House leaders block funding for salmon recovery

By John Trumbo, Herald staff writer June 23, 2009 

Three months after Northwest members of Congress persuaded President Obama to reinstate $50 million for the 2010 Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, the House of Representatives has said no deal, effectively terminating the program as of Sept. 30.

An amendment offered last week by Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., to restore the fund at Obama's request was blocked by Democratic leadership.

Having the Senate approve a bill to restore the money and then winning approval on a conference bill in both houses of Congress is the only way to bring back the recovery fund next year, said Charlie Keller, Hastings' press secretary.

The House voted instead to incorporate the $50 million into a nationwide Endangered Marine Species Recovery Fund for the National Marine Fisheries Service that will share the money for a variety of projects supporting any threatened marine species. That means less money for Columbia Basin salmon.

Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both D-Wash., teamed with Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., in asking administration officials to reinstate the money.

"This House action won't make the job of our senators to ensure funding any easier," said Hastings in a prepared statement.

Through grants to states and Native American tribes, the salmon recovery fund is focused, along with habitat conservation, on recovering endangered, threatened, at-risk and important tribal salmon runs. And the fund leverages more money by requiring matching funds.

The House-passed bill eliminates the recovery fund and transfers the money to a broad, nationwide, federal-agency-driven recovery program that dilutes salmon dollars to any project of any sort anywhere in the country, including salmon that aren't endangered or at risk, said Keller.

"It simply makes no sense to eliminate a successful grants-to-states program with bipartisan support and steal the funds away for a new, hollow nationwide program that places no emphasis or value on endangered Northwest salmon over thriving fish runs elsewhere," Hastings said.

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