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Orca task force gives recommendations to Gov. Inslee

November 18, 2018

The state’s Southern Resident orca task force on Friday released its final recommendations for protecting and restoring the region’s endangered whales.

The task force submitted the recommendations in a report to Gov. Jay Inslee, who formed the 40-member committee by executive order earlier this year.

The report focuses on 36 recommendations to help prevent the orcas from going extinct, according to a news release from the Puget Sound Partnership, the state agency that is coordinating the task force.

“Now we urge the public and the Legislature to support the governor in turning recommendations into action,” Puget Sound Partnership Director Sheida Sahandy said in the release.

The Southern Resident orcas that frequent the Salish Sea were listed as endangered in 2005 and reached a low of 74 whales this fall.

The recommendations focus on increasing the chinook salmon population — the orcas’ main source of food — reducing vessel noise that disturbs the whales and reducing pollution.

The recommendations range from changes to dams that impact salmon to upgrades to state ferries to make them quieter.

Where the Skagit River meets Skagit Bay is highlighted as an area where estuary restoration could be prioritized to increase the number of chinook salmon, according to the report.

It’s unclear which other recommendations could involve habitat, hatcheries or other factors in Skagit County.

Inslee said he will select some recommendations to pass on to the Legislature for consideration in the state budget in 2019.

The nonprofit Washington Environmental Council said it is critical to the whales that the Legislature take action.

“We need to act the first chance we get to implement and fund clean water and healthy habitat,” the council’s Mindy Roberts, who is a member of the task force, said in a news release. “Orcas can’t wait past this coming biennial budget or legislative session.”

One recommendation calls for a three- to five-year halt of whale watching for Southern Resident orcas.

The Pacific Whale Watch Association said in a news release that while it supports the majority of the task force recommendations, it is opposed to that one.

“The association feels strongly that (the idea of) restricting viewing on the Southern Residents was not properly vetted and the implementation will lead to unintended consequences,” the release states.

Others said the recommendations don’t go far enough.

“The final set of recommendations released today are good and will move the state in the right direction, but they are not enough to prevent the extinction of our orcas,” Robb Krehbiel, Northwest representative of Defenders of Wildlife, said in a news release.

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