National organization invests in Skagit County project for orca recovery

November 15, 2018

The National Fish & Wildlife Foundation announced Wednesday $742,000 in grants for projects aimed at protecting and restoring the endangered Southern Resident orca population.

Those grants, which include $144,000 for a project in Skagit County, will leverage $1.8 million toward orca recovery when combined with matches from project sponsors.

Projects receiving grant funding include genetic research, habitat protection, salmon recovery and boater education.

The project in Skagit County will restore habitat for chinook salmon in Ovenell Slough south of Concrete. Salmon are the orcas’ primary source of food, according to the release.

Skagit County Public Works plans to replace a culvert under Cedar Grove Avenue with a bridge to improve fish passage between the Skagit River and the 1.5-acre slough, which is the type of habitat used by young chinook salmon on their way out to sea.

Orca recovery has been a focus of many efforts in Skagit County and the state for years.

Those efforts range from increasing marine enforcement to restoring habitat for the salmon, including by planting trees along local streams.

Despite those efforts, 13 years after gaining Endangered Species Act protection the Southern Resident orca population has reached a low of 74 whales.

The announcement of the grants through the foundation’s Killer Whale Research and Conservation program comes before the anticipated release of the state Southern Resident orca task force’s recommendations to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Inslee created the task force by executive order in March and expects recommendations from the group on Friday.

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