Cuts may be deadly

It is no government secret that budget woes will have to be addressed in serious fashion in the weeks and months ahead. Out-of-control spending is regarded by many as a real threat to the American way of life. Most would agree that any fix will involve unwanted cutbacks in certain programs and services.

The Interior Department, under which the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service operates, has flirted with cutting a number of programs and closing various facilities. One facility that faces closure Oct. 1 is the D.C. Booth National Fish Hatchery in Spearfish, S.D.

The Spearfish Hatchery does not fit the definition of what most would think of as a fish hatchery. It produces only about 30,000 rainbow trout per year, an amount of fish that might be contained in a single raceway. For comparison purposes, the Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery produces 8 million to 10 million walleye annually, several million northern pike and thousands of salmon, trout, sturgeon and paddlefish.

What makes the Spearfish Hatchery unique is not the amount of trout it raises, but rather its historical significance. The facility is 117 years old and is maintained primarily as a museum to the history of fish production. Records and artifacts are kept there for educational purposes. About 150,000 people visit the hatchery each year.

A focal point of the hatchery is its historic buildings and grounds. The Booth Society is a non-profit group that raises some money and provides a source for hatchery volunteers, many of whom lead guided tours during the summer season.

Although the Booth Society says the hatchery is on the list of proposed facilities to be closed, the Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet issued a confirmation.

It also seems likely that federal budget cuts will play a significant role is the future of the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center in Las Vegas. It is a 23-year-old refuge that currently cares for about 1,400 tortoises.

Its $1 million annual budget comes from a combination of federal funds and local developer fees. However, with Nevada’s housing market in decline, the current budget shortfall amounts to more than $700,000. Plans are to close the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center early next year and euthanize about 700 tortoises deemed too feeble for release. Desert tortoises are classified as threatened, one step short of endangered.

Can we get by with 30,000 less trout and 700 fewer desert tortoises? Sure, but such budget cuts are difficult to rationalize when runaway spending elsewhere seems to be surging full speed ahead.

Why give millions in foreign aid to countries that we know care very little about the U.S. or our citizens while failing to fund projects at home? I know I’m not alone in asking that question.

Budget cuts seem necessary and we all know the process won’t be painless, but it should make some sense, too.