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Commentaries and editorials

NMFS Funding Story

by Natalie M. Henry
Greenwire, February ?, 2002

The National Marine Fisheries Service has estimated that fully implementing federal recovery plans for endangered and threatened salmon in the Columbia River basin would cost twice as much as was requested or appropriated this year, according to internal NMFS documents.

According to an interagency analysis in 2000, fully implementing Columbia basin salmon recovery plans -- specifically the Biological Opinion (BiOp) and Basin-wide Salmon Recovery Strategy, or All-H Paper -- would cost $860 million in 2002. The Bush administration requested $431.5 million and Congress appropriated $449.3 million, according to American Rivers.

Alan Moore at Trout Unlimited said of the recovery plan, "It wasn't designed to run on half a tank."

For 2003, the NMFS documents reflect a $918 million tab for implementing the plans. The administration is scheduled to release its 2003 budget request Monday, and salmon advocates said they expect some increases for salmon, but not enough to satisfy the need.

A spokesman for NMFS said he was not surprised by the discrepancy between the 2002 cost estimate and final request. "There's always a difference between what you want and what you get," said Brian Gorman.

"It's never enough, and that's not the appropriate response to any budget. The appropriate response is look, this is the hand we've been dealt, what's the best way to play it? Because otherwise you get caught up in finger-pointing and lawsuits and name-calling, and not one of those things will save a single salmon," Gorman said.

Bill Arthur of the Sierra Club's Northwest office countered, "[NMFS] put the plan together. [NMFS] put together the budget estimates. You can damn bet I'm going to point the finger at them. Pray-for-rain salmon recovery is not going to cut it."

The total cost of implementing the recovery plan over six years, from 2001 through 2006, tallies nearly $5.3 billion, according to the documents. On the other hand, the Army Corps of Engineers has tabulated that dam breaching -- advocated by a large coalition of environmental groups -- will cost $1 billion.

The corps also estimates that breaching could provide 1,500 to 3,100 long-term jobs, and 27,700 short-term jobs, while long-term jobs lost due to breaching might total between 3,600 and 6,200. Some economists refute those numbers and maintain the corps overestimates the number of jobs that will be lost due to dam breaching, and its numbers are flawed because they are based on a static 1995 picture of the Northwest economy, which does not factor in significant economic growth in the region throughout the 1990s.

The internal documents that reveal NMFS' original estimates of implementing the recovery plans only came to light recently due to a lawsuit the National Wildlife Federation filed against NMFS in May challenging the effectiveness and legality of the 2000 BiOp under the Endangered Species Act. A recent study by the Independent Scientific Advisory Board supports NWF's claim and finds that the region's four main recovery plans, including the BiOp, will not likely restore salmon stocks.

Natalie M. Henry, Greenwire staff writer
NMFS Funding Story
Greenwire, February ?, 2002

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