$150M deal to protect Willamette River wildlife habitat

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Bonneville Power Administration and Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed a $150 million deal Friday requiring BPA to protect 20,000 acres of wildlife habitat in the Willamette River basin through 2025.

The settlement between the federal power marketing agency and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife ends three decades of haggling over the federal government's obligation to compensate for habitat lost after 13 dams were built in the basin to generate power and control flooding,

"This agreement marks a landmark partnership between federal, state and local governments and organizations," Kulongoski said. "This agreement allows us to not just maintain the crown jewel of the Willamette Valley but to restore and enhance habitat for many future generations of Oregonians."

But the settlement also drew criticism.

The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde, Willamette Riverkeeper, Trout Unlimited and others say it falls short on restoring habitat in the 12,000-square-mile basin, The Oregonian reported.

Advocates for electric ratepayers say it costs too much. Both groups say the agreement received little public review.

Oregon is "not heeding the bigger picture," said Travis Williams, Willamette Riverkeeper's executive director. "It's wrong. It's shortsighted."

Northwest River Partners, an alliance of utilities, ports, farmer and businesses, said salmon and wildlife protection already account for up to 30 percent of the region's electric bills.

The agreement is "too costly," Terry Flores, the group's executive director, wrote to BPA, and comes "as families and businesses struggle to keep their heads above water."

The settlement will pay for land or conservation easements to protect rare habitat, including wetlands, oak savanna and bottomland forests. It aims to help multiple species, from otter to elk to western meadowlarks, Oregon's state bird.

At least 10 percent of the spending will also benefit fish.

A separate deal BPA cut recently with federal fish biologists will provide another $9.5 million through 2023 for habitat acquisition and restoration to benefit Upper Willamette River chinook and steelhead, listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.


Information from: The Oregonian, http://www.oregonlive.com

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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