You know, Teddy Roosevelt got a lot of mileage for being nice to a bear. The ubiquitous Teddy bear was the upshot of his refusal to shoot. So you think John McCain would know better. The Washington Post reports a great piece on McCain’s standard stump speech fare about a $3 million study of the DNA of bears in Montana. “Unbelievable,” he says. Well, what’s unbelievable is that no one on McCain’s staff has bothered to inform him of the real purpose of the study he’s spent so much energy despising since 2003. Katherine Kendall, a kick-ass biologist, and the mastermind of the Northern Divide Grizzly Bear Project, is actually doing John McCain and his descendants a genuine favor by tackling the life-and-death issues of biodiversity. According to the WP:
Kendall is one tough field biologist: She’s rafted wild rivers, forded swollen streams and hiked through remote backcountry for weeks at a time. She goes to places inhabited by all manner of large creatures with sharp teeth. She was once charged by an enraged grizzly. She stared the bear down… As a scientist with the US Geological Survey, she set out to get the first head count of grizzlies in the Northern Continental Divide ecosystem. She and her co-workers at the USGS have used DNA primarily as a bear-identifying tool… “There’s never been any information about the status of this population. We didn’t know what was going on—until this study,” Kendall said. This was an astonishingly ambitious research project involving 207 paid workers, hundreds of volunteers, 7.8 million acres and 2,560 bear sampling sites [including the bear rub tree seen in the video]. The project did not cost $3 million, as McCain’s ad alleges, but more than $5 million, including nearly $4.8 million in congressional appropriations. It had a strong advocate in Congress in Montana’s three-term senator, Conrad Burns, a Republican who was defeated in his reelection bid in 2006.
Bottom line: we need bears. We need tough field biologists whose dedication often means the difference between survival and extinction for their study animals. We need to stand up to McCain when he charges blindly and stare him down. Anyone up for attending a stump speech in a bear costume?
Julia Whitty is Mother Jones’ environmental correspondent, lecturer, and 2008 winner of the John Burroughs Medal Award. You can read from her new book, The Fragile Edge, and other writings, here.