Salmon Will Get More Aid, But Dams Remainby Rukmini Callimachi, Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, January 27, 2004
STEVENSON -- In an observation room above the pounding Bonneville Dam, senior Bush administration officials yesterday announced a $10 million increase for Northwest salmon restoration.
The increase brings to $100 million President Bush's proposed fiscal 2005 budget for salmon conservation in Alaska, California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho.
"Habitat restoration is making a difference," said Conrad Lautenbacher, undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.
Historically, large-scale dams have been a major obstacle to recovery, since a percentage of fish die crossing each concrete threshold. Last year, only two sockeye salmon made it from the Pacific Ocean through the eight dams to their spawning ground in central Idaho's Red Fish Lake.
But administration officials cited soaring salmon recovery figures, including prediction of 361,000 spring chinook -- triple the 10-year average.
James Connaughton, chairman of the President's Council on Environmental Quality, acknowledged these figures are largely because of changes in ocean conditions. But he stressed they also indicate the success of the Bush administration's current conservation measures, which need not be in conflict with major hydroelectric dams.
No specifics were announced on what the money would go for, but in the past the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund has helped states and tribes improve fish passage at dams, restore spawning and rearing habitat in rivers, and improve hatchery conditions.
A tribal group applauded the increase in money but stressed that the figure fell far short of expectations.
The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission said a $110 million increase is needed to pay for all ongoing restoration projects -- more than 10 times the amount announced yesterday.
Most of all, environmentalists and tribes remarked on the irony of the administration's choice of venue.
"They're making salmon speeches at big dams. But dams are extremely lethal for fish," said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which represents four tribes with treaties guaranteeing the right to harvest salmon on the Columbia.
"They're consciously choosing dams over fish," said Brady Bennon of Save Our Wild Salmon, a Portland-based environmental group.
"The dams are an important component to providing affordable energy. They're necessary," countered Connaughton. "It's about finding that balance between one set of social needs and another."
The administration's proposed increase, which goes before Congress next week, met with enthusiastic approval from Republican lawmakers.
Rep. George Nethercutt, a member of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, said he will lobby hard for the money.
Rep. Doc Hastings said the president's proposal "has made clear that the Northwest can have both fish recovery and clean, low-cost hydropower."
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