Dwindling salmon funds predicted

Recovery: Officials urge more bang for the bucks

Susan Gordon; The News Tribune

May 9, 2002 - The leader of the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board says the amount of government money available to bring back imperiled salmon stocks has peaked, making it more important than ever to show results.

Board Chairman William Ruckelshaus made that remark Wednesday to members of the Northwest Indian Fishing Commission, which represents 20 Western Washington tribes with treaty-guaranteed rights to fish.

About 100 tribal representatives attended the commission's annual meeting in Fife.

Ruckelshaus said the economic downturn makes it unlikely that future government spending will match current levels of salmon recovery funding, he said.

"The legislators of this state and the members of the national Congress will lean over their benches some day and ask what are we getting for all this money we're spending," he said.

In the past 30 months, the recovery board has doled out more than $100 million in state and federal grants for salmon recovery projects statewide.

Better coordination among the state, tribes and local governments is needed to ensure the most effective allocation of public money, Ruckelshaus said.

Nisqually Indian leader Billy Frank, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, agreed. "We have a long ways to go. Protection of the Puget Sound and the coastal ocean is so important to all of us.

"We are making progress. It's so important to have on paper that we are doing what we set out to do," he said.

More efficient spending would help, said Dennis Canty, a partner in Evergreen Funding Consultants, a Seattle-based firm that helps raise money for environmental restoration. Canty recently completed a report on Puget Sound salmon recovery funding for the Portland-based National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, which underwrites salmon recovery projects in Washington.

Canty estimated that government and tribal entities now spend about $145 million annually to bring back Puget Sound salmon. That includes $50 million in spending to offset damage caused by other public projects. Unfortunately, that so-called mitigation spending often isn't directly linked to salmon recovery goals, he said.

"There's a tremendous amount of money spent on salmon recovery, but it's spread far and wide and could be invested more effectively," Canty said.

As an example, his analysis of the distribution of $70 million in salmon grants from various government and private sources between 1997 and 2001 showed that the top recipient was Kitsap County, which received $12 million, mostly to purchase salmon habitat.

Five times as much grant money was awarded to Kitsap as was allocated to the upper Skagit River, Canty said. That happened even though the Skagit is the region's top producer of naturally spawned chinook salmon and Kitsap produces virtually none of the highly valued fish.

"It's an indication we don't have a consistent set of priorities for allocating salmon money," Canty said.

Another problem is that little effort is being made to monitor the effectiveness of salmon recovery projects, he said. "As a consequence, it's very difficult to demonstrate progress to people who are writing the checks."

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