WASHINGTON - President Bush is calling for increased spending for wildfire prevention, but apparently would cut spending for salmon restoration in the Northwest's Columbia River Basin.
The president's proposed budget for the next fiscal year, announced Monday, also includes language that some members of Congress interpreted as a call to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that markets power to the Northwest.
Bush's $2.2 trillion proposal for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 includes about $2.2 billion for wildfire prevention and firefighting - an increase of nearly $220 million over last year's budget request. The 2002 wildfire season was one of the worst, with more than 7 million acres burned - twice the 10-year average.
"For the safety of our communities and the restoration of our forests and wildlife, we have to reduce hazardous fuels in our forests," said Interior Secretary Gale Norton. Bush's budget would allow thinning and planned burns in about 1.1 million acres of national forests, about one-third in areas near populated areas.
The budget also would authorize $91 million - an increase of $21 million - for a forest legacy program that helps landowners preserve private forests.
Unlike last year, the administration did not announce a dollar figure to show how much money it is requesting for each of the 10 federal agencies charged with salmon recovery. But conservationists said they fear that last year's $506 million request could be cut by as much as $50 million.
"If this budget is as bad as we fear, it will pull the rug out from under salmon-dependent communities," said John Kober of the National Wildlife Federation. "We can save wild salmon and help the Northwest's economy at the same time, but we need leadership from the White House and Congress."
A White House official, speaking on condition that he not be identified, denied that the administration was reducing its commitment to salmon restoration. The budget includes a $3 million increase in salmon programs for the National Marine Fisheries Service, the official said.