Monday, March 10, 2008

Counting Bears

John McCain is mocking wildlife research as part of his campaign.

If you've heard Sen. John McCain's stump speech, you've surely heard him talk about grizzly bears. The federal government, he declares with horror and astonishment, has spent $3 million to study grizzly bear DNA. "I don't know if it was a paternity issue or criminal," he jokes, "but it was a waste of money."

A McCain campaign commercial also tweaks the bear research: "Three million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. Unbelievable." ...

"Approach a bear: 'That bear cub over there claims you are his father, and we need to take your DNA.' Approach another bear: 'Two hikers had their food stolen by a bear, and we think it is you. We have to get the DNA.' The DNA doesn't fit, you got to acquit, if I might."
The DNA study was part of a five-year census project to estimate the number of grizzly bears in Montana. USGS biologists collected grizzly hair from trees and baited hair traps. Testing the hair for DNA established that there were at least 563 individual bears in the study area, which was more than anticipated. The census could eventually provide evidence for removing the Montana grizzlies from the Endangered Species List.

Apparently McCain has been mocking plant and animal research for a long time.
He has criticized the $2 million spent on Oregon's Groundfish Disaster Outreach Program, the $280,000 spent on asparagus technology in Washington state, the $600,000 for peanut research in Alabama.

"One of our all-time favorites, made famous a number of years ago, is money that was spent to study the effect on the ozone layer of flatulence in cows," McCain said in 2003. "One always wondered about the testing procedures used to determine those effects on the ozone layer."
Funding for the grizzly census came through an earmark added to several successive budgets by former Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT). Somehow the presence of this earmark did not prompt McCain to propose an amendment to remove it from the bill, or to vote against the legislation. It also did not stop him from bringing on Burns as the chair of his Montana presidential campaign.

The grizzly project cost over $5 million, of which $4.8 million was provided through congressional earmarks. That sounds like a lot of money, but compared to the federal budget as a while it is actually quite small. Compared to other ways the federal government has used money, the grizzly project is money well spent.