(Photo courtesy of photohome.com)
Senator John McCain likes to make fun of foolishly spent money, earmarked for particular states. One of his examples is research into the number and distribution of grizzly bears in Montana. An method of counting them is to check the DNA of hair samples found at bears’ favourite scratching trees, to see how many individuals there are. McCain ridicules this as crime investigation into food scavenging or bear paternity suits.
He implies that it’s a waste of money.
He neglects to mention that he voted for it–or that it is research that must be done before land uses such as mining or logging can go ahead. Salon has the story.
Its funding was originally championed by Republican lawmakers, and its goal is one that both conservationists and “Drill, baby drill” cheerleaders can get behind.
The Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project attempts to answer basic scientific questions about one of the largest populations of grizzly bears left in the lower 48 states. How many grizzly bears live in a 12,000-square-mile area in and around Glacier National Park? What is their distribution? What’s their gender breakdown? Are they breeding with bears from Canada?
The fact that the grizzly bears happen to be in Montana does not mean that that state is trying to pull a fast one on the feds for some pet project. The grizzly is currently listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 states. To aid its recovery, which the feds are obligated by law to do, the government must figure out how many bears are out there. Only once they have established a baseline can they then ascertain if that number is going up, down or is stable.
You could hardly call the original backers of the grizzly bear study, then-Montana Sen. Conrad Burns and then-Montana Gov. Judy Martz, “tree huggers.” “Those two couldn’t give a hoot about grizzlies,” says Brian Peck, a wildlife biologist, who works in grizzly conservation for the Great Bear Foundation. As Peck explains, anybody who wants to log, drill for natural gas or oil, graze cattle or build roads in grizzly habitat, as well as their friends in politics, has a vested interest in finding out how many bears live in the area. A healthy bear population could mean relaxing restrictions on development of federal lands the bears call home.
“Sen. Conrad Burns was a key player in getting federal money appropriated for this intensive bear count,” says David Gaillard, an advocate with Defenders of Wildlife. “His clear purpose was to show that there are lots of bears out there, and we’re ready to delist, and open up their habitat to a lot of friends in industry.”