About the SA Blog Network

Extinction Countdown

Extinction Countdown

News and research about endangered species from around the world
Extinction Countdown Home

Salt marsh mouse: An endangered species becomes a stimulus scapegoat

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

The salt marsh harvest mouse (Reithrodontomys raviventris) has been on the Endangered Species List since 1970. So why, after all of this time, has it gotten so much media attention in the last few weeks?

It turns out that the mouse has become a convenient scapegoat for attacks against President Obama’s stimulus package, thanks to often-repeated, and often debunked, claims that the mouse will receive $30 million dollars of that stimulus money.

The story reared its ugly head February 11 in a report in The Washington Times titled "Stimulus has $30M to save Pelosi’s harvest mouse," which reported on claims from House Minority Leader John A. Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office that the stimulus package contained "more than $30 million for wetlands conservation in [Nancy Pelosi's] San Francisco Bay area district, including work she previously championed to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse."

Despite Pelosi’s denial in the very same article, the assertion was quickly repeated by Fox Business, The New York Times, and again last night, when Republican Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, gave the traditional GOP response to Obama’s first address to Congress. (See this post for more on Jindal’s reaction to Obama’s speech, including Jindal’s comments on volcano monitoring.)

Of course, all of this ignores the fact that this has long since been proven wrong, and that even other conservatives have attacked the strategy of using the mouse to assail the stimulus package.

It also ignores the fact that the salt marsh harvest mouse really does still need help, and thanks to the Endangered Species Act, the government has a legal requirement to help it. Its very nature makes it vulnerable: it’s less than three inches long, lives under a year, and reproduces slowly. The mouse’s habitat has shrunk by about 85% (.rtf) since 1850, and currently faces massive ecological change due to freshwater intrusion from area sewage treatment plants. The freshwater is killing off pickleweed, upon which the salt water harvest mouse depends for both its food and protection from predators and high tides. To date, little genetic information about the mouse is available, making efforts to boost its population difficult.

Back in the original Washington Times article, Boehner spokesperson Michael Steel asked "So can Speaker Pelosi explain exactly how we will improve the American economy by helping the adorable little critter?" Pelosi’s spokesperson fired back that even though the mouse claims were false, "(wetlands) restoration is key to economic activity including farming, fisheries, recreation, and clean water."

Image: Wikipedia

Rights & Permissions

Comments 9 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. hotblack 11:48 am 02/25/2009

    This is what happens when you wind up with not philosophers and scientists leading the country, but prom kings and queens with "people skills".

    Can we get a "Science" political party started? Right now, it’s devolved into Republicans vs. Everybody else. Everyone knows we need at least a third party for the system to work, and if we’re going to have a third party, I’d rather have it be one based on science than just another brand of flim-flam.

    Link to this
  2. 2. MattLovesScience 12:19 pm 02/25/2009

    This country needs to seriously look at the original constituion. Go back to that is a start. Republican, Democrat, they are both the problem. I think a science party is a good idea. Just make sure they are not goverment researchers who are not required to produce results. And you better have some accountants and capitalists to make sure they are not doing needless research that has no possible way of making back the money it cost to perform. "What" but the research is important to our knowledge of the operation of the physical universe you say, Well let it be funded privately then. the government has no business funding research unless it the results can be used to defend the country against foreign attacks. If the wetlands need to be preserved, let duck unlimited do it. Human kind is one of the most succesful species because we alter the environment we live in, not because we leave it alone.

    I love science, but it should not be paid for by tax dollars. Private funding. Period. If you can’t get private funding, or corporate funding, it must not be that important. Period.

    Link to this
  3. 3. oleladyking 7:03 pm 02/25/2009


    Link to this
  4. 4. epm 12:05 am 02/26/2009

    "I love science, but it should not be paid for by tax dollars. Private funding. Period. If you can’t get private funding, or corporate funding, it must not be that important. Period."

    This is not even close to right. Corporations exist for the financial benefit of their owners, and nothing else. They see no benefit in research pointing to damage their products might cause, yet we need this kind of work. What company would or could fund satellites for accurate measurement of CO2 or ozone or polar ice coverage or water temperatures? What company would or could fund tracking of atrazine in our rainfall, or plastics killing Pacific sea-life? How about lead in gasoline and downwind spreading of mercury and sulfur compounds from smokestacks? Public funding produced a open-source genome map. Private funding gave us patents on life, and crops that don’t reduce need for pesticide, but are able to withstand even more chemicals — from that company, of course. I know that private funding, when directed by humane visionaries, has done a lot of good, but profit is the most overrated measure of value ever.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Natedog 10:26 am 02/26/2009

    MattLovesScience, I can’t even begin to state how much I disagree with your post. You are an insult to human intelligence.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Natedog 10:35 am 02/26/2009

    Oh, and for your information Ducks Unlimited is an organization attempting to save our wetlands not for environmental reasons or out of social responsibility but because they want to ensure that their duck hunting grounds do not disappear. They save ducks because they want to continue shooting ducks….

    Link to this
  7. 7. TomJoe 9:23 am 02/27/2009

    MattLoveScience said: Just make sure they are not goverment researchers who are not required to produce results.

    Excuse me? Government scientists are required to publish multiple peer-reviewed manuscripts yearly on the data they collect and analyze.

    Link to this
  8. 8. bertwindon 10:17 am 02/19/2010

    "not that important " eh ? well who’s to know. One – if not the very first ever – nuclear reactor experiment I believe looked like the work of a lunatic in a cave somewhere, where he had suspended dozens of lumps of Uranium in a tank of water.
    The only things these days that don’t have to pay for themselves, for some reason, are "Windfarms". That’s because unlike hospitals and schools "we need clean energy so it doesn’t matter how much it costs"
    Would a "Science party", I wonder, be able to twig the fact that Money currently comes from – without delving into details – burning oil – etc. ? And so, windfarms don’t gather enough energy thro’out their lives to enable replacements to be made. No worries ! they look great ! Let’s not spoil the party.

    Link to this
  9. 9. bertwindon 6:10 am 02/20/2010

    I can think of one case where "private funding" – and even that was myself, alone, "on the dole", came up with the goods while "Vestas" "Iberdrola" etc. – Certainly not in receipt of "government money" (perish the thought !) came up with a fabulous show of window dressing, making a kind of "we are so environmentally concerned" statement for the government.
    This window dressing show returns around 1/40 of the % of cost, p.a. that can be obtained with a design of wind turbine-alternator which takes into account elementary mathmatics, and physics. At 40 times the return p.a. of this dressing, self-sustainability would be widespread. As it is, the window dressing is very widespread – while the fossil and nuclear energy keeps churning it out, that is.
    The future looks bleak indeed for the Harvest mouse. But "scientists" use thermometers and "digital pyrometers" and "spectrometers" – not Harvest mice !! (well, unless they’re testing the governments latest germ-warfare hope)
    Oh I love "Science" !

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American


Get All-Access Digital + Print >


Email this Article