Norfork NFH Funding Update
By Leon Alexander
On February 9, 2015 I was privileged to travel to Washington DC on behalf of our Friends of the Norfork NFH to attend the National Fisheries Friends Partnership (NFFP) Annual Meeting held at the USFWS Headquarters in Falls Church, VA for a two day meeting with the Directors of the USFWS. In attendance were Dave Hoskins, Director Fish and Aquatic Conservation (FAC), Jeff Underwood, Assistant Director FAC, along with many of their staff responsible for a variety of responsibilities. Representing the NFFP were the officers, board members, and representatives of various Friends Groups along with myself. I am also a member of the NFFP Board.
On the agenda were reports from the Director, reports from the NFFP, work groups and various talks from outside groups. The Director discussed the state of the USFWS and the coordination of their efforts with the efforts of the NFFP as it relates to the support of our National Fish Hatcheries. He and his staff also went into great detail regarding the current and future budgets. Since there was much discussion on many topics, I will confine this message to the budget status. The numbers and comments reported are from a USFWS Document named “Budget Justifications”.
To start with the USFWS reported the 2014 budget numbers, the 2015 budget numbers which were just passed by Congress in January, and the 2016 projected budget numbers which the USFWS has submitted to Congress for approval. For the sake of brevity, I will include only the FAC budget. The actual amount for FY 2014 was $46,528,000.00. The amount enacted by Congress for FY 2015 was $52,860,000.00, (an increase of $6,332,000.00). The budget request for FY 2016 is $53,418,000.00, (an increase of $558,000.00).
Under the topic “Mitigation” they stated “Following direction from Congress and the Office of Management and Budget, the Service announced in FY 2012 that it would no longer fund fish production operations to mitigate for impacts associated with Federal water development projects. Instead, these mitigation propagation programs are now operated on a user-pay basis and are dependent on outside funding to fully reimburse the Service for its costs.” The message goes on to say that the “Service and partners, including the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers, TVA and others, have successfully developed agreements to help cover most of the costs associate with mitigation fish production.”
Under the section of “The Future of the National Fish Hatchery System” they reported “In November 2013, the Service announced it did not intend to close any of our National Fish Hatcheries in FY 2014. With the increased funding provided by Congress in FY 2015, we also do not intend to close any Service hatcheries in 2015. This funding level is maintained in the FY 2016 Budget request, and the Service will continue working with States, tribes, and other partners and stakeholders to chart a financially sound course forward for the NFHS that will also enable it to better meet present and future conservation challenges.”
So what does all this mean? In short, it means that there will be no Service mitigation hatchery closings so long as the Federal Water Projects reimburse the Service for the entire cost of the mitigation portion of fish production. If the funds are not sufficient to cover the cost, the Service has the option to reduce production of fish which can be by several means including shutting down portions of a hatchery, reducing staff and other actions. Now comes the rub. There is no legislation or signed agreements that require the COE to transfer funds to the USFWS for mitigation. And the TVA has a three year signed agreement to transfer $900,000.00 per year to the Service for TVA affected mitigation hatcheries. Trouble is they are on the second year of that agreement leaving only one year left.
What needs to be done to secure long term funding for the mitigation hatcheries? We need legislation that will require the COE and others to work with the Service to provide the necessary funds to maintain full production. The House Bill Congressman Rick Crawford introduced in 2013 named “The National Mitigation Fisheries Coordination Act” provides for such an agreement with a three year renegotiation of costs. This Bill was introduced in 2013 and failed to come to vote. With a new Congress, Congressman Crawford is working to reintroduce this Bill this year. In order for it to be successful, it will need many cosponsors. I have already discussed this situation with all of our Arkansas Congressmen and they have agreed to work with Congressman Crawford to support this Bill. What are missing are cosponsors from other Districts in other states with mitigation hatcheries. This needs to come from the constitutes of those Districts. I can assure you that I am working to that end and Congressman Crawford’s staff is also working to secure these necessary cosponsors.
The thing we can all do is to continue to support our Norfork NFH, our Friends of the Norfork NFH and to stay in touch with all our Congressional Delegation on this issue. By your continued membership in the FNNFH you are contributing to this effort. Your support is appreciated.