Funding up for salmon project, down for other natural resources

Posted: Tuesday, February 03, 2004

WASHINGTON - President Bush is calling for increased spending for wildfire prevention and salmon restoration, but would cut other spending for natural resources and environmental programs.

The president's budget would fully fund a new law aimed at preventing wildfires in national forests and increase spending for Northwest salmon restoration to $100 million - a $10 million increase over current levels.

But the Forest Service overall would see a 7.6 percent decrease to $4.2 billion under the plan Bush proposed Monday for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

Administration officials said the overall budget would boost conservation. They touted a proposed 20 percent increase - to $507 million - for conservation partnerships with local organizations and communities, and a 3.5 percent increase - to $725 million - for maintenance and construction in national parks.

"I think it's fair to say, since it's Groundhog Day, that this budget casts a long shadow in favor of working lands conservation and environmental protection," said Agriculture Undersecretary Mark Rey, who oversees forestry and natural resources.

Environmentalists and some Democrats disagreed. They called the budget plan inadequate and said it would underfund parks, forests and wildlife refuges, and weaken important environmental protections while making it easier to sell public lands for private profit.

"Then it adds insult to injury by using smoke and mirrors budget tricks to try to mask these cuts," said Bonnie Galvin, director of budget and appropriations programs for The Wilderness Society.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, said the administration's claim to spend $760 million to fully fund the so-called healthy forests law was misleading.

"It's funny money. They are not delivering on their promise here," DeFazio said.

He and other critics accused the administration of combining several unrelated Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management accounts to come up with the $760 million figure.

"They are adding things up that are already underfunded until they get to the number 760 and say, 'We told you,' " DeFazio said.

But Sen. Gordon Smith, an Oregon Republican, called the proposal a good start.

"I have some concerns regarding other aspects of the Forest Service budget, but the president's budget is only a starting point. I will be working with my colleagues to ensure that we have sufficient funds to carry out our priorities," Smith said.

In other areas, Bush proposed cutting $9.8 million from endangered species recovery efforts, a 14 percent reduction that would leave the wildlife preservation fund at $58.2 million. That is $1.8 million less than was budgeted when Bush took office in 2001.

Interior Secretary Gale Norton said the proposed cuts are offset by major increases in grant programs meant to encourage private property owners and state and local governments to preserve land in the name of species protection.

Bush also sought a $303 million increase in spending for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump in Nevada. The budget calls for $880 million for the Yucca project.

"This request enables us to finalize the license application for construction of the permanent repository, as well as other activities associated with construction and with developing a transportation system to Yucca," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said.

The budget also proposes tapping the $13 billion Nuclear Waste Fund, collected from customers of nuclear utilities since 1982. That would spare the Yucca project from having to compete with other projects each year.

The proposed $2.4 trillion budget does not include any money to deepen the Columbia River channel, but supporters of the project are confident that money will be restored, noting that Congress approved $3.5 million for the project this year although the administration requested nothing.

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