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certain migratory birds that stop to rest and gain strength will find no food. Many will weaken and die, or fly off and drop as they try to continue their journeys without nourishment. By the 1970s, 95 percent of original Valley brushland and forest had been cut down, a process local author Arturo Longoria traces feelingly. In refuges established by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, what’s left is protected, and more wild space is slowly growing back as land is committed to butterfly parks and birding centers in Valley towns, painstakingly revegetated, often by volunteers. A protected corridor is being created for animals so they can thrive and reproduce. Millions of acres are protected on the Mexican side, and the wildlife department makes plans jointly with the Mexicans, because plants and animals don’t recognize borders. The corridor is seen as one, binational. Spotted ocelots, the Valley’s sleek, emblematic, furtive animals, which once roamed over Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama, are now endangered. In the United States they are found only here. There are probably fewer than 100 left. Females make dens for their kittensone or two a yearin brush like wild hackberry and Texas persimmon; when they are about a year old, the young cats disperse, especially the males, who must roam contiguous wild land for food and protection, claiming their own territory to survive. Naturalists like Hagne say fragmenting the Valley habitat with a fence would doom any comeback of the ocelots, and cripple, probably fatally, the long, slender jaguarundi, too, along with 20 other endangered species. U.S. Fish and Wildlife has spent $100 million in the last 20 years to acquire refuge land and now protects 90,000 acres, much of it open to visitors. Local residents are deeply invested; they have raised money for land acquisition, too. The aim is a corridor of 134,000 acres. At the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge near Alamo, Public Outreach Specialist Nancy Brown says, “For 20 years this has been billed as a wildlife corridor, a place where animals might be unencumbered.” With a fence, she says, “You go counter to the very reason for which it was established:’ This is the way Joel Hernandez, a biologist with Pro-Natura, a non-governmental organization that oversees protected areas on the Mexican side of the river, sees the coming of a fence: “Within six months or a year, you’ll begin to see animal life diminishing. You’ll see more corpses on the roads. In three years, the big animals will be fairly gone. If they don’t die because they can’t eat, don’t have their own territory, they’ll die from people who shoot them in the open. You’ll just stop seeing them, seeing certain things. Birds. The place will be more quiet:’ On the river, the birding partya rancher, two naturalists, and a local DHS employeespot a red-billed pigeon on a high branch. For two of them, this is a “life bird” event, the term for the first time a particular bird is sighted. In all of the United States, the red-billed pigeon, Muscovy duck, and brown jay are found only within this couple of miles. These birds would not die because of a fence, but you would have to go to another countrythe Mexican sideto see them. Mary Jo McConahay is an independent journalist. Her last feature for the Observer was “They Die in Brooks County” Egrets and spoonbills are just a few of the 400 bird species in the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge.