Too many environmental initiatives launched with great fanfare are given short shrift when state budgets get leaner. It becomes obvious that political symbolism was their true motive.

Thanks in part to progressive governors and a relatively enlightened legislature, Oregon's scorecard is positive on this issue of sincere effort versus empty gestures. However, the state's citizens are the biggest factor in Oregon's record of staying the course on environmental quality, land use planning and habitat recovery. Oregon politicians stick with the program because voters tell them to.

The current budget crisis could become an excuse to gut conservation spending. Distracted legislators may waiver in their support, while opponents seize on short-term cash flow problems as the excuse to ax things they didn't like in the first place.

The Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership is especially at risk. LCREP has been a strong force for good on our long-neglected river.

It has, for example, brought habitat lessons into local classrooms, getting youngsters out on the river for first-hand experience of fisheries, wildlife and the navigation channel.

Strengthening young people's connection with their Columbia legacy would be reason enough to keep and support LCREP, but it also performs vital mapping of habitat, monitoring of environmental conditions and other unique functions. Before LCREP, there was astounding ignorance about the health and condition of the Columbia estuary. Some information gaps have been partially filled, but the job isn't complete, and never will be.

In the current special session, LCREP is faced with loss of $54,000 in state funds. This may not sound like much, but has huge ramifications because it constitutes the state's match for money from Washington state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. If the state makes this cut, LCREP stands to lose as much as $200,000.

At the start of its daunting mission, such a loss would cripple a truly cost-effective and high-performance organization. It would also give the lie to the state's commitment to begin making up for the environmental devastation visited upon the Lower Columbia.

Pick up the phone and tell our legislators to stand up for continued full funding of LCREP so it can continue its overdue work in our watery front yard.

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