UPDATE: 4:17 p.m. Friday | Nonprofit decides ‘no sale’ on ‘paradise’ birding preserve in South Texas

SALINEÑO WILDLIFE PRESERVE, Texas (Border Report) — A popular South Texas birding preserve has been acquired by the Trump administration to build a border wall, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials told Border Report on Thursday.

The entire 2.5 acres of land where the Salineño Wildlife Preserve is located in a remote part of western Starr County, was turned over by the nonprofit Valley Land Fund on Nov. 3, according to a CBP statement. The preserve has been a popular go-to location for birders for decades and is located just feet from the Rio Grande and about 9 miles outside of the town of Roma, Texas.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with the Department of Justice, have acquired a tract of land owned by the Valley Land Trust Fund (VLTF) on behalf of U.S. Customs and Border Protection for enforcement zone. The Offer to Sell was signed voluntarily by the VLTF on November 3, 2020, for a total of approximately 2.5 acres,” the statement read.

Border Report visited the facility on Friday and met with the caretakers, who at the time had no knowledge of the land sale. They had reopened the preserve for the winter birding season on Nov. 1, and were concerned the land would be sold for the border wall and that the facility might soon close.

Salineño Wildlife Preserve caretakers Merle Ihne and Lois Hughes, right, watch birds with binoculars on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020, at the Salineño Wildlife Preserve in far western Starr County, Texas. The 2.5 acres was sold on Nov. 3 by the nonprofit Valley Land Fund for border wall construction, according to CBP officials. (Sandra Sanchez/Border Report)

On Friday, Debralee Rodriguez, executive director of The Valley Land Fund, told Border Report that she doubted the preserve would stay open through March, when the preserve typically closes for the summer. When asked if the nonprofit’s board of directors had voted to sell the land to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Rodriguez replied: “I don’t know if we will have a full season out there this year. Right now we are in the middle of, I guess, a negotiations with the border wall issue and I don’t know what the future looks like for Salineño at this moment.”

Border Report on Thursday reached out to Rodriguez and will update this story if she responds.

Democratic President-elect Joe Biden has said he won’t build “one more inch of border wall” once he takes office on Jan. 20. But with President Donald Trump refusing to concede the election and still in power, federal officials told Border Report that border wall construction on the Southwest border is still continuing on projects where Congress has approved funding.

When asked whether border wall construction will begin at the Salineño Preserve, CBP officials said Thursday: “CBP continues with the construction of new border wall system with funding that has been received through Fiscal Year (FY) 2020. The majority of contracts have been awarded and construction is well under way for the approximately 738 miles funded to date. Since the U.S. Border Patrol began constructing border barriers nearly 30 years ago, these barriers have proved to be a critical component in gaining operational control of the border and allowing for greater efficiency of manpower.”

“I’m extremely disappointed as are conservationists and birders all over the country. Why didn’t they delay? Or why didn’t they fight it? Why did they just roll over?” said Jim Chapman, president of the Friends of the Wildlife Corridor, when told of the sale on Thursday afternoon.

Chapman was among environmentalists who wrote letters late last month to the Valley Land Fund board president requesting they not sell the land.

As to the timing of the sale — Election Day — Chapman replied to Border Report: “It’s sort of incomprehensible why they did that and when they did that. They quite possibly sealed the doom of this beautiful little famous birding spot on the Rio Grande.”