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Administration Tells Guvs It's Committed to Fish Plans

by Barry Espenson
Columbia Basin Bulletin - July 20, 2001

The Columbia Basin's four governors received assurances last week that the Bush administration is committed to implementing federal salmon recovery strategies completed last year, and that it will do it hand-in-hand with the states.

Representatives of the governors met July 10 with representatives of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and other federal officials in Washington, D.C. to gauge the administration's intent. The meeting was followed that same day with a letter to the governors from CEQ Chairman James Connaughton acknowledging the importance of federal-state cooperation, and federal funding, in ongoing restoration efforts.

"We wanted to get confirmation from the Bush administration that they were going to implement the BiOp," said Larry Cassidy, chairman of the Northwest Power Planning Council. He represented Washington Gov. Gary Locke in the discussions. Also traveling to Washington, D.C. to participate in the discussions were NWPPC members Judi Danielson of Idaho and Eric Bloch of Oregon and consultant Jim Litchfield, representing the state of Montana.

Cassidy said the governors were concerned about rumors that federal biological opinions developed over the past few years and completed late last year under the Clinton administration would be rewritten.

"We're opposed to that. We don't need more process," Cassidy said.

The BiOps were developed by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to address threats to the survival of salmon and steelhead posed by federal hydrosystem operations. The Basinwide Salmon Recovery Strategy or "all-H paper" developed by a caucus of nine federal agencies and also released in December is intended to also address factors outside the hydrosystem that affect fish populations listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Cassidy called the meeting and letter "very positive," despite the fact the administration did not pencil in any specific budget commitments.

"The devil is in the details. If we get the funding we'll know they are really behind us," Cassidy said. His governor's position continues to be that the recovery of listed species will require a close partnership between state and federal governments, and that the federal government "should provide the proper amount of funding to get the job done."

Bloch too said he "came away from the meeting fairly certain that the Bush administration is going to move forward with implementing the BiOp" after asking CEQ officials point-blank if that was the case. He reiterated the need for a next step.

"It's very important that we get a commitment for a multi-year budget," Bloch said, so there is the assurance that recovery projects, once launched, can be sustained. With last December's release of the BiOps and All-H paper calling for increased habitat restoration and other off-site work in all four states, a ramped up federal financial commitment was also expected. Bloch said he asked federal officials attending the meeting whether they had "more money than last year and they said no."

The July 10 letter from Connaughton said that the administration agreed with the governors "on the importance and requirements to protect the salmon and other endangered and threatened fish and wildlife resources of the Columbia Basin."

Connaughton said the administration budget is "intended to provide an adequate level of funding for federal and state efforts to support implementation" of the 2000 federal hydrosystem biological opinions and the "Basin-wide Salmon Recovery Strategy."

Govs. Dirk Kempthorne of Idaho, John Kitzhaber of Oregon, Gary Locke of Washington and Judy Martz of Montana wrote President Bush on May 4, stressing that the time is right to cement that partnership and move forward with heightened recovery efforts. A "framework" for salmon recovery developed by the governors and released a year ago is, in many ways, aligned with the federal plan.

"These federal documents recognize many of the same priority programs and projects we highlighted in our recommendations," the governors noted in their May 4 letter. "This state/federal consensus represents a significant opportunity to move forward with implementation. Again, federal funding is one key to the success of this approach."

"Another important aspect is that for the first time in the Northwest, there is a federal obligation to work with the states to support salmon restoration and recovery through the FCRPS Biological Opinion and the All-H process," the governors wrote. "The states are rightly assigned responsibility for designing and implementing actions which, when pieced together, will contribute both locally and regionally to the benefit of the listed species."

"We willingly accept this challenge. But we do so while being mindful that it is only through cooperation with the federal government that our mutual objectives will satisfy the requirements of the federal laws we identified in the Four Governors' Agreement," the governors wrote.

In their agreement the governors asked for a streamlining of fish and wildlife programs with rules that are "more flexible and goal-oriented."

"We endorse BPA's stated commitment to increase the amount of ratepayer dollars to support salmon recovery. Congress should similarly increase the amount of federal appropriations, in recognition of the fact that fish and wildlife of the Columbia Basin are national resources and their protection satisfies obligations in federal law, including treaties with Indian tribes and Canada, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Northwest Power Act," according to the governors' agreement.

Connaughton agreed that "there is a high degree of consistency between your recommendations and the actions called for in the Biological Opinion and the recovery strategy."

"These document reflect a broad consensus that all of us need to work together in the region and undertake significant measures to achieve salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest. We recognize that federal funding is one key to the success of this approach," Connaughton wrote. He said that he had been designated as the states' contact with the administration.

"We are committed to meeting the federal obligation to work with the states to support salmon restoration and recovery," Connaughton said.

Barry Espenson
Administration Tells Guvs It's Committed to Fish Plans
Columbia Basin Bulletin, July 20, 2001

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