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The male wolf, known as Mr. Goodbar to researchers, left his pack in eastern Arizona and roamed for months in a drive to start his own family. He was finally stopped in southern New Mexico in late November — not by the challenges of the Chihuahuan Desert, but by a 30-foot-high border barrier.
Before Trump launched his wall campaign, the area was unbroken habitat, according to wildlife experts. Still, Mr. Goodbar sought an opening, and spent days trotting 23 miles along the wall, likely seeking a spot where he could resume his travels south. He eventually gave up and headed back north close to his old territory.
His challenges were tracked by a GPS collar attached by staffers of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, providing some of the first concrete proof of border wall wildlife dangers that environmentalists had feared.
“I wasn’t surprised because we had predicted it,” Michael Robinson, a senior conservation advocate for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, told the National Geographic magazine this week. “But I was bummed out.”
Mr. Goodbar is just one animal, but the border wall poses a challenge to countless other wolves — as well as to pronghorn, cougars, bighorn sheep, mountain lions, bobcats, mule deer, kit fox and ringtail.
Fish and Wildlife Service officials insist the wall isn’t that big a deal for animals. But many wildlife experts say that a free range, allowing mating between different groups of animals, is crucial to genetic diversity.
In the case of Mr. Goodbar, the border wall is “placing the recovery of an endangered species at risk,” said Myles Traphagen, a biologist with the Wildlands Network.
The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups are battling to open up the border wall in “priority” areas identified as important for animals.
Robinson questions the value of a barrier to stop immigrants in areas that are largely in the middle of nowhere, like the spot where Mr. Goodbar was thwarted. U.S. agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service, he said, defend wrongheaded Trump policies and often serve the interests of the agricultural industry.
The reintroduced Mexican gray wolf population numbered some 186 in Arizona and New Mexico in the last count in 2020 (there were 30 across the border in Mexico).
This year, the tally could be higher, Robinson said. But the species will likely be doomed by inbreeding without more genetic diversity, which requires large swaths of unimpeded range for the animals to branch out.
“These wolves are beautiful, intelligent, social animals that we should want to save just because of empathy,” Robinson told HuffPost. “And because we played a role in their decimation, we have an obligation to help them.”
Wolves play a crucial role at the “center of the ecological system,” Robinson added. They cull prey animals that are injured, weakened or sick, and they keep larger animals like elk moving so they don’t wipe out large areas of vegetation that other species depend on. Wolves also leave food behind to be scavenged by species like rare wolverines.
But “time is running out” to save the wolves, Robinson warned.
“President Biden should knock down the wall,” he said. “Allowing Mexican gray wolves to roam freely would do right by the sublime Chihuahuan Desert and its sky-island mountains. We can’t allow [the wall], this stark monument to stupidity, to slowly strangle a vast ecosystem.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.