When will the feds put their money where their mouth is?Although the Bush administration has painted the country into a tight financial corner with Iraq and tax cuts, there remain many domestic programs that accomplish a lot in comparison to their cost. One of these that deserves continuing support is the National Estuary Program.

The U.S. House passed an appropriation that will maintain estuary spending at its current level of $24.5 million, of which our local Lower Columbia River Estuary Partnership gets $500,000 as one of 28 major estuaries in the nation. But the Senate Appropriations Committee recently passed out the same spending package at $19.5 million. If this remains unaltered, our estuary will receive $200,000 less per year in the 2004-05 budget cycle.

This would seriously affect a number of ongoing initiatives of importance here, probably including loss of a full-time scientist devoted to working on estuary health and habitat.

The Columbia River national estuary program has used its $500,000 to leverage $5 million from Bonneville Power Administration and others for on-the-ground restoration and water quality monitoring in the next three years. Restoring this habitat will significantly improve the likelihood of restoring several species of fish now listed as threatened or endangered.

These funds respond directly to the National Marine Fisheries Service Biological Opinion of December 2000 which calls for restoration and protection of 10,000 acres of estuary habitat to aid in recovery of threatened and endangered species. Cutting these funds would be a clear indication that, once again, the federal government is less than willing to put its money where its mouth is.

Loss of fish has decimated our commercial fishing industry. Figures from Oregon State University Extension Service report the commercial salmon fishing industry provided $41 million in personal income in 1976-1980; in 1998, it provided just $4 million.

Federal estuary funds also were used to leverage additional private dollars and other public funds for the Estuary Partnership Kids for the Columbia Education programs. These programs, provided at no cost to the public schools, are now helping the 38 school districts along the Lower Columbia meet core curriculum requirements as their budgets are reduced. Since January 2001, the Estuary Partnership programs have reached more than 10,000 children with classroom, field work, summer camps and on-river programs.

It's uncertain when the full Senate will take up the appropriations bill, but now is the time to take pen in hand or tap out an e-mail to Sens. Wyden, (202) 224-5244, and Smith, (202) 224-3753, asking for their enthusiastic support of full funding for estuary programs. Smith's mailing address is 404 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 and Wyden's is 516 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510.

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