Local tree planting part of regional orca event

November 9, 2018

An orca surfaces near San Juan Island. Over the years, the region's endangered Southern Resident orca population has decreased along with the number of chinook salmon.

Whether the endangered Southern Resident orcas will recover or are headed for extinction is a question being asked by many as the population of iconic whales shrinks.

A group of 10 conservation districts in the Puget Sound region are holding a series of events Saturday to urge community members to help the whales.

“To respond to the crisis and to give people a way to do something, 10 Puget Sound conservation districts will be hosting events around the region ... to celebrate, honor, and restore our critically endangered Southern Resident (orcas),” Allan Warren of the Pierce Conservation District said in a news release.

The Skagit Conservation District will host a tree planting at Trumpeter Creek in northeast Mount Vernon as part of the effort.

The plan is for volunteers to plant 150 trees along the creek, which is home to salmon. The fish are a primary food source for the orcas.

“This project gives people an opportunity to help the orca by improving conditions for the salmon they eat,” Skagit Conservation District Manager Bill Blake said.

He said the trees will over time provide shade to keep the water in the stream cool and provide woody debris to form habitat for the fish.

Improving habitat for salmon will increase the number of the fish available to the orcas throughout the Salish Sea and along areas of the West Coast.

A primary factor in the orcas’ plight is a diminishing number of salmon, according to NOAA Fisheries.

For that reason, increasing the region’s salmon populations has been a major discussion for the state’s orca recovery task force.

Recommendations from the task force for what the state should do to help save the orcas are due to Gov. Jay Inslee on Nov. 16.

Warren said the events Saturday — collectively called Puget Sound Orca Recovery Day — are about showing that the community has a role to play in saving the whales.

“We must act now if we’re going to save the most iconic species of the Pacific Northwest and it will take people from across the region joining in to do so,” the news release states.

During the months the task force has been meeting, the Southern Resident orcas that frequent Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea have had another two whales die, bringing the population to 74 whales.

From improving salmon habitat to planting rain gardens, the events will work to address critical issues the orcas face: not enough salmon to eat and too much pollution making its way into the water.

The work at Trumpeter Creek will build off previous restoration work led by the Skagit Land Trust.

Trumpeter Creek connects with Nookachamps Creek, which flows into Barney Lake and eventually into the Skagit River. The creek was restored to a natural flow last year, freeing it from a straightened path that was made for it in the early 1900s.

According to the website created for the region’s conservation districts, betterground.org, as more community members take part in improving salmon habitat and reducing pollution, the orcas will benefit.

For more information about ways to help the orcas, visit betterground.org/about/puget-sound-orca-recovery-day/actions-you-can-take.

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