Saturday, October 11, 2008

Pork barrel spending that isn't pork barrel spending

When I heard John McCain speak out against 3 million dollars of funding for bear DNA research during the first presidential debate as an example of the type of wasteful spending he'd put a stop to, my immediate reaction was to think to myself that doesn't exactly sound like pork spending so much as probably beneficial spending on necessary research.

Checking Scientific American I see that

"This is not pork barrel at all," says Richard Mace, a research biologist with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP). "We have a federal law called the Endangered Species Act and [under this law] the federal government is supposed to help identify and conserve threatened species."

The grizzly has been listed as a threatened species since 1975 and scientists say that it is essential to get a handle on the population to preserve it. But, according to Kendall, until the feds decided to invest in this grizzly bear DNA study, researchers lacked the funds to conduct research at the scale necessary to get a reliable measure.

Still, for many Americans who have never seen and probably never will see a grizzly bear, the question remains: Why should one bear population merit millions in taxpayer money?

The reason, grizzly expert Servheen says: the bears are a threatened species. He estimates that only about 1,500 still reside in the 48 contiguous states, compared with some 50,000 before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century (a 97 percent population decline). The once far-reaching grizzly habitat, which stretched from the Mississippi River to California and ranged north to south from Alaska to Mexico, is today restricted to four western states: Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Washington. In these states, only two populations—those living in and around Yellowstone National Park and in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem—number more than 50 bears and offer hope for long-term viability, Servheen says.
Considering that we've literally lost billions of dollars in Iraq, picking on a study that cost about 5 million dollars that might help save a species that is an American icon and a major tourist attraction (which means they generate revenue in return) seems a bit strange.

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