Border Research and Restoration

A border wall has no place through the heart of our region.

Sky Island Alliance has a long history of working to stop construction, protect public lands from border security damage and walls, monitor border impacts on local wildlife, and advocate for the restoration of areas where construction devastated the landscape.

Explore our recent projects on this page.


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In 2020 and early 2021, after the Department of Homeland Security waived over 84 federal and state laws and regulations, border wall construction accelerated throughout many parts of Arizona and New Mexico. Contractors installed new border roads, construction staging areas, wall segments, and lighting infrastructure on public lands with very little consideration for the wildlife and human communities impacted by this work.

As a result, wall construction damaged critical habitats for many threatened and endangered wildlife species — including ocelot, jaguar, and Mexican gray wolf; pumped groundwater out of rare springs during one of the driest years on record; decimated vast stretches of land, causing flooding and erosion; and irreversibly scarred sacred Tribal lands.

The damage to our borderlands is great, and we have a long way to go to heal.

Moving forward, groups across the U.S. and Mexico are advocating for wall construction to be cancelled permanently, for border barriers to be removed, for impacted habitats and human communities to be restored to their former health, and for the Department of the Interior to regain authority of federally owned lands for their restoration and protection.

But thanks to your support, we’ve monitored border impacts and local wildlife reactions, gathered data to inform future environmental border policies, and advocated to restore areas of the borderlands where construction devastated the landscape — all to protect this wonderful, biodiverse region.

Here are just a few of the things Sky Island Alliance has recently accomplished in the borderlands:

Border Wildlife Study 

Established in March 2020, our binational Border Wildlife Study documents the wildlife species that are under imminent threat from active border wall construction. Our study area stretches 34 miles — from the eastern slopes of the Huachuca Mountains to the western slopes of the Patagonia Mountains — where an array of cameras takes photos of mammal, bird, and insect species. 

Through this study, we’ve taken and analyzed millions of photos, collected more than 12,000 wildlife photos, and documented over 106 unique wildlife species. The diversity of species in our study area is incredibly high. 

[WATCH: A Big Year on the Border—Year 1 Border Wildlife Study Results] 

Some of our findings from the first year of this study include: 

  • Wide-ranging species, like mountain lion and black bear, need expansive territories to find enough food, water, shelter, and mates to thrive. We have detected these species in both the Huachuca Mountains and Patagonia Mountains — areas that will be severed if the wall is built.  
  • Elf owls, the smallest owls in the world, were seen on our cameras during their annual spring migration between Mexico and Arizona. These owls need access to the nesting trees and cacti that were impacted by border construction. 
  • Coati, hooded skunks, and hog-nosed skunks are sub-tropical species that live in Mexico and only come as far north as the U.S. borderlands, and we have detected all three of these species in our study. Once the wall is built, their smaller U.S. populations will be isolated from their core populations to the south. 
  • Our study area is the northern distribution limit for a Mexican subspecies of Virginia opossum and the very southern distribution limit for North American porcupine. Detections of these species have been found on our cameras; they are uncommon and exciting. 

While President Biden paused border wall contracts at the start of his presidential term, damage has already been done to this study area. Construction at the southern end of the Patagonia Mountains and Huachuca Mountains has bisected one of the most rugged stretches of wildlife habitat on the border—affecting animals like jaguar, ocelot, and black bear through habitat loss and disturbance from increased vehicle traffic in the most biodiverse region in inland North America. 

Unfortunately, much of the rest of Arizona is already walled off, stopping many mammal species from successfully crossing between the U.S. and Mexico. 

Currently, our Border Wildlife Study monitors a third of the remaining unwalled sections of Arizona.

We will continue to monitor wildlife as things progress to see which species are impacted by construction, road grading, water pumping, soil erosion, and lighting and security infrastructure. 

Additional Resources: 

Dark Skies Measurements 

Dark skies are a remarkable feature of our region. When true darkness blankets the landscape, it provides us a spectacular view of the stars — and provides the wildlife species that reside in the Sky Islands high-quality nighttime habitat for hunting, foraging, and migration. 

If installed, border lighting and other systems stand to disrupt the health and ecology of a tremendous number of species. This is especially alarming as we’ve learned through our Border Wildlife Study that 70% of mammal species detections occur at night. Many other species, like birds, rodents, insects, and reptiles, are also active at night, using the cover of night to their advantage. 

Just as we seek to protect wildlife habitats from damaging border wall construction, we must also advocate for no border lighting and no lighting infrastructure.

We need to choose options for the border that allow wildlife in this region to thrive uninhibited.

In April 2020, Sky Island Alliance staff and volunteers partnered with the Globe at Night project to map light pollution along the U.S.-Mexico border. We took stellar magnitude readings of the night sky at points between the border cities of Nogales and Douglas, Arizona — a total of 84 miles. Using both a Sky Quality Meter and visual assessments of how many dim stars were visible in the constellation Leo, we were able to take measurements of the sky to map out where light pollution is (and isn’t) affecting nighttime environments. 

A Sky Island Alliance staff member looking out at the light pollution toward Nogales, AZ.

Early findings from this light pollution mapping include:

  • Both city and border wall lights, especially around Douglas and Naco in Arizona and Nogales in Mexico, created a significant amount of light pollution, reducing local sky quality. 
  • The Border Wildlife Study site itself lacked border lighting and was largely protected from sky glow cast by cities to the west of the Patagonia Mountains and to the east of the Huachuca Mountains. However, these borderlands are still at risk of light pollution because the infrastructure is currently in place to add lighting. 
  • Half of the mammal species we’ve detected through our Border Wildlife Study have only been seen at night, indicating that light pollution from border infrastructure could impact most mammal species in the area. 

Protecting dark night environments is an important aspect of the conservation work we do at Sky Island Alliance. We will continue to advocate for no border lighting so that this region’s species are able to complete their natural migration and ecology without interruption.

Borderlands Research and Restoration

On January 20, 2021, President Joe Biden released a proclamation ordering the halt of all border wall construction in the United States. Several contracts were then canceled by the Department of Defense on April 30, a move that returned diverted military funds to their original functions and budgets. 

[READ: No More Border Wall—Urging the Biden Administration to Act]

The current administration has taken vital steps toward protecting the borderlands, but this progress is insufficient if plans for restoration and recovery are not also made. Here are just a few of the many changes we want to see for the benefit of all that live in the borderlands: 

  • The permanent repeal of the Real ID Act of 2005. 
  • The formal and permanent cancelation of all U.S.-Mexico border wall contracts. 
  • The creation of protections that will keep wall construction from resuming at a later date. 
  • A funded process to remove the border wall and replace it with barbed wire fencing or vehicle barriers that provide enough room for wildlife to cross. 
  • The provision, by U.S. Congress, of the resources necessary to repair and restore human border communities. 
  • The careful restoration of damaged landscapes and ecosystems led by diverse voices, including (but not limited to) affected Indigenous tribes and Sonoran communities.
  • The presence of the Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture — the agencies managing federally protected areas in the U.S. — in the process of designing approaches for healing and restoration in the borderlands. 
  • Consult with and compensate affected Tribal nations and Indigenous peoples for the damages inflicted upon their ancestral lands, communities, and cultural sites during border wall construction.
  • Finally, while we are not experts on the humanitarian crisis at the border, we still advocate for the creation of compassionate immigration laws that will help reduce the unnecessary deaths of migrants who cross the border.

At Sky Island Alliance, we are also working to restore this region through our Borderlands Research and Recovery Fund, which will help us monitor the wildlife community along 30 miles of the border for the next two years, measure the habitat quality along the areas of border where wildlife can still cross between the U.S. and Mexico, restore the health of water sources within our Border Wildlife Study area, and plant nearly hundreds of oak trees and agaves to support the recovery of the native bats, pollinators, and mammals impacted by border construction. 

We need $100,000 for these projects and we’re over halfway there — will you help us reach our goal?

Donate to Our Border Research & Recovery Fund

Additional Resources: