Orca advocates urge Legislature to pass emergency package for Puget Sound orcas
Members of Gov. Jay Inslee’s orca recovery task force and environmental groups supporting its work say they have four critical bills that are still in play this legislative session. They’re calling on state lawmakers to keep moving the bills forward.
Speaking at a press conference at the Seattle Aquarium, Mindy Roberts, a member of the task force who is also Puget Sound director for the Washington Environmental Council, said they’re all urging legislators to pass the full package of four bills and to make sure they’re all fully funded, despite all the competing needs.
“Because frankly, all of these actions that are helpful for orcas and salmon are good for people too,” Roberts said.
The package also has the support of the Washington Environmental Council, which represents more than 20 statewide groups. They have listed orca recovery as a top priority for 2019.
“We know we need more salmon for everyone," Roberts said. "We need less toxic pollution. We need to decrease the risk of oil spills. So that will benefit everyone and it will benefit the orcas.”
Roberts says she’s concerned with the sheer volume of bills this session, policies that benefit the orcas could get lost.
"I'm pleasantly surprised that these four important bills are still alive in the Legislature. And I would say that the time to act is now," said Jacques White, executive director of the salmon nonprofit Long Live the Kings and a member of the orca recovery task force.
White says it's important to keep the momentum going.
"And if the public is interested in killer whale recovery, let your legislator know that these are important to pass, as a group," White said.
Along with passing the policies, the task force members say fully funding their efforts must be a priority. And White says salmon recovery work needs funding in addition to the policy in this package, which would protect more habitat by giving the state Department of Fish and Wildlife new authority to enforce shoreline regulations. He says most habitat restoration work goes through the budget of a state board that Inslee funded at $35 million, but both the House and the Senate have allocated $25 million in their budgets.
“So if we could just meet the governor’s number, that would be a significant improvement,” White said.
He also said work to begin preparing communities in Eastern Washington for the possibility of dam removal on the lower Snake River is funded in the state Senate’s budget, but at this point it is not in the House budget. Many scientists and environmental groups believe removing the lower four dams would provide critical habitat for endangered Chinook salmon, which is the primary food source for endangered Southern Resident orca whales.
The Puget Sound population of the iconic whales is now at just 75, a 35-year low. Three orcas died in 2018.