Members have been meeting since May and are getting ready to finalize their report. But they’re still accepting comments until midnight Monday, and they want people to get involved.
“The public is going to be really the force behind these recommendations being successful,” says task force co-chair Stephanie Solien. “We really need them to not only know what’s in them – give us their feedback – but (also) let their elected officials know that this is important."
She says the task force wants state legislators to prioritize the recommendations in the next session in order to ensure action is taken on behalf of the region’s iconic endangered killer whales.
Puget Sound’s southern resident orca population fell to just 74 whales after the deaths of three this summer. Three working groups in the task force have been looking at how to clean up their habitat, provide more chinook salmon for them to eat and keep vessel traffic from disturbing them.
Among the recommendations are increasing hatchery production of chinook, implementing a limited entry permitting system for whale watching boats, and increasing the spill rate of water over the Snake and Columbia River dams.
The first draft of recommendations came out a month ago and garnered more than 3,000 comments. The new draft has whittled the list of recommendations down from about 50 and tightened their focus.
Solien says she expects many of them to get unanimous support at their next meeting. Others are still more contentious. One of those is a proposal for a no-go zone west of San Juan Island where orcas could forage undisturbed. Solien says on this one they still need more people at the table.
“Folks who are very much involved, both for their livelihoods, but also who care about the orca noise and vessel interference on their ability to find fish,” Solien said.
“I think people want to do the right thing. It’s going to be all in the details,” as to whether this recommendation stays on their list or is postponed till next year, she said.
Another issue that has been controversial is whether breaching dams on the Lower Snake River would boost Chinook populations enough to justify the costs.
The task force holds its next meeting on Election Day in Puyallup. Work on both of these items will take place that day. The first-year report with final recommendations is due to the governor on Nov. 16.