Monday, April 07, 2008

Ivory-billed Woodpecker funding: Reality check

A great deal of gnashing of teeth has been heard from many directions about the gross waste of money being poured into ill-conceived Ivory-billed Woodpecker "search and recovery" efforts. Louis Bevier's recent Birdforum posting is only the latest in a long line from people including Dave Sibley, Jerry Jackson, and countless others. Okay, let's look at this. The 2006-2007 accomplishments report lists a total of just over $1M for that fiscal year. How does that fit in to the general pattern of expenditures for all endangered bird species (98 of them)? Well, it's about 1% of the annual total, which runs in the ballpark of $100M in recent years. The big-name species with large-scale recovery plans, like California Condor and Whooping Crane, have annual expenditures in the range of $5M-$13M, roughly. So Ivorybill expenditures are very much in the middle of the pack. Strike it from the list, redistribute the money to the other 97 species, and it won't make a damn bit of difference for them. Sure, someone will go out there and look up the detailed numbers for the latest fiscal year and pick at the details, someone else will pull out much larger proposed numbers from various plans (I'm looking at actual expenditures, not future proposals), but it won't change the big picture that if you totally eliminate all Ivorybill funding it will not even provide a noticeable bump for the rest of our endangered bird species.

Anyone who has ever put together funding proposals (which includes nearly all the loudest critics of the Ivorybill funding) knows that $1M is not an exorbitant expense. Once you start tallying up personnel, equipment, travel, and overhead for even a fairly small project, you get way up in the high 6-figures very fast. In fact, given the large geographic scope and thinly-spread nature of the Ivorybill activities, $1M/year sounds more like a shoestring than a gravy train.

P.S. I realize the pie is not actually sliced this way, but I find these sorts of comparisons useful for keeping perspective: The $1.1M spent last year on Ivorybill activities would fund the Iraq war for about 4 minutes. Exxon-Mobil makes that much profit in about 15 minutes. And it is roughly equal to the amount of consumer "wealth" that evaporates into thin air during the foreclosure of one single McMansion.


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