After more than two decades of stagnant Puget Sound salmon populations, Olympia’s tax revenue bonanza offers an opportunity to accelerate habitat restoration that can finally help increase salmon returns.
Reading the competing budgets released by House and Senate Democrats, there is a stark contrast in approach to funding salmon recovery. The Chamber takes a very narrow approach, adding funding for habitat along waterways, with little else besides. The Senate is more flexible and funds competitive science-based grants.
With billions in additional revenue, both budgets complement salmon recovery with additional funding. This is something we have been asking for in each of the last budgets. Aside from funding levels, it is worth considering how each budget spends additional funds.
House proposal adds $50 million in funding for ‘statewide competitive waterfront network [streamside] habitat conservation grants program to protect and restore habitat with an emphasis on acquiring and restoring riparian habitat to healthy, fully functioning conditions.
By comparison, the Senate budget proposal proposes three major funding increases. It is offering $50 million to restore the Duckabush Estuary on the Olympic Peninsula. It adds another $50 million for “grants for projects worth more than $5,000,000 each that will benefit salmon recovery.” The final large appropriation is an additional $35 million for “grants for watershed projects generally valued at less than $5,000,000 each that will benefit salmon recovery.” In addition to distinguishing funding for projects over or under $5 million, the Senate budget allows all salmon recovery projects to compete for grants, putting money where it’s needed most. rather than preemptively focusing on one aspect of salmon habitat.
In the most recent round of funding for Salmon Habitat Projects, there was a wide range of projects funded through Salmon Recovery Grants. This included small projects along waterways, such as $328,772 for Flaming Geyser State Park Riparian Revegetation. There were also shoreline restoration funds, such as the $155,058 for Hoypus Point Shoreline Restoration Construction in Island County. Larger projects include $5.9 million for floodplain restoration in Fall City and $10.5 million for fish passage in the Nooksack River. These projects are selected based on a set of scientific criteria.
Why would the Chamber strictly limit funding to waterfront projects? Some pushed to focus on streams, pointing to the impact of stream temperature on some salmon runs. This emphasis was most notably manifested in the hugely controversial and expensive HB 1838, which allegedly forced farmers and other landowners (except those in urban areas) to set aside large tracts of land and maintain vegetation. . With this legislation quickly failing due to significant opposition, the House budget appears to offer funding to accomplish some of what the legislation will not do. It is certainly much better than the punitive and regulatory approach of HB 1838.
It is true that improving riparian habitat is important to salmon recovery. Both budgets provide funding for cooperative shoreline restoration projects through the State Conservation Commission. Focusing all additional funds on these areas, as the House budget does, seems to be more a matter of politics than science.
While the final amount of funding will be settled in negotiations between the House and the Senate, the Senate’s approach of allowing a science-based process to guide funding is more likely to result in an increase in salmon populations that have been so elusive.