who's your daddy? / by Warrior Ant Press Worldwide Anthill Headquarters in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

I've long had a fascination with bears. The big ones. Known as the grizzly down south, the brown up north - ursus arctos horriblus. It hasn't taken me yet down the Timothy Treadwell path, and lacking both Treadwell's curly blond locks and his death wish, it's unlikely I'd ever get far down that road. But I would really like to encounter a bear. In the woods. Someday.

The Republicans, who as a lot appear as wary of science as they are of Hollywood, except when figuring out new ways to send a drill stem 5 miles down into the Gulf of Mexico love to poo pah taking a scientific view of world. Regardless that science offers the only credible way to discover new information about how the world works. If not science, then what - a guess? McGruff the Crime Dog loves to tell the story of the bear DNA and how much it costs. He likes to get all folksy with the tale, "perhaps they needed to find out whose hands was in the honey jar?" Blah blah blah. McCain understands science as well as he understands the economy. He can't understand the economy because he can't understand science. The flyboy, who finished 5th from the bottom of his class at Navy must have skipped more than one calculus class to get hammered. Remember the last President who skipped classes to get hammered? He's still in office.

Turns out the bear DNA project, more rightly called the Northern Divide Grizzly bear project was supported by pretty much everyone in Montana. The Republican governor, the farmers, the ranchers, the environmentalists. Everyone. Why? The principle objective of the project was to determine how many grizzlies lived in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem considered to be one of the last strongholds for the grizzly. These data are important because as grizzly bear populations declined throughout the late 1960's and early 1970's, the Fish and Wildlife Service set guidelines on population management and development in the range of the bear to insure it's well-being. Well how do you know if the management is working if you don't count the bears? How can you de-list the bears unless you can show the populations have recovered?

Turns out grizzlies don't really care much about being counted. They don't really care for people, but will eat our food if we leave it scattered about in their native habitat. They avoid us mostly and keep to themselves. They stay up late and sleep even later. The don't like to be poked, prodded, or put in traps and hauled off to wear skirts and prance around a circus ring. And they don't like flyovers by black helicopters. So how then does one count the bears?

Barbed wire, that twisted strand of old west lore, has many uses, including pulling out small amounts of bear hair from the unsuspecting giant. DNA is then extracted from the hair and the sex, species, and identity of the bear can be determined. The technique, like a lot of science data collection methods, turns out to be a combination of simple, yet very effective techniques combined with state-of-the-art analytical machines.

Researchers stretch 100 feet of barb-wire around 4 trees in a remote wilderness area. The barb wire is high enough off the ground so that most animals go under it, but just high enough that a bear either has to step on it, or crawl underneath it to approach a lure pile. A lure pile is a scented pile of logs with no reward in the center - except stink. The bear is attracted to the smell, investigates, then pulls apart the log pile looking for food, and finding none, leaves. Bear skin is so thick and tough that the barb wire doesn't penetrate it, and when the bears enter and leave the lure piles small bits of hair get trapped on the wire. Researchers come along, catalogue the hair, bring it back to the lab where they extract the DNA and determine if the bears are related to any of the OJ posse currently on trial in Las Vegas.

Although this project was expensive, it's actually less expensive than previous techniques of helicopter flyovers and steel traps. Plus the public doesn't really dig the helicopters that much. Nor the bear traps. One reason this project was expensive was that the study area is huge. The bears are spread over 7.75 million acres of largely undeveloped, roadless wilderness. It took several hundred people to collect the 34,000 samples that make up the database and the cooperation of more than a dozen governmental partners, three states, and 2 countries. Who says the government doesn't work together to solve problems? The DNA analyses were likely but a small part of the overall budget.

The upshot of all this, and the reason the science-challenged Republicans ought to be celebrating is that there turns out to be many more grizzly bears than imagined. Almost 3 times as many as determined in previous counts. So many that they may in fact no longer have to be listed as endangered. So it's funny that the outcome is very much something the Republicans might embrace, the de-listing of a species, yet they mock it on the campaign trail. Development in an area with threatened or endangered species, especially a species with the public presence of the grizzly bear is difficult. Removing them from the endangered and threatened list would make things a lot simpler for many out west but even if that happens you still won't be able to shoot a bear from a plane. Unless you live in Alaska and have your own level of protection from the law.

grizzly bear project with video