House Passes Interior Billby CBB Staff
Congress has agreed to spend $11 million in fiscal year 2004 to improve stream passage on federal lands for migrating salmon and other fish in the Pacific Northwest.
It is the second year for the program, which received $7 million this year under an initiative sponsored by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. Most of the money is spent to repair and replace road culverts that block fish passage.
"Removing these barriers that prevent salmon from swimming upstream to spawn is a critical piece of our overall strategy to boost the survival of these threatened and endangered species," Dicks said.
The $11 million is contained in the final House-Senate compromise on the FY2004 appropriations bill for the Interior Department, Forest Service and other agencies. The House passed the bill on Thursday by a vote of 216-205, and the Senate is scheduled to vote Monday to send it to President George W. Bush.
Enactment of the $20.2 billion spending measure, which was boosted by the addition of an extra $400 million in firefighting funds beyond earlier House and Senate versions, will end uncertainty about the budgets of federal agencies and programs. Since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, many agencies have continued to operate under FY03 spending levels temporarily while Congress finishes work on several uncompleted FY04 spending bills.
The interior bill also funds other Northwest salmon-related programs, such as federal implementation of the Columbia Basin recovery plan, and individual projects, including $13 million to continue work on removing Elwha River dams to restore salmon.
A final total for spending on Columbia Basin endangered salmon recovery in the interior bill was not available because the program is not identified separately.
Another Dicks' salmon recovery initiative also received second-year funding. For FY2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will receive $2.5 million to continue expanding mass marking to all federal hatchery salmon in the Northwest to help reduce loss of endangered and threatened wild fish to commercial, sports and tribal fishing.
The clipped fins of hatchery fish allow easier identification during selective harvests of salmon stocks. The bill also provides assistance and direction to the states of Oregon and Washington for similar work at state hatcheries.
Overall, the Fish and Wildlife Service budget was set at $1.3 billion, $73 million higher than this year. That includes $391 million for the National Wildlife Refuge system, an increase of $24 million.
Also, the final bill restores funding of the Klamath Fishery Management Council, an advisory group that angered some House members when it criticized Department of Interior officials for allocating additional water to Klamath Basin irrigators in Oregon and California. The group said lower Klamath River flows contributed to a salmon die-off in 2001.
Funding for state and tribal wildlife grants will grow by $5 million, to $70 million. But appropriations committees cautioned grant recipients that the main purpose of projects should be habitat restoration and preservation rather than education.
Within that program, $6 million was earmarked for competitive tribal grants, but legislative language passed by the Senate limiting the use of funds for public education efforts was dropped.
Instead, committee leaders included a statement on the issue in their report on the final bill. "To the extent that an education component is critical to the success of a habitat restoration and preservation project, it is permissible. (We) expect that such an education component should involve a minimum amount of funding and will not be required for many projects. An example of an acceptable education component is on-site posting of signs explaining the purpose of a habitat restoration project and explaining why it is important to avoid trespassing on newly restored habitat. Another example is the development of an explanatory handout or simple brochure that could be distributed to interested parties. In no case should the cost of an education component exceed 10 percent of the funding for a project," the report said.
"While (we) agree that there may be synergies between the state and tribal wildlife grant program and the state assistance program in the National Park Service, the managers caution the Service and the States that the mission of the State and tribal wildlife grant program is habitat restoration and preservation."
The final bill provides $82.6 million for the cooperative endangered species conservation fund, a decrease of $4 million in Section 6 grants from the amount approved earlier in the House and Senate bills. Appropriators also agreed to reductions of $10 million for the landowner incentive program, to $30 million, and $2.5 million for stewardship grants, to $7.5 million.
Within the Fish and Wildlife Service budget, $963 million was provided for resource management, including $12.3 million for endangered species listings, matching the amount sought by President Bush in his budget request. The $3.3 million increase over FY03 does not meet the need for studying a large backlog of candidate species, however, according to environmental groups.
The funding should enable the Fish and Wildlife Service to resume work on court-ordered critical habitat designations for already listed species. Earlier this year, the agency ran out of money because of a $2 million shortfall in the FY03 budget. Saying the process was "broken," administration officials asked Congress to increase funding and pass legislation modifying the Endangered Species Act to give officials more discretion in critical habitat decisions. The appropriations bill does not include any changes in the ESA.
Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced they had secured funding for several Washington state priorities in the FY04 interior bill. Those include:
"This plan will set restoration targets and develop implementation strategies for the basin," Nethercutt said. "I'm hopeful this plan can help improve our salmon recovery efforts in the basin."
The bill contains $1 million for endangered wolf recovery efforts in Idaho, including $100,000 for the Nez Perce Tribe, $100,000 for the Fish and Wildlife Service's Snake River Basin office, and $460,000 for the Idaho governor's Office of Species Conservation.
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