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NOAA to Prioritize Critical Projects for Fish Funding Cuts

by Mike O'Bryant
Columbia Basin Bulletin - February 7, 2003

The process to cut the Northwest Power and Conservation Council's fish and wildlife program's 2003 budget to the $139 million cap imposed by the Bonneville Power Administration could be making some progress.

Over the past couple of weeks, the Council and Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Authority have been going through program costs province by province and considering what programs could see the chopping block, CBFWA's Tom Iverson told the Implementation Team this week.

The Council more than years ago segmented the Columbia River basin into 11 geographic provinces. Through the recent province by province budget review, Iverson said the Council has whittled the budget down to a point where the "problem" amounts to only $7 million. But that's only if BPA reconsiders its decision to not capitalize some $22 million in land acquisition projects. Most are wildlife land acquisitions, he said, but some have anadromous fish benefits.

In addition, he said the Council could manage the costs on a cash flow basis throughout the year to make sure the expenditures don't exceed the $139 million cap.

"We think we can manage this," Iverson said. "We have more and more confidence that we won't accrue beyond the $139 (million) and that we can control that."

BPA's Fish and Wildlife director, Sarah McNary, said last Thursday that wouldn't be acceptable. She said BPA wants a list of projects and planned 2003 accruals and that capitalizing land acquisitions is unlikely.

To help the Council determine what programs are critical, NOAA Fisheries may offer some help next week when it submits to the Council a three-tier list of projects it deems critical to meeting its 2000 biological opinion criteria. According to John Palensky of NOAA Fisheries, the total cost of those projects is about $108 million, which is down from an earlier estimate of $120 million. He said the list should help in further cuts to programs, if that it is necessary.

The highest level of projects are absolutely critical and must be in progress for the river operating agencies to meet the 2003 check-in, as required in the BiOp.

The second level of projects are not as critical, but if not funded could create gaps in meeting BiOp requirements.

The third level, which contains the largest number of projects, are those the Council has discretion in cutting or postponing. Palensky said the best examples in the tier three category are habitat projects that BPA would implement to increase production in basins to meet 2006 and 2008 performance targets, but which aren't specific.

While regional organizations are sharpening their pencils, BPA may be adding several research projects to the budget worth $4 million to $5 million, according to Kim Fodrea of BPA. She said the power marketing agency is close to releasing a request for proposals for five research and evaluation projects designed to fill gaps in BiOp requirements.

Palensky said NOAA Fisheries supports these additions that need to be started in fiscal year 2003 in order to meet the terms of the BiOp, but that he wants to make sure they aren't already included in the Council's fish and wildlife budget. The other issue, he said, is that they shouldn't cut too deeply into existing projects.

"I would be surprised if these are not on NMFS' or BPA's critical list, but that the Council may be concerned about the funding and other technical concerns," Palensky said.

The projects include:

Related Sites:
Northwest Power and Conservation Council:

Mike O'Bryant
NOAA to Prioritize Critical Projects for Fish Funding Cuts
Columbia Basin Bulletin, February 7, 2003

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