Senate Panel Nixes Bush Spending Increase for Basin Salmonby Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - August 9, 2002
Already behind schedule, implementation of the Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan would slip further under an annual federal funding bill recently approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In its FY2003 appropriations bill for the departments of commerce, state and justice, the committee rejected a $12 million budget increase for the National Marine Fisheries Service's endangered Pacific salmon program proposed in President George W. Bush's budget. It also did not fund other increases Bush or environmental groups and Northwest members of Congress requested for NMFS to help implement and study habitat, hatchery, hydropower system and other improvements by other federal agencies.
The panel approved the bill on July 18. The schedule for Senate consideration is uncertain. By tradition, the House acts first on spending bills, but the House Appropriations Committee is not expected to draft its version of the commerce-state-justice measure until September.
Northwest regional heads of NMFS, the Bonneville Power Administration and other federal agencies adopted the so-called "all-H" Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan and biological opinion in December 2000 as an alternative to breaching four federal dams on the lower Snake River. They said implementation of an aggressive program of various other measures, especially improvements to habitat in salmon spawning and rearing watersheds and the Columbia River estuary, could improve salmon survival sufficiently to avoid the necessity of removing the dams to save several runs from extinction.
"If this non-breach recovery package is not funded and implemented, or if these actions do not yield the needed biological benefit for Snake River stocks, the plan calls for the federal agencies to consider seeking congressional authorization - as soon as next year - to remove the four lower Snake River dams," a group of eight Northwest House members warned earlier this year in a letter seeking more congressional funding.
In February, Bush's FY03 budget for salmon recovery was criticized as inadequate by several Northwest members of Congress, environmental groups and Indian tribes with salmon fishing treaty rights. The administration proposed $506 million, an increase of $68 million over the amount appropriated for FY02. Based on NMFS documents, conservation groups estimated the cost of the FY03 plan at $918 million.
For NMFS, environmentalists have been lobbying for an increase of $40 million to implement the BiOp and $20 million in new funds for habitat restoration. "There's nothing. ... They didn't even add the president's request," Michael Garrity, program coordinator for American Rivers, said Friday (Aug. 9). "I'm surprised that this happened. The (Senate) appropriators dropped the ball on increasing the budget for the Columbia Basin recovery plan at a crucial time, when they really needed to step up to the plate on it."
Garrity said the committee's action was "bad news" for the ability of federal agencies to meet their 2003 "check-in" goals. Under the plan, failure to fulfill specific implementation steps, including funding, would lead to re-examination of the dam removal option. "There's just no way they'll be able to make the necessary improvements next year with this kind of inadequate funding," he said.
But a spokesman for NMFS' Northwest office in Seattle said it was too early in the congressional appropriations cycle to speculate about potential impacts of the Senate committee's funding shortfalls. "This is working its way through the appropriations process, and who knows what the final result will be," Brian Gorman said. "We are, of course, hopeful that the White House request will stay in, but we're going to have to wait and see what happens. There's a long way to go between now and getting the bill signed" by the president.
The next fiscal year begins Oct. 1, but Congress often has missed the deadline for passing all 13 of the annual appropriations bills that fund the federal government.
Garrity said he discussed the NMFS funding issue with offices of House members and that he was hopeful the House Appropriations Committee would increase the Senate panel's amounts. After passage by the House and Senate, differences between the two bills would be reconciled in a House-Senate conference committee before final approval by Congress and the president.
On April 10, eight House members from Washington and Oregon wrote a letter to the House Appropriations Committee urging it to provide adequate funding for the recovery of the 12 listed Columbia and Snake river salmon and steelhead stocks.
"So far, on-the-ground implementation of the federal salmon plan has fallen well behind schedule, due in part to a lack of adequate federal funding," the letter said. The Bush administration's budget "begins to recognize the need for increasing funding ... (but) still falls well short of agency estimates of the cost of implementing the salmon plan effectively."
The letter was signed by Reps. Darlene Hooley, Peter DeFazio, David Wu and Earl Blumenauer, all D-Ore., and Brian Baird, Jay Inslee, Jim McDermott and Adam Smith, all D-Wash. Copies were sent to White House budget officials and the president's Council on Environmental Quality, which is coordinating implementation of the salmon plan.
The Senate committee approved a total of $587.9 million for NMFS, only $88,000 less than Bush requested.
In the conservation and management category, the panel earmarked $3.4 million for Columbia River facilities, $11.5 million for Columbia River hatcheries, and $1.7 million for Columbia River hatchery monitoring, evaluation and reform.
Under protected resources research and management services, $299,000 was slated for Columbia River endangered species scientific studies, and a total of $38 million for Pacific salmon recovery, about the same as this year.
The $12 million budget increase requested by Bush would pay for additional scientific work, monitoring and evaluation under the Columbia Basin recovery plan. Gorman said that would include collecting pit tag information on juvenile salmon and returning adults and evaluating the success of various improvements and recovery methods, such as smolt collection devices at dams and different spill regimes, in reducing fish mortality.
"We aren't as sure as we'd like to be as to which methods work best under various circumstances," Gorman said. More information will help officials chose the best recovery methods.
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