$900M plan to aid northwest salmon includes just $540 million for new projects

By Matthew Daly
Washington, D.C. (AP) 4-08

A plan that commits $900 million in federal money to help endangered Northwest salmon includes just $540 million for new projects, officials said during April.

At least 40 percent of the money targeted for salmon restoration would go to existing programs over the next 10 years, said Scott Simms, a spokesman for the Bonneville Power Administration. The rest would go for new work.

A compromise plan announced would commit federal agencies to spend $900 million over the next decade to improve conditions for endangered salmon, while leaving intact hydroelectric dams in the Columbia River Basin that harm fish.

The settlements with four Northwest Indian tribes would end years of legal battles between the Bush administration and the tribes, but would not affect a fifth tribe that is party to a lawsuit nor environmental groups that vowed to press on in their efforts to breach four dams on the Lower Snake River in eastern Washington.

Sara Patton, executive director of the Northwest Energy Coalition, a Seattle-based group that is part of the federal lawsuit challenging dam operations, said she was disappointed that only 60 percent of the money in the agreement would go to new projects.

But Patton said a bigger problem is that much of the money apparently will not go to help endangered salmon, as the lawsuit intends. Instead the money appears targeted for several salmon species that are not listed as endangered, as well as lamprey, a separate species that is not considered threatened.

“We’re suing because Joe Salmon is endangered, and they are doing something for Charlie Salmon and Jack Lamprey. That is good for those fish but it doesn’t help our salmon,” Patton said.

The Bonneville Power Administration, a regional power agency based in Portland, Ore., says the proposed agreement should raise wholesale electric rates by 2 percent to 4 percent.

John Ogan, a lawyer for the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation, an Oregon tribe that is part of the settlement, said environmentalists were taking a narrow view of the conflict.

“The interests of the environmental plaintiffs are narrow and their objective seems to be singular – focused on Snake River dam breaching,” Ogan said. “The tribes go well beyond extinction issues. We want healthy, viable populations of all stocks – listed or unlisted – across the (Columbia River) basin,” including unlisted salmon, steelhead and lamprey, he said.

Even so, the agreement addresses fish that are listed as endangered, Ogan said.

Bonneville Powe Administrator Steve Wright said Patton and other critics were missing a key point.The BPA and the tribes want to collaborate on a comprehensive approach to help endangered salmon species and to try to avoid allowing other species to become endangered, Wright said.

“We care about both,” he said.

The Warm Springs are slated to receive about $80 million under the agreement.

Three other tribes also will receive money: the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation in Oregon and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington state.

The Colville will receive about $200 million under the agreement, while the Umatilla were expected to receive about $150 million and the Yakama about $330 million.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission also agreed to the settlement and would get about $90 million, although one of its member tribes, the Idaho-based Nez Perce Tribe, declined to sign the agreement. The Nez Perce said in a statement that it still wants to see the four lower Snake River dams taken down.

Meanwhile, the BPA and the state of Idaho signed a separate agreement late Wednesday that provides the $65 million over 10 years to enhance fish recovery projects in the state. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter called the agreement historic and said the state looks forward to 10 years of stable funding for salmon.

On the Net: Federal salmon recovery page: www.salmonrecovery.gov