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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Pork bear all

On the campaign trail, John McCain decries pork-barrel spending by, among other things, making fun of a $3 million program to study grizzly bear DNA: "I don't kjow if it was a paternity issue or criminal, but it was a waste of money." Wait just a second, says a Washington Post story headlined "McCain sees pork where scientists see success," that project accomplished what it set out to accomplish, and it was beneficial:

The secret to counting bears is obtaining hair. One way is to pluck it off of "rub trees," which bears use for marking territory. The other trick is to use a string of barbed wire to make a pen. Place some stinking bear bait in the center, and the bear will slip under (or sometimes, if the bear is huge, over) the wire. Snagging hair that way doesn't hurt the animal.

In 2002 Kendall and her colleagues proposed using such hair traps to count bears in Glacier National Park and the nearby wilderness. Multiple state and federal agencies backed the plan. So did Montana's governor at the time, Judy Martz, a Republican, who asked the congressional delegation for support. The project found a powerful ally in Burns, who chaired the subcommittee overseeing the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey. Burns, Kendall said, added $1 million to the USGS budget in 2003 and pushed through add-ons for the next four years.

So, they counted a lot of bear hair and used that to make (supposedly) an accurate assessment of the population. But was that really worth $5 million (the real cost, as the story notes)? In the grand scheme of things, how important is it to know how many grizzly bears there are in a certain area? Of course the project director would say the project was a success - what else is she going to say? If you gave me $5 million to determine if people who wear red on Mondays are more pessimistic than people who wear green on Tuesdays, I figure out a way to call my project a success, too.

What we all want to know is: Do bears, really, you know, in the woods? Surely they spend at least $1 million on that.


Bob G.
Mon, 03/10/2008 - 12:41pm

I'll save the USGS that million right now...
"Yes" (they do).

Darn, shoulda got me a GRANT for all that research!


tim zank
Mon, 03/10/2008 - 7:13pm

Be a damn sight cheaper and easier to watch 'em from a frickin' helicopter and count heads wouldn't it?