The True Cost Of Protection?

(Jeff T. Green - Getty Images)
Thursday, February 16, 2006

They are called by many names, but considering how much the government spends to protect them, their name in Alaska and some other regions -- king salmon -- seems most apt.

In 2004, federal and state governments spent more than

$160 million to preserve that salmon species, commonly known as chinook -- listed by the federal government as endangered in the early 1990s. And that doesn't include the millions spent on other kinds of salmon, such as sockeye, coho and chum.

In all, according to a recent report by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the government spent more than $1.4 billion protecting endangered species in 2004 -- 17 percent more than in 2003.

Rounding out the top 10 list of "most expensive" species (salmon take four spots) are the steelhead, Steller sea lion, bull trout, red-cockaded woodpecker, pallid sturgeon and right whale.

The wildlife service report provided expenditures for nearly all of the 1,340 endangered species. Mammals accounted for $122 million; birds, $103 million; reptiles, $42 million; amphibians, $8 million; fish, $475 million; insects, $7.5 million; and flowering plants, $21 million.

The report, which regularly invites controversy, provides information to Congress so lawmakers can make decisions on conservation spending, according to the service.

Species that tallied more than $1 million in protection spending come from all over the animal kingdom. Some are well known: the grizzly bear, $7.7 million; Mexican spotted owl, $5.3 million; gray bat, $1.7 million.

Others are more obscure: West Indian manatee ($9.9 million), razorback sucker ($7.5 million). No species of snail gets more than $1 million on its own, but together, the 32 species of snail brought in well over $2 million.

Some endangered species receive little or no protection spending. Nothing was spent on the Caribbean monk seal, while the St. Croix ground lizard tallied $500 and the Kretschmarr Cave mold beetle nearly $11,000.

After hatching, chinook salmon spend several years roaming hundreds of miles in the Pacific Ocean, growing in size in preparation for their return to freshwater to spawn and die.

David Patte, a Fish and Wildlife Service official in Portland, Ore., says chinook salmon have "quite a unique life in the history of conservation biology." Protecting them involves law enforcement and large civil construction projects to allow salmon to travel freely though dams and hydroelectric structures. "It's quite an undertaking," he said.

Conserving the gray wolf, which cost more than $5 million in 2004, is easier, according to Ed Bangs, a Helena, Mont., specialist in wolf recovery for the wildlife agency. It mostly involves tagging the wolves with radio devices or tracking them from the air and making sure they don't attack livestock.

-- Zachary A. Goldfarb

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