Stimulus Money for New Mexico Spent On Studying Beaver Dams in Yellowstone
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One of the first New Mexico projects to receive funds from the Obama stimulus bill, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, had nothing to do with New Mexico. It was a $184,986 study of beaver dams in Yellowstone National Park, which is located not in the Land of Enchantment, but in the Cowboy State, in northwestern Wyoming.
With money from the stimulus package, the National Science Foundation awarded the grant to the University of New Mexico “to document beaver-related sediments in floodplains of small streams in the greater Yellowstone area, in deposits dating from the present back to the end of the last glaciation about 12,000 years ago (the Holocene epoch).”
What would be accomplished by this expenditure of funds intended to create jobs for human beings? According to the official description of the project on the recovery.gov website, the site created by the Obama Administration to “track every dime” (the President’s words) of the stimulus: “By detailing the texture, mineral and organic composition, chemistry, and sedimentary structures of modern beaver-pond deposits and their associated landforms, this work will define diagnostic characteristics essential to identifying beaver-related deposits in older floodplain sequences and abandoned channels. Mapping and thickness measurements will allow quantification of the abundance of beaver-pond deposits relative to undammed stream deposits, and the total contribution of beaver-related sedimentation to net filling of valleys.”
The official title of this stimulus-funded project is “Geomorphic influence of beaver on fluvial systems in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.”
The Albuquerque Journal noticed this grant that seemed out place for New Mexico economic stimulus spending back in 2010. Its editorial board wondered what benefit to the state’s economy would be derived from spending federal funds to study beaver dams in Yellowstone National Park. Now we know. Not much.
Grantees of stimulus funds are required to report to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board on a quarterly basis the number of jobs created or saved by their application of stimulus funding. Those results are published at recovery.gov. We now have eleven quarters of reporting on this grant. It tells us that this project has created or saved less than 1/3 full time job on average during the three years the grant has been active.
Dams are a form of infrastructure, and infrastructure projects featured prominently in the arguments for passage of the $787 billion stimulus package. Nowhere in the records of the public debate were beaver dams included in the infrastructure projects that would benefit from the Obama stimulus.
So what work was performed with this grant? What has been the contribution of the funds set aside for this grant to the economic recovery? The latest quarterly report reveals that this grant was used to prepare a thesis for a doctoral candidate, to recruit students for summer field trips to Yellowstone, and to prepare a paper for publication in a scientific journal. The quarterly report for the Summer of 2010 describes the work in those three months as recruiting a research assistant and “stream channel field surveys and bed sediment measurements, along with data compilation and analysis, and initial report writing.”
From National Science Foundation records we identified the individual at UNM who led this project. He is Dr. Grant Meyer of UNM’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. In an e-mail request, we asked him to explain how the money for this project was spent and how this project furthered the goals of the stimulus legislation to create and save jobs and pull the economy out of its recession. We have yet to receive any response from Dr. Meyer.
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Tags: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, ARRA, beaver, beaver dams, National Science Foundation, NSF, Obama, Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, stimulus, University of New Mexico, UNM, Yellowstone National Park
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