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Lawmakers from Western states protest proposed $70 million cut

Herald and News 6/12/08

   WASHINGTON (A P) — West Coast lawmakers are protesting a plan by the Bush administration to take $70 million from the $170 million approved in the farm bill as disaster relief for the Pacific Coast salmon fishing industry.
   Bush’s budget office says the money is needed to pay for higher-than-expected costs of the 2010 census.
   After the reduction, which needs the approval of Congress, “$100 million would still be available for payments (to salmon fishermen), which is sufficient given the estimated economic impact of recent fisheries disaster declarations for the area,” the budget office said in a memo.
   West Coast lawmakers from both parties called the request a slap in the face of fishermen hurting from the collapse of the salmon fishing industry in California, Oregon and Washington.
   The collapse led to the largest salmon closure in West Coast history and caused losses the states estimate will total about $290 million.
   California is seeking $ 208 million in federal disaster aid, Oregon $45 million and Washington $36 million.
   A letter signed by 14 Democratic House members from the three states called the request unconscionable and a sign that the Bush administration is not committed to helping Pacific Coast fishing communities.
   “This funding is desperately needed by the communities and families who rely on salmon fishing, many of whom face losing their businesses and homes due to two years of no fishing,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who drafted the letter, which is signed by six House members from California and four each from Oregon and Washington. All are Democrats.
   The proposed funding cut is especially egregious, the letter said, because Bush administration policies on major salmon rivers on the West Coast may have contributed to the current disaster, which stems from the sudden collapse of the chinook salmon run in California’s Sacramento River, where the salmon return to spawn. Scientists are studying the causes of the collapse, with possible factors ranging from ocean conditions and habitat destruction to dam operations and agricultural pollution.
   Failing runs
   Salmon runs have also failed in recent years on the Klamath River in Oregon and California, and the Columbia-Snake River system in the Pacific Northwest — failures that Thompson and other Democrats blame in part on administration policies that they say did not ensure enough water reached the fish.
   Scientists expect low returns on the Sacramento River again next year and another closed season for most of the West Coast, the letter said.
   Sen. Gordon Smith, ROre., said Wednesday that he will join with Democrats to prevent the cuts. “Rest assured there will be a strong bipartisan effort to ensure that these cuts don’t go through,” Smith said in a statement.
   “I understand that the Bush Administration frequently considers itself above the law, but Congress assigned that money in the duly enacted farm bill to ensure the survival of our fishing communities, and I intend to see that they get it,” added Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

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