If you’ve followed politics at all for the last few years, you’ve probably heard references to Alaska’s infamous “bridge to nowhere.” The proposed Gravinas Island Bridge would connect Ketchikan, Alaska, to Gravinas Island—population 50—using $315 million in federal dollars.
Since 2005, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been using the bridge as his primary example of congress’ runaway pork barrel spending. At an April 16 campaign rally in Mason City, Iowa, the presidential hopeful mentioned the bridge again—and then added a different example of excessive spending: a project to collect and study grizzly bear DNA in Montana’s Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem (NCDE), which includes Glacier National Park and surrounding National Forest lands.
The study, which began in 2004 and cost $3 million, aims to collect an accurate count of the number of grizzly bears in the NCDE, their sex, geographic range and population density.
According to the Washington Post, McCain “received vigorous applause when he talked about the need to rein in federal spending, and laughs when he made fun of a federal study on bear DNA.” The Post also quoted him as making a joke about the DNA study: “I don’t know whether that was a paternity study or a criminal one.”
But Chris Servheen, grizzly bear recovery coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the supporting scientist on the DNA project, questions McCain’s use of the study as a political punch line.
“This is an investment in understanding the status of the bears so we can eventually conserve them and recover them under the Endangered Species Act,” he says. “If we wanted them to be listed forever, then we wouldn’t invest in any science.”
It would make little sense, Servheen says, to create laws like the Endangered Species Act without providing the money necessary to comply with them. He also points out that doing the appropriate studies helps get species de-listed, which in the long run saves the federal government money.
Servheen says the DNA study is almost finished, and a final report should be out by the end of the year.