Trump cuts would make funding more scarce for SPAWN projects

07/20/2017

An important source of support for local watershed restoration and salmon conservation efforts may dry up in fiscal year 2018, as the Trump administration’s proposed national budget cuts millions of dollars from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget. On the chopping block is the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, administered in California by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has directed $1.3 billion since 2000 toward conservation efforts to save coho and other salmonid species along the West Coast. In response to the administration’s proposal to cut almost half a billion dollars to NOAA operations, research and facilities, the agency, in its required congressional submission, proposed nixing the fund in 2018. The salmon recovery fund contributes the lion’s share of funding to the Fish and Wildlife-administered fisheries restoration grant program, which has awarded 10 grants amounting to $1.7 million to the Salmon Protection and Watershed Network. “For us nonprofits, this fund has been a godsend,” said Todd Steiner, director of SPAWN, which has two new grant applications pending with the program for habitat restoration and monitoring efforts in the San Geronimo Creek, for a total of $2.9 million. “Fish and Wildlife works as the lead agency for these grants, and does a [California Environmental Quality Act] analysis for our projects, so we don’t have to hire a third party to do this,” Mr. Steiner said. Most other funders do not undertake a CEQA review, he said, leaving SPAWN with the task of raising additional funds for this compliance. SPAWN has a diverse funding base, however, and Mr. Steiner said the group will apply for other grants for the same two projects until he hears definitively about the status of the award. “[Losing this fund] won’t put us out of business,” he said, but its absence “may reduce what we can do in the future.” Many of SPAWN’s past projects were completed in collaboration with other agencies that also depend on this funding, including the National Park Service and the North Marin Water District. Matt Wells, spokesman for the Watershed Restoration Grants branch of California Fish and Wildlife, said the agency is waiting to hear back on its awards from NOAA for the fisheries restoration grant program. Applying and receiving these funds for distribution to applicants like SPAWN is an 18-month process. “We’re in the middle of our 2017 cycle in terms of reviewing proposals and applying to our federal award. As far as I understand, that money has already been allocated and 2017 is off the table for any federal cuts,” he said. But if funds are not provided for 2018 or the years beyond, the 205 currently active projects funded by the program “are safe,” as [the fisheries service] has five years to spend funds that have already been awarded, Mr. Wells said. “From our standpoint, we are moving forward,” he said.