Tribes Seek Fundingby CBB Staff
The Northwest Power and Conservation Council was asked this week to restore nearly $900,000 in funding for conservation enforcement activities that tribal officials say bring big rewards in terms of reduced illegal take of salmon and steelhead.
The past year's budget-cutting ax fell on four separate tribal conservation law enforcement programs that had been receiving funding through the Council's Columbia Basin fish and wildlife program. The enforcement programs were designated a second-tier priority and, given the NPCC program's limited budget, the tribes were urged to seek other sources of funding.
The Nez Perce Tribe and Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission began that effort soon after finding out in September that their enforcement efforts would not be funded after contracts expire in February. But, since the federal fiscal year began Oct. 1, the tribes took aim at the fiscal year 2005 congressional appropriations process.
David Johnson, Nez Perce fisheries program manager, told the Council's Fish and Wildlife Committee this week that the tribes are seeking "add-ons" to Bureau of Indian Affairs budget requests that have already been submitted. Meanwhile, with a busy spring, summer and fall of salmon fishing soon to begin in the Columbia/Snake mainstem and tributaries, Johnson said the tribe is faced with cutting eight of enforcement staff's 11 employees.
"We seek transition funding from Bonneville" while appropriations are pursued through the Department of Interior budget, Johnson said. The Bonneville Power Administration funds the Council program.
The Nez Perce Tribe and CRITFC, during a presentation to the NPCC committee, asked the Council for three things -- funding until appropriations can be secured, a signal of support to the Northwest congressional delegation as regards the appropriations, and a reaffirmation of that support in the budget letter that the NPCC annually sends to Congress.
Members of the fish and wildlife committee said that they could likely summon a message of support, either individually or collectively. But the 2004 budget request would have to walk the gauntlet with numerous other requests that already threaten push the budget past spending limits imposed by BPA. Doug Marker said that the request would be discussed during the program status review meeting scheduled Jan. 29.
The original budget requests were for $511,210 for the Nez Perce program and $435,787 for CRITFC's member tribes, the Umatilla, Warm Springs, Nez Perce and Yakama. The Nez Perce staff patrols and enforces tribal regulations on 13.2 million acres of land, including the Columbia mainstem corridor. CRITFC's patrols also aim to enhance enforcement of its members' tribal regulations and reduce the illegal take of fish and wildlife and most notably salmon. Last year the negotiated tribal harvest share of the mainstem Columba River spring and fall chinook harvest alone included 14,500 salmon and 123,000 salmon respectively.
"The tribes have 50 percent of the harvest. It certainly makes sense for the tribes to enforce their own regulations," Johnson told the committee.
"Effectiveness in conservation law enforcement is saving fish," said Steve Vigg, a consultant with the Nez Perce Tribe. He laid out statistics that he said shows that the more effective the enforcement, i.e. when funding has allowed a show of force, the fewer salmon that are taken illegally.
BPA funding for tribal enforcement basically was initiated as a result of the so-called 1991 Salmon Summit. CRITFC's program, for example was funded at from about $900,000 to $1.2 million annually from 1992 through 1996, cut to zero in 1998 and 1999, then resurrected at the $400,000 level in 2000 through 2003.
During the years when funding was cut, patrol hours and contacts with fishers dropped by 40 percent, and arrests dropped by 27 percent. In 2000 and 2001, with funding restored, arrests jumped by 48 percent.
To show the magnitude of the problem, Vigg showed statistics from a 1981-83 National Marine Fisheries Service/Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife "sting" targeting covert fish buying operations documented illegal harvest of 500,000 pounds of illegally caught chinook in the Columbia River.
"Illegal take can be a significant part of the overall harvest," Vigg said.
The tribal officials, with letters and direct lobbying in Washington D.C., have drawn some support for the appropriation route. A letter from Oregon Sens. Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo earlier this month to James Connaughton asked if the proposed transition to Department of Interior was consistent with the Administration's position, and whether the change would be reflected in President Bush's 2005 budget request. Connaughton is director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
The senators said that "the enforcement programs are essential to protecting this resource and the public's investment in rebuilding the runs, while still allowing our tribal and non-tribal fishermen access to this bounty." They said a lapse in funding for the enforcement efforts could not be afforded.
"In this regard, we strongly urge you to support the continued funding through fiscal year 2004 until we can further address future fish and wildlife conservation enforcement funding, possibly through the Department of Interior," the senators wrote.
BPA CEO Steve Wright, in response to an earlier letter from Smith regarding the funding, said that his agency supported the NPCC's decision. He added that the funding should be "more appropriately funded through Department of the Interior appropriations."
He did express support for the programs.
"We simply cannot afford to lose the considerable value of BPA's previous investments -- in personnel, equipment and training -- that would be precipitated by a lapse of even a few weeks in funding support for these tribal programs," Wright wrote.
He told Smith that "BPA is committed to working closely with tribal representatives to ensure an orderly transition in funding support for these programs in a manner that meets our fish and wildlife mitigation responsibilities."
A memo from Johnson to the Council says that "We believe that this part of the transition funding equation has been secured, but BPA indicated to us that they do require an affirmative recommendation from the Council to move forward."
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