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Bush Budgets Boost for Salmon

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, February 7, 2002

Critics carp that recovery funding still will fall short of needs

The budget for salmon recovery is getting a nearly 20 percent boost in the 2003 proposal by President Bush.

But salmon advocates say a far bigger increase is needed if the region is to avoid breaching the four lower Snake River dams.

The Bush administration has proposed $506 million be spent next year to recover threatened and endangered salmon.

"This administration is serious about protecting the environment," said Bob Lohn, head of the National Marine Fisheries Service's Northwest Region at Seattle. "And that commitment is reflected in this budget proposal."

The administration is asking for $128 million to improve fish passage at eight dams operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and to restore habitat in the Columbia River Estuary; $12 million that would help the National Marine Fisheries Service monitor salmon recovery efforts; a $4 million increase in the budget of the Bureau of Reclamation earmarked for habitat improvement projects and water acquisition; and a $3.7 million increase to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help enhance flows, restore habitat and transform fish hatcheries into salmon recovery tools.

At the same time, the Bonneville Power Administration plans to spend some $287 million of ratepayers money for salmon recovery, 13 percent more than the agency spent last year.

The money has only been proposed at this point and still must be approved by Congress.

Once there, the budget could be reduced, approved as is or increased.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo would like to see more money devoted to salmon recovery, but said he is pleased with the increase. His funding proposal calls for some $800 million to be spent next year.

"I think it's very good news in a tough budget climate," he said.

He noted a $106 billion federal budget deficit is expected next year, due in part to large increases in Department of Defense and Homeland Security spending following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Those defense and security increases combined with tax cuts and a flagging economy is holding the proposed funding of many federal programs at nearly flat levels.

The increases in the salmon recovery budget are evidence he and others have been able to make the Bush administration and the Council on Environmental Quality aware of the high stakes of salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest, according to Crapo.

"To see a 19 percent increase in the budget at a time when the rest of the budget is held at 2 percent shows the priority we are asking the administration to give to this has been adopted."

Although the increases have been praised by some, many salmon advocates say it's just not enough to make the impact needed to avoid breaching the lower Snake River dams.

The salmon recovery plan adopted by the federal government in 2000 delayed the dam breaching debate for at least 10 years while other measures such as improving salmon and steelhead habitat, hatchery reforms and improved fish passage at Snake and Columbia River dams are given a chance to work.

But the plan also calls for check-ups, to ensure the plan is being implemented and showing signs of success. The first check-up will be next year and measure if sufficient money is being spent to allow the plan a chance at success.

Salmon advocates note to fully fund the 2003 set of actions proposed by the 2000 recovery strategy, some $900 million is needed.

"It's at about 55 percent of what NMFS estimated is needed to fund that plan, so it's obviously way short," said Pat Ford of the Save Our Wild Salmon coalition at Boise.

At least that is what internal National Marine Fisheries Service documents indicate.

The documents were obtained by a coalition of environmental groups that is challenging the recovery plan in court.

While they are lobbying the government to fully fund the recovery efforts, most salmon advocates believe removing the four Snake River dams would be cheaper and yield better results.

"I applaud the president for recognizing the need for some increase, but the fact remains we are still a long way off," said Bill Sedivy of Idaho Rivers United at Boise.

"If you make a one-time expenditure of about $1 billion (for dam breaching), we think the science is clear that the chances are really good that the fish will come back."

Sedivy added that money should be appropriated to mitigate the economic costs dam removal would have on Lewiston and the surrounding area.

But Bruce Lovelin of the Columbia River Alliance at Portland, an industry group that has lobbied to preserve the dams, said he is pleased with the budget proposed by Bush.

"There is never enough money to fund salmon recovery from some people's perspective," he said. "In our minds it's a good balance. It's an increase from where we have been and it's higher than what I thought the administration would be proposing."

Eric Barker
Bush Budgets Boost for Salmon
Lewiston Tribune, February 7, 2002

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