Stream of support: Residents back National Butterfly Center at wall protest anniversary

BY FRED RAMOS

Hundreds gathered at the National Butterfly Center in Mission Sunday to “Reclaim the River.” The “family friendly” event coincided with the anniversary of last year’s border wall protest.

Patricia Roldan of Mission said she brings the children to the center to enjoy the surrounding natural beauty, and hopes future generations will also take pleasure in the unique habitat.

“We decided to come here because we’re very opposed to destroying the natural beauty of the river area and we feel this area should be easily accessible to families who want to enjoy the natural resources that we have,” Patricia said. “We have enough border security. Building a wall is not right for our area.”

Last August, more than 1,000 people walked 4 miles from our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church to the historic Last Lomita Mission overlooking the Rio Grande, to protest President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.

While many came to voice their opposition to the wall and the damage the wall would create in the area, others came to enjoy the unique scenery, listen to poetry readings, take guided nature hikes and visit booths featuring common Valley critters, including a 5-foot corn snake named “Mobius.”

“It’s cool,” said 9-year-old Daniel Rico. He, however, politely declined to have the snake placed around his neck. “No, that’s OK,” Daniel demurred. When asked how he would feel if the National Butterfly Center was forced to close, he replied, “I’d feel sad. I like nature. I want to save the world.”

His mother, Leah, says they visit the center often. “We enjoy watching the birds and the butterflies. I just hope we don’t lose it,” she said. “I know that the wall would destroy our beautiful wildlife. We have to protect what we have — all these beautiful animals.”

Jennifer Hall is a volunteer with the National Butterfly Center. She displayed several snakes and other reptiles at the event. She’s also a former Valley school teacher. She says the federal government could protect the border using present technology, such as drones and motion detectors, thereby protecting the environment and preserving Valley wildlife.

“I think there are better ways to meet our needs then build a structure that’s using ancient technology to deal with a modern-day problem,” Hall said. “I think we can progress and use the technology we have to meet our needs with less cost and less detriment to our community.”

Many are concerned a wall separating the Rio Grande from Mexico would devastate the center, and destroy Valley habitat and its unique culture.

Mariana Trevino-Wright is executive director of the National Butterfly Center. She says she’s concerned about the future of the center. President Trump’s border wall would cut off a vibrant recreational area in the Valley.

“The wall is going to be built. It is funded and they are already surveying with construction to begin in February,” Trevino-Wright said. “We had a meeting with the head of the border wall yesterday, and the border wall is going to be built. It’s going to be terrible.”

Scott Nicol, is co-chairman of the Sierra Club’s Borderlands Campaign. He’s concerned about how adversely plants and animals would be affected. “Well, there is the environmental impact. If you turn the levee into a border wall, you cut off habitat, you make it impossible for animals to move.”

Nicol said, in order to build the wall, the federal government would have to seize the land under eminent domain and compensate land owners, such as the National Butterfly Center.

“The center is privately owned, it’s not state or federally owned. And the center is going to get their land condemned, just like a whole lot of farmers and ranchers in the area,” Nicol said.

“There’s also the human impact. The more the wall goes up, the more people are pushed into more and more dangerous places,” he said. “Instead of crossing in a safer area, they would cross in a more dangerous place. You’ll get more people dying every year.”