Report: Recovery efforts to save salmon fruitless

By Matthew Daly
The Associated Press
Seattle Times

8/27/02

WASHINGTON Federal agencies have spent more than $3.3 billion in the past two decades to help Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead runs recover with little conclusive success, the General Accounting Office says.

Nearly half the money was spent in the past five years.

The report released yesterday by the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, raised concerns about the effectiveness of federal spending on recovery efforts and suggested better coordination among agencies was needed.

"Although these actions are generally viewed as resulting in higher numbers of returning adult salmon and steelhead, there is little conclusive evidence to quantify the extent of their effects on returning fish populations," the report said.

The report said four federal agencies accounted for almost 90 percent of the money spent in the past five years, led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which spent $590 million. Most of that money was used to improve the passage of juvenile fish at Columbia Basin dams with elaborate screens and bypass systems, the report said.

The U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service each spent about $100 million on habitat improvements and hatcheries, while the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spent about $62 million, primarily on water and habitat acquisition, the report said.

A taxpayers group called the GAO report alarming.

"There is really no evidence that this massive federal investment has been effective at all," said Autumn Hanna, policy analyst at Taxpayers for Common Sense, a budget-watchdog organization. "We are sending billions of dollars down the river with no clear results and no accountability for how these agencies spend our money."

Eleven federal agencies, led by the National Marine Fisheries Service, work on Columbia Basin salmon recovery, the report said. Several agencies reported weaknesses in the federal effort, including lack of a unified strategy and funding plan. Better coordination is needed to effectively implement salmon-recovery measures, the report said.

But by focusing only on how much money is spent, the GAO may have missed other important issues, said Wendell Wood of the Oregon Natural Resources Council, a conservation group that supports salmon-recovery efforts.

"How much is an individual salmon worth? We can ask that question both economically and philosophically," Wood said. "In dealing with the Klamath Basin we want real recovery, not money spent on spinning wheels."

While no species has fully recovered since the federal effort began two decades ago, none has become extinct either, Wood said.

"Yes, we've spent this money. We haven't lost any species but certainly haven't recovered them," he said.

The GAO report can be read here


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