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Trump budget axes Alaska's Sea Grant program

Staff Writer |
More than 70 percent of Alaska's 730,000 residents live along its coastline.

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Under the Alaska Sea Grant program, 12 marine advisory extension agents serve these remote communities, with further funding funneled into research projects and marine education programs on everything from the whale-watching economy to providing quality assurance for seal oil products.

But under the Donald Trump administration, Sea Grant, which celebrated its 50th anniversary just last year, may not see another sunrise.

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump released his first full budget for the 2018 fiscal year, following his "skinny budget" that made the rounds this March.

In that budget, Trump crossed out 40 percent of Sea Grant funding for the 2017 fiscal year already underway, dooming many programs to end as early as this summer.

The program was granted a temporary pardon under Congress until Sept. 30, but it may not survive the ax a second time, with Trump planning on cutting the program entirely as of Oct. 1.

That means scientists such as Sheffield, the Arctic's northernmost agent, could soon be out of work.

For Alaska Sea Grant's 2016 fiscal year budget of $5.7 million, 36 percent of the money came from federal Sea Grant funding, with the University of Alaska providing 41 percent, or $2.3 million. Separate grants, donations and program income made up the rest.

The state's marine advisory program accounted for just over 50 percent of expenditures. The Sea Grant program costs $73 million annually to support more than 3,000 scientists and coastal research through 33 university programs nationwide.

Trump's budget document justifies the cancellation of Sea Grant and other programs administered by NOAA by saying "these grants often are not optimally targeted, in many instances favoring certain species or geographic areas over others or distributing funds by formula rather than directing them to programs and projects with the greatest need or potential benefit.

NOAA will continue to serve as a resource and provide technical assistance as appropriate on many of the issues funded by these programs."

But to critics, including Alaska's Republican congressional delegation, the Sea Grant cut is ill-advised. Between 2010 and 2015, Sea Grant was found to generate a $33.6 million economic impact in Alaska despite relatively modest investment.


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