Congress Approves $30 Millionby Larry Swisher
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Federal land and fish and wildlife agencies will spend over $30 million next year to help Northwest salmon and steelhead recover, under a bill approved by Congress.
Also, the final FY2004 interior appropriations bill restores funding of the Klamath Fishery Management Council, an advisory group that angered some House members when it criticized Department of Interior officials for allocating additional water to Klamath Basin irrigators in Oregon and California. The group said lower Klamath River flows contributed to a salmon die-off in 2001.
The funding is part of the final House-Senate compromise on the FY2004 appropriations bill for the Interior Department, Forest Service and other agencies. The Senate on Monday voted 87-2 to send the bill to President Bush for his signature following House passage last week by a vote of 216-205.
Approval of the $20.2 billion spending measure will end uncertainty about the budgets of federal agencies and programs. Since the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, many agencies have continued to operate under FY03 spending levels temporarily while Congress finishes work on several uncompleted FY04 spending bills.
In one of the newest salmon recovery efforts, $11 million was provided to improve stream passage on federal lands for migrating salmon and other fish in the Pacific Northwest. This year, the first far the program, agencies spent $7 million under an initiative sponsored by Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee. Most of the money goes to repair and replace road culverts that block fish passage.
"Removing these barriers that prevent salmon from swimming upstream to spawn is a critical piece of our overall strategy to boost the survival of these threatened and endangered species," Dicks said.
The bill also funds federal implementation of the 2000 Columbia Basin endangered salmon recovery plan, but a total figure was not available because the program is not identified separately.
Another Dicks salmon recovery initiative also received second-year funding. For FY2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will spend $2.5 million, to continue expanding mass-marking of all federal hatchery salmon in the Northwest to help reduce loss of endangered and threatened wild fish to commercial, sports and tribal fishing.
The dipped fins of hatchery fish allow easier identification during selective harvests of salmon stocks. The bill also provides assistance and direction to the states of Oregon and Washington for similar work at state hatcheries.
Overall, the Fish and Wildlife Service budget was set at $1.3 billion, $73 million higher than this year. That includes $3&1 million for the National Wildlife Refuge system, an increase of $24 million.
Funding for state and tribal wildlife grants will grow by $5 million, to $70 million. But appropriations committees cautioned grant recipients that the main purpose of projects should be habitat restoration and preservation rather than education.
The final bill provides $82.6 million for the cooperative endangered species conservation fund, a decrease of $4 million in Section 6 grants from the amount approved earlier in the House and Senate bills. Appropriators also agreed to reductions of $10 million for the landowner incentive program, to $30 million, and $2.5 million for stewardship grants, to $7.5 million.
Within the Fish and Wildlife Service budget, $963 million was provided for resource management, including $12.3 million for endangered species listings, matching the amount sought by President Bush in his budget request. The $3.3 million increase over FY03 does not meet the need for studying a large backlog of candidate species, however, according to environmental groups.
The funding should enable tho Fish and Wildlife Service to resume work on court-ordered critical habitat designations for already listed species. Earlier this year, the agency ran out of money because of a $2 million shortfall in the FY03 budget. Saying the process was "broken," administration officials asked Congress to increase funding and pass legislation modifying the Endangered Species Act to give officials more discretion in critical habitat decisions. The appropriations bill does not include any changes in the ESA.
Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced they had secured funding for several Washington state priorities in the FY04 interior bill. Those include:
"This plan will set restoration targets and develop implementation strategies for the basin," Nethercutt said. "I'm hopeful the plan can help improve our salmon recovery efforts in the basin."
The bill contains $1 million endangered wolf recovery effort in Idaho, including $100,000 the Nez Perce Tribe, $100,000 the Fish and Wildlife Service Snake River Basin office, and $460,000 for the governor's Office of Species Conservation.
Another $300,000 will go for an Idaho Sage Grouse Management Plan to prioritize, develop, and expedite management actions related to increasing sage grouse populations and the prevention of its listing under the Endangered Species Act.
In addition, $60,000 will pay for a study on the effects of livestock grazing and other human act ties on Slickspot Peppergrass so management decisions by federal agencies are made based on valid information.
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