Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Mouse in the House

by Darcie Collins, Ph.D., Habitat Restoration Director

$30 million in the stimulus package for a mouse? That was the claim in last Thursday’s Washington Times. GOP officials, arguing the new stimulus package is stuffed with Democratic pork, charged Nancy Pelosi with earmarking $30 million of the $780 billion package to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse, an endangered animal endemic to the marshes of the San Francisco Bay.

The story evolved like this: last week, a House Republican staffer circulated an email claiming an unnamed Federal Agency would spend “thirty million dollars (of stimulus money) for wetland restoration in the San Francisco Bay Area—including work to protect the salt marsh harvest mouse.” Although there is no specific language in the bill indicating the money would go explicitly to protecting the endangered animal, the staffer held to this claim: “The bottom line is, if this bill becomes law, taxpayers will spend $30 million on a mouse.”

Pelosi’s staff disagreed. “There are no federal wetland restoration projects in line to get funded in San Francisco,” Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill said. “Neither the Speaker nor her staff have had any involvement in this initiative. The idea that $30 million will be spent to save mice is a total fabrication.”

In truth, it's not a total fabrication. But many San Francisco Bay wetland restoration projects—earth-moving, planting, fence and road building, and creating wildlife viewing areas and parking lots—are currently at a stand-still due to inadequate funding. These “ready-to-go” projects are prime for the stimulus package. And they would help protect the salt marsh harvest mouse.

So what is wrong with a project that benefits an endangered species and creates job opportunities? Unfortunately the little mouse has been getting a bit of a bad rap.

In wetland restoration, the salt marsh harvest mouse operates as an “indicator species." Indicator species are very sensitive organisms that respond to extremely small changes in the environment and are often used to indicate pollution and other impacts in ecosystems. In the case of the salt marsh harvest mouse, the loss of San Francisco Bay tidal wetlands and salt marshes has caused a dramatic decrease in the harvest mouse population, resulting in its addition to the Endangered Species List in 1970.

But just as sensitive species can be indicators of disturbance, they are also indicators of healthy systems, and restoration biologists often use these species as evidence of the successes of restoration work.

So what does the mouse-bashing mean for SF Bay restoration ?

Healthy salt marshes are vital for a sustainable Bay ecosystem, which helps combat the effects of global warming and leads to a sustainable fishing industry, improved water quality, and increased tourism and recreation. GOP officials may bash the little mouse, but a thriving salt marsh harvest mouse population indicates a healthy wetland ecosystem. And since salt marshes are the lungs of the Bay—providing habitat to hundreds of fish and wildlife species, trapping pollutants from urban areas before they reach the Bay, capturing carbon from greenhouse gases and providing flood and erosion control—this is a good thing.

The proposed stimulus package includes $30 million to restore San Francisco Bay wetlands, which ultimately protects the salt marsh harvest mouse. Some call it pork; others call it cheese. I call it a good investment for our Bay.

Learn more about Save The Bay's wetland restoration program.

1 comment:

Dohassen said...

If restoring habitat can employ some folks, I think its just as good as a road or other capital project and should qualify for stimulus funding