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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

February 12, 2011 at 10:13 PM

Salmon in the Classroom may be saved from becoming extinct

Here is an article by Susan Gilmore, Seattle Times staff reporter, on a bid to save a much needed classroom program:

The Salmon in the Classroom program, slated for extinction because of state budget cuts, may be saved in Seattle.

City Council President Richard Conlin said he was so dismayed to hear that the program might be ending that he has directed Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) to commit $10,000 to keep the program going.

“It’s really critical that kids get in touch with the environment at an early age and have a connection to the natural world,” Conlin said. “This program is something that does this. It’s hands on, it’s real. Salmon is our totem, our iconic symbol of the Northwest.”

Every year, 40,000 schoolchildren in the state are introduced to the life cycle of salmon through the program.

In December, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, which had been funding the program, said it was eliminated for the current fiscal year in the special session of the Legislature, and was also proposed to be eliminated in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s fiscal 2012-2014 budget.

The final decision will be up to the Legislature.

The program has been in place 20 years, and an average of 495 schools in the state have participated each year. Eliminating the program will save $110,000 for the rest of the school year and $442,000 for the next biennium.

Under Conlin’s plan, SPU will spend $10,000 to help about 50 Seattle schools maintain the program.

SPU had been supporting the program since 1991, but in recent years has diverted its money to a broader science curriculum.

Miles Mayhew, a SPU water manager, said the department was doing work related to youth education, and the salmon program fits into that.

“We’re going to work with our community partners and the state to keep it going,” Mayhew said.

He said the money will go for such things as repairing equipment in the classrooms and training teachers.

Many of the schools received their salmon eggs this year because they had permits, but the state is no longer available to maintain the equipment and there are no permits to harvest the eggs for next year.

Craig Bartlett, a spokesman for the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he didn’t know how big an issue the permitting process will be. Because students have the eggs for this year, the decision doesn’t have to be made until July, at the start of the next biennium.

The state is required to give permits for egg harvesting as part of an agreement with the federal government under the endangered-species act. That way, state and federal officials can keep track of where the eggs go when they’re planted in streams.

Bartlett said the permitting process can be time-consuming. He hopes something can be worked out.

“We’ve had thousands of kids go through the program,” Bartlett said. “This is a way to involve and invest the kids in salmon and the natural world. We want to continue to help the school district, if we have the resources. It’s a sticky issue.”

He said the program will require volunteers and possibly help from Native American tribes.

Judy Pickens has been a longtime volunteer with the program in West Seattle and is happy to hear SPU will help support it.

“This is very good news,” she said, but she worries whether the SPU money will be enough to sustain it. With 50 schools and a pot of $10,000, that’s $200 per school. She said it costs $100 to rent a bus to take the kids to the streams where the salmon are released.

“This is going to require a strong volunteer component and supporting money so schools with high resources get less than those who don’t,” Pickens said. “With some combining of our individual wisdom, we can supplement this much-needed money from the city with volunteer energy and other resources to make sure the program is not only sustained, but enhanced.”

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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