Salmon Backers Question Bush's Fish Budgetby Mike Lee, Herald staff writer
Tri-City Herald, March 3, 2001
It's too early to discern much about Bush administration commitments to saving Northwest salmon, but regional leaders are studying a few budget tea leaves to try to forecast the future of fish recovery plans.
Conservationists say Bush's budget blueprint, released earlier this week, leaves little or no room for increases in salmon spending. That's the same message sent by interest groups across the political landscape. They aren't expecting enough money for their causes as the president trims programs in favor of tax cuts.
"You can kind of look at (the budget blueprint) and get nervous if you are concerned about salmon," said Justin Hayes at American Rivers in Washington, D.C. "Holding firm is not what we need. We need increases."
That position is being pushed hardest by environmentalists, but even those who don't worry much about the fate of Northwest salmon have a dog in this budget fight.
Without more money, it's unlikely the region will meet salmon-recovery goals -- and that could once again put the lower Snake River dams at risk for breaching, something Bush said he didn't want.
"We look at Hanford first, but (salmon recovery) is another one near the top of the list," said Todd Young, spokesman for Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash. Hastings has long pushed for salmon recovery without dam removal.
Salmon advocates say if Bush really doesn't want the dams breached, it's time to pay for habitat improvements to give endangered salmon a chance to rebound. "He needs to put his money where his mouth is," Hayes said.
Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber met with Bush earlier this week and pushed for $500 million more for Northwest fish.
"If they don't do it, what you're going to see is this thing going right back into court again, and the dam breaching issue will be raised again," Kitzhaber was quoted as saying in a regional online hydropower newsletter.
Budget specifics likely won't be released for another month, which means further speculation about whether there's enough money implement the National Marine Fisheries Service's plan for hydro operations.
Federal salmon agencies have requested an infusion this year of $175 million to $190 million, in addition to the normal budget, and they estimate they eventually need to double current spending to nearly $1 billion a year.
"Failure to fund the plan will place the protected salmon at greater risk and necessarily place us on a path to remove the lower Snake River dams," said Rebecca Wodder, American Rivers president, in a recent letter to top Bush staff.
Hayes said there's no sign of a supplemental budget plan for salmon. "You can't pull that kind of money out of a hat, even in Washington," he said.
Early 2002 numbers show Army Corps of Engineers and Interior Department budgets are expected to be trimmed by at least a few hundred million dollars each.
Budget specifics likely will be released about the same time as the Bush plan for on-the-ground operations of the hydropower system. "It should provide the details we are looking for," said Chris Zimmer, spokesman for a coalition of salmon groups in Seattle.
Young said not to be surprised if Bush's fish budget looks thinner than early budgets prepared by former President Clinton.
"Clinton used to propose salmon numbers that were much higher than what they could ever meet realistically," Young said. "When the Bush numbers come out, they are realistic."
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