Funding Insufficient to Recover Salmon
While progress in recovering salmon is being made in some areas of the state, far too many species still are precariously close to extinction. One fundamental reason is that funding has not matched the need.
As the chart below demonstrates, a 2011 study pegged10 the statewide cost of implementing habitat-related elements identified in regional salmon recovery plans for 2010-2019 at $4.7 billion in capital costs. As of today, only $1 billion has been invested or just under 22 percent of the need–a funding rate that will not achieve recovery.
With the funding to-date, many of the smaller, easier projects have been completed. What remains are the larger projects that affect bigger landscapes, the harder projects to change people’s behavior, and the more complex projects that require fundamental changes in how a growing population is accommodated. The current funding programs do not fully encompass these larger investments.
The Salmon Recovery Funding Board has started to address this issue by setting aside some of its funding for targeted investments aimed at larger projects or additional priorities; however, this set-aside only will begin when funding levels reach higher levels. In addition, some of these projects will require extensive work, partnerships, and potential changes to how work traditionally has been done.
How is the Money Spent?
Restoration first. In all regions, the majority of funding has been slated for restoration projects to repair damaged habitat, followed by projects to plan projects and those to acquire more pristine areas important for salmon.
Recovering salmon habitat requires both restoration and protection measures. Restoration helps watersheds that are damaged by past human activity, while protection measures through land-use and regulatory programs can reduce habitat loss. Unfortunately, without increased funding, restoration projects are unable to keep pace with ongoing habitat losses. In addition, land-use programs must change to better protect existing habitat to benefit from the substantial investments made through restoration.
During the past 20 years (1999 – 2019), total funding has averaged $122 million a biennium, with state funding at $718 million, federal funding at $510 million, and local (match) funding at $32 million a biennium.
Data Source: The funding chart above shows 1999-2019 salmon recovery funds by project type, administered by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. The chart also includes $11 million in Pacific Salmon Treaty Orca Conservation funds for restoration, acquisition, and hatchery projects, which was from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2020.) The Recreation and Conservation Office is a state agency that administers multiple funds and staffs multiple boards, including the Salmon Recovery Funding Board.
State Funding Sources
Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, Chehalis Basin Strategy (through the Office of Financial Management), Washington Coastal Restoration and Resiliency Initiative, Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Family Forest Fish Passage Program, Brian Abbott Fish Barrier Removal Board, Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration fund, Salmon Recovery Fund (state match to federal grant via the sale of state general obligation bonds), Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Federal Funding Sources
The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funds the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, the Puget Sound Critical Stock Program, and the Pacific Salmon Treaty Orca Conservation funding. Funding also comes from the Department of Interior’s National Park Service via the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Marine Shoreline Protection program, and the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. The Bonneville Power Administration also provides funding for salmon and steelhead recovery projects (not reported here) in the Columbia River.
The Salmon Recovery Funding Board
The Salmon Recovery Funding Board awards funding to projects during public meetings and presents detailed information online to ensure the funding process is visible and accountable to the public. The board, created in the Salmon Recovery Act of 1998, sets statewide policy and distributes funding. It has invested about $1.3 billion in salmon recovery projects. Its investment in 8 regional areas and 25 lead entities engages thousands of people committed to implementing salmon recovery at the local level.