Why would a U.S. senator work so diligently to kill a 12-person federal agency in Portland that provides data on Columbia River salmon and steelhead?

Well, that's what the Rogue Desk wanted to learn when it heard how Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, in effect killed the Fish Passage Center.

Here are some clues. Data collected by the center supported U.S. District Judge James Redden's orders this year that call out the Bush administration and the feds for failing to do enough for salmon recovery.

For example, one of the center's preliminary reports after Redden ordered more spills over Columbia River dams showed an increase in the rate of Chinook surviving the dams from 45 to 74 percent.

"The science is showing answers the senator doesn't like, and he is letting politics decide salmon recovery rather than letting science decide salmon recovery," says Nicole Cordan, Save Our Wild Salmon's policy and legal director.

Not so, says Craig spokesman Dan Whiting. He says Craig seeks more cost-effective science, and less "advocacy," by moving the center's duties to researchers who do related work at such facilities as the University of Washington.

And in fact, the language Craig inserted in an appropriations bill approved Monday by the Senate would transfer the center's duties to "other existing and capable entities.''

Yet a senator looking to cut costs could find bigger fish to fry than this agency providing data to federal agencies, states and tribes. The center's $1.3 million budget makes up a smaller-than-small fraction of the $30 billion-plus energy and water appropriations bill.

The center also has two independent oversight boards, neither of which has argued the center isn't efficient, objective or doing its job.

"They have always provided very good scientific data and very good analysis," says Chuck Coutant, a retired aquatic ecologist and former member of both boards. "We never criticized them for bad science."