In another example of what Americans can expect from a president untethered from any congressional constraints, Trump administration-hired contractors are desecrating Native-American sacred land in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert wilderness, blasting away the side of a mountain to construct a section of the president’s needless border wall boondoggle.
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Online news site The Intercept confirmed with U.S. Customs and Border Protection that blasting in the national monument began this week and will continue through the end of February in an area considered “one of the nation’s great ecological treasures” and an area venerated by multiple Native American tribes for its deep spiritual importance.
“The construction contractor has begun controlled blasting, in preparation for new border wall system construction, within the Roosevelt Reservation at Monument Mountain in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector,” the USCBP statement said. “The controlled blasting is targeted and will continue intermittently for the rest of the month.”
Thread update: Explosives truck spotted today just north of Organ Pipe. pic.twitter.com/pLydPVo0Z6
— Laiken Jordahl (@LaikenJordahl) February 5, 2020
While the Customs and Border Protection statement also claimed that the agency would “continue to have an environmental monitor present during these activities as well as on-going clearing activities,” Congressman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), the chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, has grave doubts about the effectiveness and authority of the monitor to prevent permanent damage to the sacred site.
The Arizona Democrat told The Intercept that he does not believe that the Department of Homeland Security’s “environmental monitor will do anything to avoid, mitigate, or even point out some of the sacrilegious things that are occurring and will continue to occur, given the way they’re proceeding.”
Rep. Grijalva is not basing his opinion from the far off office he occupies in the Capitol Building, but after visiting the Organ Pipe destruction site last month along with archaeologists and leaders of the Tohono O’odham Nation, a native tribe who have inhabited the area for centuries and whose sacred burial site is in the direct path of the border wall construction.
“It’s right in the path,” Representative Grijalava said of the burial site that is in the next section of the wall construction scheduled to be built. “The one indignation of the blasting on the hill is shortly to follow with other indignations and disrespect.”
“DHS had mentioned to the tribes that they would back off on developing the hill, but the work is still being done,” the congressman added.
Designated as a UNESCO International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is considered “a pristine example of an intact Sonoran Desert ecosystem” and was thought to be protected by the strictest public-land designations available under the law.
Despite including lands that rightfully are controlled by the Tohono O’odham Nation, contractors have ruthlessly drilled wells into the scarce local aquifer to mix concrete for their construction and plowed under large saguaro cacti to build a wide road for the vehicles needed to build the money pit of an ineffective border control solution.
“A historically significant area is going to be changed irreparably,” Grijalva warned. “You’re never going to be able to put it back together.”
Ned Norris Jr., chair of the Tohono O’odham Nation, has already informed the USCBP that their construction “resulted in the inadvertent discovery of human remains” on their ancestral lands.
“It’s been really frustrating,” Grijalva said. “You would think that in a situation like this, that involves human remains, burial sites, bone fragments that are traced and dated a thousand years or more back, that there would be some sensitivity, for lack of a better word, on the part of DHS and the administration. There is none.”
“What’s particularly frightening right now is that Trump has weaponized DHS, politically weaponized them,” Grijalva told The Intercept. “And so right now, it’s about satisfying that political agenda.”
“The consequence of that, the intended consequence of that, is situations like this,” Grijalva continued. “Situations like South Texas. The flooding of public lands. The loss of habitat. The list goes on.”
Based on the desecration of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument — plus the news that the Trump administration finalized their plans today to allow energy exploration on nearly a million acres of land that was a part of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument until Trump stole the land from the public to allow his energy industry buddies to exploit — the failure of the Senate to remove Donald Trump from the presidency is not just a political and constitutional disaster, but an environmental disaster as well.
Original reporting by Ryan Devereaux at The Intercept.