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Arizona-Mexico border wall is hurting World Heritage site El Pinacate, UN says

UNESCO, the UN body responsible for world heritage sites, is asking for more protection of the nature reserve just across the Arizona border in Mexico. 

El Pinacate y Gran Desierto de Altar Biosphere Reserve was named a UN World Heritage Site in 2013. It’s a stunning landscape of volcanic slopes and craters just across the border from Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. They’re sister parks that share the same vegetation — like towering saguaros and spindly ocotillos — and endangered species like the Sonoran pronghorn. 

But the UN says that connectivity has been cut off and cross-border habitat is threatened. 

The agency says that’s because of the 30-foot steel bollard border wall installed by the Trump administration, along with older barriers, new surveillance roads and more human activity.

The U.S. and Mexico are expected to come up with an action plan to mitigate the damage.

In a  letter sent earlier this year, the Center for Biological Diversity asked UNESCO to designate El Pinacate as a heritage site "in danger" because of the new border wall. The group said the Sonoran pronghorn population had dropped from 126 in 2020 to 85 in 2022, and that wildlife access to freshwater sites on the U.S. side of the border had been severed. 

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Alisa Reznick is a senior field correspondent covering stories across southern Arizona and the borderlands for the Tucson bureau of KJZZ's Fronteras Desk.