A River Runs through It: The Case for an International Peace Park on the U.S.-Mexico Border

By Vermeer, Travis | Houston Journal of International Law, Winter 2014 | Go to article overview

A River Runs through It: The Case for an International Peace Park on the U.S.-Mexico Border


Vermeer, Travis, Houston Journal of International Law


  I. INTRODUCTION   II. PROTECTING BIODIVERSITY IN THE DESERT      A. Threats to the Desert      B. Protections in Place  III. THE IDEA OF AN INTERNATIONAL "PEACE" PARK      A. Peace Parks as Conservation Tools      B. History of the Peace Park Movement      C. History of the U.S.-Mexico Peace Park Idea      D. Current Progress towards Creating a U.S.-Mexico         Peace Park      E. Precedent in Waterton-Glacier International Park      F. Implementing a Park on the U.S.-Mexico Border   IV. CONCLUSION 

I. INTRODUCTION

Threats to species biodiversity are increasing at an alarming rate. (1) Presently, species extinctions are running at about 1,000 times the natural pace, a rate that has led some biologists to "contend that we are in the middle of the Earth's sixth great extinction." (2) What is unique about the current extinction is that it is largely anthropogenic in nature, while the previous five were caused by natural events like asteroid impacts. (3)

Protecting biodiversity is important because it provides a wide range of "ecosystem services" that are of immense importance to humans. (4) These services include "detoxification and decomposition of wastes, purification of air and water, generation and renewal of soil and soil fertility, pollination of crops and natural vegetation, control of harmful agricultural pests, support of cultural activities, and the provision of aesthetic beauty and pleasure." (5) Additionally, the economic value alone of these ecosystem services has been calculated in the trillions of dollars, a fact in its own right that should give credence to protecting biodiversity. (6)

Biodiversity protection is a massive project, but like others of a similar scale, can be tackled one step at a time. One place to start is with the Chihuahuan Desert (the "Desert"); an environment lying in our own backyard and containing one of the most important and diverse ecosystems in the world. (7) Encompassing millions of acres (8) of land, and housing thousands of plant and animal species, (9) the Chihuahuan Desert is one of the most biologically diverse desert eco-regions in the world. (10) Yet for all of its ecological richness, this area is lonely country. (11) Long known as "El Despoblado," the land of no people, humans are still outnumbered by the wildlife population there, (12) and for all of its natural beauty, distance between the desert and major population centers have kept it a secret, (13) and its landscapes "seldom grace calendars or coffee-table books." (14)

Though rugged in nature, the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem is fragile, (15) and despite its remoteness, it faces a number of threats. (16) Population encroachment, water scarcity, illegal immigration, narcotics smuggling, and air pollution are all challenges, (17) and a historical lack of funding and political willpower have made the fight against these threats an uphill battle. (18)

In the face of these challenges, supporters of the Desert have shown resilience through their efforts to enact a number of protections for the environment. (19) Starting with the formation of Big Bend National Park in 1944, (20) the United States and Mexico have gradually set aside parcels of land in the name of conservation. (21) In addition to these conservation areas, both countries have enacted a number of environmental laws over the years to afford some legal protections over habitat and biodiversity. (22)

Yet in spite of these protections, the Chihuahuan Desert remains at risk. (23) Lack of funding threatens protected areas in both the U.S. and Mexico, while the Mexican areas in general offer less than ideal protection due to the allowance of private activity and development along the border region. (24) Furthermore, while both nations' environmental laws offer some protection to habitat and biodiversity, no comprehensive legal framework exists to provide a complete safety net. (25)

Hope may lie with the creation of a bi-national protected area to straddle the U.

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