Republican presidential nominee, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), has decided to pick on a $3 million dollar project to “study grizzly bear DNA” as part of his campaign – both in speeches and in a recent campaign commercial. Senator McCain stated of the program, “I don’t know if it was a paternity issue or criminal, but it was a waste of money.”
United States Geological Survey biologist Katherine Kendall, the brains behind the Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project, has actually been evaluating grizzly bear DNA as a means of assessing bear population dynamics. Kendall is leading the first study to gather status information on the bear population in Montana, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Former Republican Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) had been a strong advocate for the study and is now the chairman of McCain’s Montana campaign. In fact in 2003, McCain voted for the appropriations bill that funded the research, which included a $1 million add-on courtesy of Senator Burns.
Kendall’s research has discovered that grizzly bears have a healthier population than expected, indicating that conservation efforts over the past 30 years have paid off. The project, contrary to Senator McCain’s quips, has been using DNA as a tool to identify bears. Answering the question of “why count bears” in a recent Washington Post interview, Kendall remarked: “We just can’t be managing in the dark for another 25 years.”
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