Bill would give Idaho a share in recovery funds

The Idaho Statesman


WASHINGTON — Chances are good that Idaho finally will join the list of states that receive federal money every year to protect and restore endangered salmon.

Legislation that would allow Idaho wildlife officials to begin tapping into the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund cleared the House Resources Committee on Wednesday.

It is expected to sail through the full House, just as it has twice before.

But in a break from the past, the bill also could win Senate approval because of extra money that will mean Idaho´s gain won´t be other states´ loss.

Earlier this year, Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, paved the way for that to happen when he put an additional $50 million in the budget blueprint for the recovery fund.

“All of the states are supportive of the notion of Idaho getting brought into the fund. They´re just making sure the funding is there (for them),” Crapo said. “It´s an understandable concern.”

When Congress created the fund four years ago, Idaho was left off the list of states that share a total of $90 million each year to protect and restore salmon and steelhead. Four of the 26 salmon populations on the endangered species list spawn in Idaho´s Snake River. An additional $10 million goes to American Indian tribes.

The fund is authorized to receive $200 million a year, but Congress gives it just half that amount.

Since the fund´s creation, Washington state has received 36 percent of the dollars, Alaska 27 percent and Oregon and California each about 18 percent.

States must match the money, which can be spent on things like stabilizing stream banks, installing fish screens at irrigation-diversion points and purchasing conservation easements from landowners. These are the kinds of things that should be done before anyone talks about removing dams, said Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, who is co-sponsoring the House bill.

“We either restore the salmon or the ultimate consequence will substantially change our economy,” said Simpson, a Republican. “Some judge will step in and order some dams to be taken out.”

A federal judge last month threw out the federal government´s Columbia Basin salmon recovery plan, saying it doesn´t go far enough. Crapo plans to hold hearings in Washington on June 24 and in Salmon on Aug. 10 to discuss the recovery plan´s future.

Salmon is one of the few river communities that has not shared in the bounty of salmon fishing seasons the last five years, which brought $90 million to Idaho´s economy, as fisherman caught hatchery fish that were plentiful in lower reaches of the region´s river system. Under the current management plan, the seasons for communities like Cascade and Kooskia are by no means assured.

“Clearly much has yet to be done to restore fishable populations on an annual basis,” Crapo said.

He warned that it won´t be easy getting more money for the recovery fund in these tight economic times. The amended House bill calls for keeping the fund at $200 million.

One thing in Idaho´s favor: Crapo said he has the support of a powerful key Republican senator, Ted Stevens of Alaska, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. That´s a big change from the last time around when Sen. Larry Craig, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, was unable to convince Stevens to include Idaho.

Craig said at the time that Stevens refused to share the salmon dollars.

“He remains committed to working it through this year,” Crapo said of Stevens. “I´m very hopeful we´ll be successful this time.”

Edition Date: 06-13-2003


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