Environmental Policy News

Washington Govern Proposes Plan for Southern Resident Orca Whale Recovery

It’s difficult to imagine a Washington without orcas or salmon. These species are part of the cultural identity, fishing economy and tourism industry of our region. But both Washington’s Southern Resident orcas and salmon are facing a dismal fate. More than a century of development and human activity along the Puget Sound and Columbia River along with the ravages of climate change are largely to blame.

December 12, 2018, Washington State Governor Inslee announced an unprecedented investment to save Southern Resident orcas. Without taking bold actions and drastically changing human impact to our environment, these animals may not survive. Inslee’s 2019–21 state operating, capital and transportation budgets include a broad array of investments to build towards thriving and resilient orca and salmon populations.

Supporting Southern Resident orca recovery efforts is one of the top priorities of Inslee’s 2019–21 budgets. His operating, capital and transportation budgets for the next biennium include a combined $1.1 billion in investments that will help ensure a thriving and resilient orca population. Besides helping orcas, these investments will have significant benefits for the region’s entire ecosystem and complement efforts to recover salmon, tackle climate change, improve water quality and more.

Saving orcas

Unfortunately, there is no one, easy solution to saving Washington’s resident killer whales. What was historically a healthy population of around 200 animals has now dwindled to 74 orcas. The environmental conditions that threaten their survival took generations to create and will take a grand, coordinated effort to reverse. Each piece of this puzzle is complicated and delicate. There are three key problems impacting the health of orcas: lack of food, toxics in the water and noise disturbance from boats and other vessels.

Inslee orders agencies to focus in on the problem

In March of 2018, Inslee issued an executive order directing state agencies to take immediate actions to help the struggling orca population and establishing the Southern Resident Orca Task Force to develop a long-term plan for recovering orcas. The task force includes nearly 50 members representing a wide range of sectors including state agencies, the legislature, and state, tribal, federal and local governments, as well as private sector and non-profit organizations.

This fall, after months of deliberation and public input that included 18,000 written public comments, the task force issued a report to the governor with dozens of recommendations to alleviate the major threats to Southern Resident orcas. The task force set an initial target of increasing the population to 84 orcas over the next decade. The task force’s recommendations support for overarching goals to benefit orcas:

  • Increasing the abundance of Chinook salmon
  • Decreasing disturbance and other risks posed by vessel traffic and noise
  • Reducing exposure to toxic pollutants — for orcas and their prey
  • Ensuring adequate funding, information and accountability measures are in place to support effective recovery efforts moving forward

Learn more about the Southern Resident Orca Task Force.

Inslee’s budget takes big steps to save orcas and salmon

Inslee’s budget proposes funding investments across the state to:

  • Increase the amount of food available for orcas
  • Provide more water for salmon and other fish
  • Level the playing field for orcas’ competition for food
  • Decrease disturbance and other risks posed by vessel traffic and noise
  • Reduce exposure to toxic pollutants — for orcas and their prey
  • Continue science and support for recovery

Source: The Medium Corporation

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