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Commentaries and editorials

Top Bush Officials Announce
Pacific Salmon Fund Increase

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - January 30, 2004

Citing the need to capitalize on the good conditions in the Pacific Ocean, administration officials say President Bush will pursue increased funding in fiscal 2005 for a program that stresses partnerships at the local level to do good works for Columbia River basin salmon habitat.

Top Bush Administration officials opened the president's budget plan just a crack Monday by announcing that he will seek an increase of $10 million for the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund. If approved by Congress, that would put the fund's 2005 appropriation at $100 million.

The announcement was made to local, state, and regional officials and others from atop Bonneville Dam -- hydro turbines rumbling below, environmental protesters picketing outside. Conservation and fishing groups continue to protest federal funding levels they say are inadequate to implement the government's Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan.

The fund administered by NOAA Fisheries provides grants to Oregon, Washington, California and Alaska and Pacific coastal and Columbia River treaty tribes to assist state, tribal and local salmon conservation efforts. Idaho too could soon benefit from the fund. The FY 2004 Omnibus bill now being considered by Congress would authorize Idaho's participation. The administration has supported Idaho's inclusion, according to information provided by NOAA Fisheries.

"This substantial funding increase will be a huge boost to existing cooperative state, tribal and federal salmon restoration efforts," said James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "It will also enhance the pooling of capabilities, expertise and information in order to make salmon recovery more efficient and effective."

"The next step for me is to go get that money," Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Wash, told the gathering. He is a member of the House Committee on Appropriations, as well as the Interior Subcommittee that oversees protection of water and forests, and Native American issues. Nethercutt also serves on the Energy Subcommittee.

Nethercutt, Connaughton and retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., all stressed the administration's continued mission to protect the region's valuable environmental resources, such as its fish, without doing damage to an economy that relies on a clean and relatively cheap power supply -- the federal hydrosystem. Lautenbacher is administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Nethercutt thanked the administration officials for making the trip west.

"This is a special opportunity to have these fine public servants coming from our government to take a hard look at the progress we've made in the Pacific Northwest to balance the very important assets of hydroelectric dams on the Columbia river system, and the fish that are such a vital and important part of our region," Nethercutt said.

"You are dedicated to this common objective we have, healthy salmon recovery efforts and a healthy economic environment in the Northwest," Nethercutt said. He and Connaughton praised the recovery fund's record of success at getting habitat improvements on the ground, and by making the federal dollar stretch by leveraging matching funds and involving local entities in the recovery efforts.

"The Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund has played a significant and valuable role in the regional efforts to improve in-stream and riparian salmon habitat in the Pacific Northwest," Lautenbacher said. "We've witnessed impressive salmon returns in many areas over the past few years, and with the president's announcement, we expect further successes as more prioritized salmon projects are completed."

"It's a critical combination," Connaughton said of the need to provide a welcoming freshwater environment for the salmon returning from the ocean. "If not, they have no where to go."

He and others noted recent years' returns that have reached levels unprecedented, in some cases, since the hydrosystem began to take shape in the late 1930s. Species listed under the Endangered Species Act too have benefited from ocean feeding conditions that have enhanced survivals. But the federal officials say that the freshwater work of the past, and of the future, is a factor.

"The habitat restoration measures are making a difference," Lautenbacher said. More such work, as will be generated through the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, will make some of that momentum continues through favorable and unfavorable ocean cycles.

"It is not enough just to celebrate" the fact that salmon numbers are up, Connaughton said.

The Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund has helped more than 1,500 salmon habitat restoration projects since its creation in 2000. The fund was established at the request of the states of Alaska, California, Oregon and Washington in response the 1999 Pacific Salmon Treaty and the listings of coastal salmon and steelhead runs.

Since 2000 a total of $347.2 million has been provided by NOAA to the states and tribes. The fund has provided more than $118 million to the Washington Salmon Recovery Funding Board and more than $59 million to the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board. The funds, matched with state funding, have benefited 476 state and locally driven salmon habitat restoration and watershed subbasin assessment projects in Washington and 1,064 state and local salmon habitat restoration and subbasin assessment projects in Oregon.

Pacific coastal tribes have received more than $35 million and Columbia River tribes $12.6 million during the same time period. A total of 132 Northwest coasts and Columbia River tribal salmon habitat restoration and enhancement programs were aided by the fund during that period.

Funds have also been used for local, tribal, and state planning, assessment, monitoring and research projects supporting salmon recovery efforts


Barry Espenson
Top Bush Officials Announce Pacific Salmon Fund Increase
Columbia Basin Bulletin, January 30, 2004

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