Salmon recovery aid drying up
$2 to $3 billion needed to restore viable Puget Sound chinook runs


FIFE, WA - 5/9/02 -- State and federal support for Puget Sound salmon recovery efforts might already have peaked despite an unfinished agenda, the region's chief architect of salmon recovery told American Indian fisheries managers here Wednesday.

The $110 million allotted by Congress this year to aid imperiled West Coast salmon runs might be matched next year, then decline dramatically, suggested William Ruckelshaus, chairman of the state Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

Ruckelshaus is also leader of a public-private salmon recovery strategy being developed for Puget Sound and is widely viewed as the closest thing to a salmon czar in the region.

"After 2003, money will be tight," Ruckelshaus predicted based on recent meetings with Congressional leaders in Washington, D.C.

Lean state budget

Ruckelshaus, a former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. deputy attorney general, addressed the annual meeting of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

The state with its tight budget will be hard-pressed to continue the support, which has resulted in $100 million worth of state funding for salmon habitat improvement and land acquisition projects funded by the salmon recovery board in the past 30 months, he said.

That's about how long Puget Sound chinook salmon and nine other salmon stocks have been on the federal Endangered Species Act list, an action that triggered a barrage of government and volunteer projects to save salmon.

In Puget Sound alone, roughly $145 million was spent on salmon recovery in the past year, according to a preliminary report by Evergreen Funding Consultants of Seattle.

Projects aimed at reducing salmon impacts from development and habitat projects account for more than $100 million of the total, said Dennis Canty, a senior partner in the firm.

However, he said, a review of the public works projects that account for $50 million in annual spending shows that the money often goes to the projects least connected to salmon recovery strategies adopted by the state, tribes and others.

"There's a tremendous amount of money spent on salmon recovery, but it's spent far and wide," he said.

It's critical that tribal and nontribal fisheries managers develop methods to monitor progress made in the regional salmon recovery effort, Canty said.

Right now, there is no systematic way to measure progress, he said. Each watershed in the region is doing things differently and has different priorities.

"It's difficult to demonstrate progress to the people who are writing the checks," he said. "It makes funding vulnerable."

Roughly $2 billion to $3 billion is needed for projects to help restore Puget Sound chinook salmon runs to harvestable, sustainable levels, he estimated.

At current funding levels, that makes it a 20- to 30-year project.

Won't happen overnight

"This is, in effect, a massive experiment," Ruckelshaus said. "I'm confident we can do this, but it won't happen overnight."

Tribal leaders acknowledged salmon recovery work is far from over.

"It's sort of consumed us as one of those issues that won't go away," noted Squaxin Island tribal member Bobby Whitener. "It's going to get more complex, rather than less complex."

Billy Frank Jr., a Nisqually tribal member and chairman of the fisheries commission, sounded a theme he has sounded before: the Puget Sound ecosystem, including the salmon, can't survive under a continued onslaught of population growth and development.

"We've got to slow down instead of building more and more," he said. "We're running out of time."

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