Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fences both protect and destroy animal habitat

More than 50 years have passed since the end of the Korean War and the establishment of a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea. In those 50 years an abundance of plants, bird and animals have thrived in a strip of land only 150 miles long and two and a half miles wide. 97% of the land is now covered by forest and prairie.

Making themselves at home in the DMZ are Asian black bears, spotted seals, lynx, and the rare red-crowned and white-naped cranes, to name a few. Some believe the Siberian tiger has returned to the land where no human live.

In spite of years of separation, a North-South reconciliation seems inevitable. Two rail lines and two highways have been rebuilt across the DMZ. South Korea's Ministry of the Environment says that when reconciliation comes, the DMZ will be preserved for two years until more long-range plans can be developed. What those plans will be is anybody's guess. The international organization the DMZ Forum wants to see the land become a Peace Park, both to protect the land and to honor the many soldiers on both sides who are buried there.

No buffer zone exists between the wood and the steel of the 700 mile fence being built between the U.S. and Mexico. With some 440 miles of fence still to go, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff wants to make sure he completes the job before George Bush leaves office. To that end, he has announced he will be ignoring
36 federal environmental laws.

Animals, of course, are no respecters of borders. Bears, lions, wolves, parrots bighorn sheep and owls cross back and forth as part of their survival. The jaguar, which until recently bred only in Mexico, may just now be establishing a breeding presence in Arizona. Even more than Korea's DMZ, the 2,000 mile long U.S.-Mexician border is able to support a diversity of wildlife because of its diversity of terrain and climate.

The Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife claim Chertoff's waiver of environmental laws is unconstitutional and have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. They want more time to develop plans to lessen the environmental impact of the wall.

Thus two entirely different human impulses, the yearning for reconciliation by Korea and the demand for isolation by the U.S., threaten habitat that once destroyed may never be remade.

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