By Craig Smith
SAFFORD, AZ (CNN) - The state of Arizona is getting $400,000 in federal money to pay for new bridges. But these bridges are not for humans. They are for squirrels. Not everyone is convinced the project is a good use of taxpayer money.
The Mount Graham Red Squirrel is cute, but in trouble. At last count there were only about 250 left in the world, so officials have put a lot into keeping it from going extinct.
Now, the Arizona Department of Transportation plans to spend $400,000, $1,600 squirrel, to give red squirrels little bridges over the road.
Squirrels have enough natural enemies - predators, drought, fire - without having to contend with an unnatural enemy like cars. A scientist referred to us by the Center for Biodiversity says researchers believe about six squirrels die on the road here every year but it is hard to be truly sure of the numbers because predators clear out the road kill so fast.
But, are bridges for squirrels - even endangered squirrels - a good use of public dollars? Just thinking of other things that have to be set aside - rest stops closed, paving and maintenance deferred, things of that sort - why squirrels, why now?
"The squirrels are an endangered species," said Linda Ritter, with Arizona's Department of Transportation. "The most endangered in the world and we do have a responsibility to mitigate the environmental impacts on those squirrels."
Linda Ritter says the money is federal dollars. A-DOT has to use it for squirrels or lose it. So what do the squirrels' neighbors think of the plan?
"Survival of the species is very important to me," said one man. "It depends on how you think of humans being employed and their plight."
"I think it's a good thing," said another. "If it saves a couple squirrels, you know, keeps population alive for my kids to enjoy. I think that's a good thing."
"I think it would be nice to get that money and return it to the school system," said one nearby resident. "I like squirrels but children are more important I think."