Bonamici visit highlights salmon recovery efforts

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, center, visited South Tongue Point on Tuesday to learn more about the effort to restore and preserve 90 acres of wetlands.

U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici visited a proposed restoration project Tuesday at South Tongue Point, highlighting the importance of the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund in aiding local habitat projects.

The Columbia Land Trust recently secured federal and state grants to purchase 90 acres of South Tongue Point. The Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce will oversee the restoration. Afterwards, the property will be transferred to Clatsop Community College for use as a living laboratory in a new environmental sciences program.

The grants for the South Tongue Point acquisition included $1 million from the national coastal wetlands conservation program and a $332,000 local match from the state Watershed Enhancement Board. Dan Roix, conservation director for the land trust, said much of the funding for the watershed board comes from the salmon recovery fund and helps provide matching grants leveraged with larger pots of money.

The grant program, managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, helps fund Pacific salmon and steelhead trout recovery projects along the West Coast and in Idaho. NOAA has found that every $1 million invested from the fund leads to 17 new jobs and $1.8 million in economic activity. President Donald Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate the program, part of a proposed $250 million in cuts to NOAA programs.

Without the recovery fund, Roix said, “the whole funding strategy unravels on a lot of this.”.

Bonamici is pushing to maintain the $65 million budget for the recovery fund but said it has been difficult convincing congressional colleagues outside of the five states it serves.

“It’s a constant struggle as the administration keeps eliminating all these programs,” the Oregon Democrat said.

Christopher Breitmeyer, the college president, said the South Tongue Point property will change the face of the institution, providing a lab where environmental science students can practice hands-on stewardship and data collection.

“My hope is that students will get actual real-world science experience with publications,” Breitmeyer said. “That’s something when I was an undergrad, I didn’t have an option for that. I didn’t know anything about that.

“That really increases your chances of going on to graduate school, if you’ve got that publication already, and you have a demonstrated ability to do science.”

Austin Tomlinson, a steward with the land trust, is originally from Seaside. Had such a program been available locally, he said, he would have taken advantage instead of going to Humboldt State University in California.

“I always wanted to come back and live here and work here, so having that opportunity for kids here is awesome,” he said.

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