Save Santa Ana

The Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, located on the banks of the Rio Grande in southern Texas, is celebrating its 75th anniversary this Saturday, January 27. Established in 1943 to protect migratory birds, the refuge now faces an unprecedented threat from construction of an impenetrable border wall.

Zebra Longwing

In mid-July 2017, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers extracted soil samples in the refuge to prepare for construction of three miles of concrete levee wall and heavy bollard fence. According to the chief of the Rio Grande Valley Border Patrol Sector, the refuge will be the “starting point” for wall construction in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Construction of the wall, which would cause irreparable damage to the refuge and its mission to protect wildlife, will begin as soon as funding is secured.

Hooded Oriole (left) and Nine-banded Armadillo (right)

Though small, Santa Ana is a vital habitat that offers visitors an opportunity to see birds, butterflies and many other species not found in the United States outside of deep South Texas. Uniquely positioned, the refuge is at an east-west and north-south juncture of two major migratory flyways for hundreds of species of birds. The refuge is also a northern stronghold for numerous species found in Mexico and Central America, including brown jay, ringed kingfisher, red-billed pigeon, chachalaca, speckled racer and Mexican treefrog. The refuge also protects habitat for extremely rare and imperiled species such as the ocelot and jaguarundi. Brimming with biological diversity, this 2,088-acre preserve is a “jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System.”

Gray Hawk

As one of the top birding destinations in the United States, the refuge attracts more than 165,000 visitors each year and generates an estimated $34.5 million to the local economy. Home to more than 400 species of birds, 450 types of native plants, half of the U.S. species of butterflies and many endangered, threatened or candidate species to be listed under the Endangered Species Act, Santa Ana and surrounding landscapes provide critical habitat that could be ruined by wall construction.

The threatened border wall through Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge will:

  • be 18-feet tall with a steel fence extending at least 12 feet above the levee, for a total height of 30 feet.
  • include surveillance equipment on towers including lights and cameras.
  • illuminate the buffer zone throughout the night with harsh lighting that is disturbing to wildlife.
  • not include passages of any kind for wildlife.
  • eliminate about 50 acres of old-growth forest (the rarest habitat type in the Rio Grande Valley) south of the wall and within the refuge with a 150-foot permanently cleared buffer zone reduced to caliche and sand.
  • be patrolled by Border Patrol officers in vehicles in the buffer zone.
  • extend the entire length of the Refuge.
  • trap wildlife when the river floods.

The latest reports suggest that the proposed wall could even block public access to the refuge, as the expected location would cut off the visitor’s center, located on the north side of the refuge, from the rest of the refuge, and effectively eliminating programs to connect people to nature and the great public-private partnerships facilitated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on these public lands.


Despite strong opposition in border communities and continued debate in Congress, the Department of Homeland Security may receive federal funding in Fiscal Year 2018 to pay for the construction of this destructive wall segment. By starting construction in Santa Ana, a federal national wildlife refuge, the administration can avoid litigation with private landowners on adjacent non-federal lands. The 2005 REAL ID Act gave the Secretary of Homeland Security unprecedented power to waive any federal, state or local law to construct roads and barriers along the border, including the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act. Over 30 environmental laws were just waived in New Mexico for wall construction — eliminating protections for endangered species, migratory species, clean air, clean water and historic sites, among many other values.

Prickly Pear Cactus

Defenders of Wildlife opposes construction of the border wall through the refuge, which would disrupt one of the most biologically diverse areas in the U.S. and the integrity of the National Wildlife Refuge System. On Saturday, January 27th people from all over the country will gather in the field outside Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge. They will be joining South Texans in taking a stand against the terrible damage that border walls will cause to border communities and the wildlife and habitats that make up the borderlands.

If you are not able to join us in Texas for the rally, please participate in one or more of the following solidarity actions this week. Click on the links for details:

Spreading the word on social media

Making calls to Congress

Writing a letter to the editor of your local paper

Hosting a postcard party

Additional information is also available in this toolkit.

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