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Commentaries and editorials

Bush Bumps Fish Funding

by Larry Swisher
Capital Press - February 8, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration this week proposed a 19 percent boost in federal spending on Columbia Basin salmon recovery to more than half a billion dollars next year.

The president's FY2003 budget, which was sent to Congress Feb. 4, contains a total of $506 million for the Columbia and Snake river salmon programs of several agencies, including Bonneville Power Administration, which is funded by electric ratepayers.

The budget reflects the Bush administration's commitment to protect the environment, said Bob Lohn, recently appointed to head the National Marine Fisheries Service's Northwest regional office in Seattle. "There will be significantly more money for salmon restoration in the Columbia River, for research and monitoring in the Columbia Basin, for habitat improvement, including the estuary, and for restoring streamflows."

The federal agencies' salmon restoration plan focuses on finding better ways to move juvenile fish past a series of hydroelectric dams and improving habitat and water quality in collaboration with states, tribes and others. The plan, which was adopted in late 2000, is in part an alternative to proposals by environmentalists to breach four federal dams on the lower Snake River.

The administration's budget increase "is a vote of confidence that we are moving in the righ direction with the Norhtwest's salmon recovery efforts," BPA administrator Steve Wright said. BPA plans to spend $287 million, a 13 percent increase, on fish and wildlife improvement projects and replacement power for spilling water over dams to aid salmon migration. ($254 x 113% = $287 paid by electric ratepayers)

The next largest component of the federal salmon budget is $128 million for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Of that, $98 million would be used to improve fish passage at dams -- up from $81 million this year. Another $2 million would continue restoration work in the lower Columbia River estuary.

NMFS, the agency responsible for protecting salmon under the Endangered Species Act, plans to spend $36.6 million on basin efforts. The $12 million increase would fund additional scientific work, monitoring and evaluation to implement the 2000 plan and biological consultations on hydropower and other operations.

The Bureau of Reclamation budget includes $15 million, a $4 million increase. Most of the money goes to purchase water from willing sellers to augment flows for migrating salmon. The increase would be used for planning habitat improvement measures in partnership with private landowners and local watersheds councils.

In addition to the the $506 million for the Columbia Basin, Bush's budget provides $90 million for Oregon, Alaska, Washington and California to fund coastal salmon recovery programs.

Northwest environmental groups said the $68 million increase for the Columbia-Snake effort still falls far short of what the government's own estimates say is needed to recover a dozen endangered and threatened fish in the basin, which covers much of Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Michael Garrity, spokesman for American Rivers, said the group would ask the Northwest congressional delegation "to work to fill the gap."

Larry Swisher , a columnist based in Washington, D.C., writes for Pacific Northwest newspapers.
Bush Bumps Fish Funding
Capital Press, February 8, 2002

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