The commission, which oversees the state Parks and Wildlife Department, voted last month to essentially tell the feds to get lost, saying no thanks to an offer from the federal government to donate $105,000 to a nonprofit land trust in exchange for about 21/2 acres in the state-owned Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area in Cameron County. The federal government wants to build part of its border fence on the land.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now says that it will go to federal court to take the land.
"Construction of a border fence has impacts to fish and wildlife resources that could not adequately be compensated for by the offer of compensation," said Ted Hollingsworth, an official with the land conservation program at the state Parks and Wildlife Department, explaining the commissioners' decision.
One proposed wall route, for example, would separate the 557-acre Sabal Palm Audubon Center in Brownsville from the rest of the United States. The center is a haven for birders and attracts 10,000 tourists to the area each year, according to Audubon Texas.
"It's obvious that where the wall goes, wildlife and habitat will be affected," said Martin Hagne, executive director at the nonprofit Valley Nature Center in Weslaco. The fragmenting of land harms animals' ability to survive and thrive, he said.
"The government is looking at this as a piece of dirt and not as a whole ecosystem," Hagne said.
[A]t its July 17 meeting, the Parks and Wildlife Commission nixed the deal with a 6-0 vote. (Three commissioners were absent.)
"We understand the reasons that the federal government believes they need to build this fence, and we're certainly not in a position to make a decision whether that's right or wrong," Chairman Peter Holt said at the meeting. "But from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's point of view, and for us as commissioners, our job is to look at the mission of Texas Parks and Wildlife and our constituency, which is the citizens of the State of Texas, and decide what's the right thing relative to our mission, what we at Texas Parks and Wildlife are supposed to do and not do."