The picture above is one I took in Big Bend National Park in May 2014. I was coming down the Lost Mine Trail when I turned the corner on a switchback and I saw a large black furry blob about 50 feet in front of me. At first I had no idea what it was because all I could see was its backside as it had its head was behind a large rock. When it dawned on me that I was looking at a black bear the animal turned to look right at me and needless to say my heart was racing. I was not in any danger however because as soon as it looked at me he/she did a 180 degree turn and started to saunter off down the mountain. I stared ahead dumbfounded for another second or so and then snapped out of it and took this quick picture of it and it was walking away. I continued down the trail and I stopped everyone I saw coming my way and told them I had saw a bear. Ostensibly, I was warning them to be on the lookout but really I just wanted to brag about what I had just seen. Later when I went back to school the following fall I showed one of my colleagues this photo and he was upset because he had been going to Big Bend for years and had never saw a black bear. It’s not too surprising that my colleague has not seen a black bear in Big Bend despite his many trips because they are still pretty rare in the park. However, the bears are making a comeback in the park and in Texas more generally. The Revelator had a story recently about this. Of course this progress will be thwarted if our racist grifter President gets his big dumb border wall. According to the Revelator piece:
This fledgling recovery could now be in jeopardy, however. Experts worry that any obstacle to the animals’ movement, such as President Trump’s proposed border wall, would set back hard-fought efforts to rebuild the population — especially with climate change intensifying the episodes of drought and wildfire that serve as key drivers for bears expanding beyond their usual range.
“The ability for wildlife to move across that border is so important,” says Patricia Moody Harveson, a research scientist at Borderlands Research Institute at Sul Ross State University. “We would not have black bears in Texas anymore if it wasn’t for that transboundary movement across that border.”
The existing border wall between the U.S. and Mexico is an ongoing humanitarian and ecological disaster and putting a wall through Big Bend (which admittedly probably wouldn’t happen except in Trump’s wet dreams), or adding any additional barriers will only exacerbate the problems.
One reason the black bears are making a come back in Texas is because of the security of Big Bend National Park. Parks are the opposite of walls, inviting and refreshing instead of isolating and stifling. The border region between Mexico and the U.S. is an important and vulnerable ecosystem that needs to be protected which is why I was glad to read in the New York Times recently an advocation for an international border park instead of a border wall. Dan Reicher writes:
Nearly 75 years ago, an American president was eyeing a grand project along our southern border, not to divide the United States and Mexico but to bring the two nations together. On June 12, 1944, a week after D-Day, President Franklin Roosevelt signed legislation establishing Big Bend National Park, almost a million acres along the Rio Grande in West Texas.
He followed up with a grand challenge to President Manuel Ávila Camacho of Mexico: “I do not believe that this undertaking in the Big Bend will be complete until the entire park area in this region on both sides of the Rio Grande forms one great international park.” Mr. Camacho agreed.
Still, the building of a great international park along our southern border, rather than a grim medieval wall, remains an elusive goal. But if there ever was a moment for it, this is it, and particularly in a place where time and the flowing river have already carved truly great walls along thousand-foot-deep canyons.
Richer goes on to mention that there is a precedence for an international park between the U.S. and Canada – Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park were joined in 1932. Additionally, there are peace gardens between Canada and the U.S. One I know best is on the border between the U.S. and Canada at Dunseith, North Dakota – A true gem of a place. We need more international parks and gardens between the U.S. and Mexico and not walls.