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Aw nuts: Plan to save endangered squirrels scuttled as too expensive


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Mount Graham Red SquirrelHow much is too much to spend on saving an endangered species? In the case of the endangered Mount Graham red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus grahamensis) $1.25 million seems to be the breaking point.

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) recently announced it would spend that much to protect the squirrels from cars near two dangerous roadways where several of the animals die every year.

The news was met with vocal protests, from citizens and government officials, and the plans have now been cancelled. ADOT director John Halikowski did not admit that protests caused the change, but told news channel KGUN-9 that his department would rather refuse the federal grant money intended for the project than spend it on the squirrels. "ADOT will not spend funds simply because they are available," he said in a prepared statement. The federal transportation grant, which was not specifically earmarked for the squirrels, cannot be used for road repairs or other construction projects.

Arizona is in the middle of a budget crisis that has forced ADOT to close rest stops and delay road repairs.

The Mount Graham red squirrel, one of 25 red squirrel sub-species, was believed to be extinct from the early 1950s until it was rediscovered in the 1970s. It was added to the U.S. endangered species list in 1987 (pdf), and the U.S. Forest Service has conducted an annual census of the squirrels since 1986. After a brief population surge from 1998-2000, the squirrel count has now plunged to about 250 animals, making it the world’s most endangered squirrel species. Drought, forest fires and loss of habitat have been blamed for the decline.

The $1.25 million plan included $400,000 to installed rope bridges (called "canopy tunnel crossings") across two roads on Mount Graham. Another $160,000 would have been spent on cameras to monitor the bridges, with the rest going to radio collars and other long-term efforts to monitor the squirrels.

Tim Snow, a specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, told ABC News that, on average, five Mount Graham red squirrels are killed each year by motorists. He said that if the bridges had been installed, and if they worked, it would have saved 100 squirrels over the bridges’ 20- to 25-year lifespan.

So would the bridges have worked? Sarah Bergman of The Center for Biological Diversity told KGUN-9 that they probably would have: "We’ve been seeing success with tree squirrels in Florida actually using a very similar canopy structure…We’ve also seen some success in Australia where they’ve been decreasing mortality rates there for species that have this additional safety net." As for the cost, "$400,000 is a tiny amount of money to spend to save an entire species," said Bergman.



Photo via Wikipedia





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  1. 1. MCMalkemus 4:59 am 07/3/2010

    Species cannot be protected from evolutionary pressures, in this case, humans infringement into their territory. They either adapt or perish.

    It’s been happening since life first occurred on this planet.

    Link to this
  2. 2. marcusa 8:49 am 07/3/2010

    Perhaps we should be removing humans enmasse for a greater benefit towards species diversity?

    Link to this
  3. 3. jaqcp 8:37 am 07/4/2010

    I can toss across a couple of ropes for $400,000 and have a lot of coin left. I could even do it for about $1000 and turn a profit. I need to get into this game. Just as long as I get to eat the roadkill for free.

    Link to this
  4. 4. leggedfish 10:42 am 07/5/2010

    They could just spend the money to install the rope bridges and forget about the other items. The bridge would not need cameras to monitor its effectiveness. The easiest (and far cheaper) way to check would be to look at the roadkill. $400,000 seems to be an awful lot for some rope. Hopefully local citizens concerned for the squirrels will volunteer their time and a bit of cash for some ropes/cables and install a bridge themselves.

    Link to this

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