired from managing national wildlife refuges on the Texas-Mexico border just two years after the first border fence went up in 2006. Back then, it was the Bush administration that pushed to have a barrier to curb illegal immigration, a move Merritt did not like.

“The administration wanted to put the wall in where they wanted to put the wall in,” Merritt said.

The move was one of the reasons Merritt’s 30-year career came to an end. He says it was a devastating blow to see the government bypass several environmental laws to build the fence when he believes boots on the ground and technology would do a better job.

Fast forward 11 years and history seems to be repeating itself. Portions of the border fence ended up in some of the wildlife areas near the border, specifically west tracts of the Lower Rio Grande Valley refuge. Those areas are now difficult to visit as more and more regulations are keeping the public out of federal land.

This time around, the Santa Ana Refuge in Alamo, Texas, home to 400 species of birds and plants and an area used by smugglers, may be one of the president’s first target areas for a new wall. It's a campaign promise he renewed at a rally in Arizona on Tuesday night.

“If we have to close down our government, we’re building that wall,” said the President to a cheering crowd.

Merritt’s concerns are another voice on the Texas border opposed to the government’s fast-moving developments for the border wall. Government overreach, as these folks see it, is something Texans have fought against for decades.

When asked if he would defend Texas land owners who fear losing their property to President Trump’s wall, Texas senator Ted Cruz replied:

The advice that I received from Border Patrol agents, from law enforcement, is that there are a host of tools that are helpful, that a physical barrier, a wall, a fence that can be a helpful tool to slowing down illegal immigration.

However, Senator Cruz wouldn’t address the concerns of border residents on land grabs through the eminent domain law.

Senator Cruz isn’t the only one staying quiet either. Fish and Wildlife officials, along with the Border Patrol, are not saying much about the new border wall until funding comes through.

Merritt hopes that the government doesn’t make the same mistake of fulfilling a campaign promise just for the sake of it.

“I think there’s always room for talk," Merritt said. "You know, you might think that it’s a done deal but I don’t think you should ever think it’s a done deal."

© 2017 KENS-TV


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