Council to recommend fish conservation budget

The Associated Press

2/20/03 11:41 AM

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- The Bonneville Power Administration was expected to receive recommendations Thursday on how to spend a reduced budget on salmon conservation programs.

The recommendations will come from a group of regional planners, the Northwest Power Planning Council, which recently finished its review of BPA cutbacks that are opposed by Northwest Indian tribes and fishermen.

Bonneville administrator Steve Wright has said the agency is facing a potential budget shortfall that could reach more than $1.2 billion by 2006 and it must limit spending on fish and wildlife protection programs to $139 million for the rest of fiscal 2003.

Wright had planned to spend $186 million on salmon restoration and other wildlife programs while the tribes had recommended at least $242 million.

The tribes have already called for a full audit of the federal power marketing agency's conservation budget, warning that changes to restoration projects could result in salmon run declines.

The Northwest Power Planning Council promised last December to help Bonneville reduce or defer its fish and wildlife spending in response to the agency's financial crisis.

The crisis was caused in part by the Western energy crisis of 2001, when drought reduced hydroelectric capacity at Bonneville dams along the Columbia River and energy prices exploded because of utility deregulation in California and market manipulation by Enron.

The eight planning council members -- two each from Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington -- have said the conservation budget is a victim of the economy but tribes and other Bonneville critics have said the agency can find ways to trim other costs in order to restore funding for salmon.

The council, formed by Congress with the Northwest Power Act of 1980, is responsible for balancing regional energy needs and conservation. Both the council and Bonneville are based in Portland.

At a council meeting last week, Therese Lamb, Bonneville's acting vice president for the environment, fish and wildlife, presented a draft conservation budget that would slow spending to pace projects rather than eliminate them.

But Tim Weaver, an attorney for the Yakama tribe, called it a cruel plan that could threaten fish protected under the Endangered Species Act.


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