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State agency seeks $90 million for salmon, orca recovery

November 20, 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.

The state Department of Natural Resources is asking the state Legislature for $90 million in the 2019-2021 biennium for salmon and orca recovery.

The agency announced the funding request Monday. The announcement comes days after the state orca recovery task force delivered a report to Gov. Jay Inslee detailing 36 recommendations for protecting and restoring both species.

The budget request from Natural Resources — including $22 million for operating costs and $68 million for one-time capital projects — includes several of the task force’s recommendations, according to a news release.

“We haven’t had a baby orca survive in three years. Our salmon runs continue to decline,” state Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz said in the release. “The struggle of many of Washington’s native species requires us to make immediate and significant investments in restoring our waterways and landscapes. This funding package will allow (Natural Resources) to protect and restore salmon habitat and water quality, helping secure a future for our orcas, our salmon, and our way of life.”

Inslee said upon receiving the task force recommendations last week that he is reviewing them and will select some to recommend to the Legislature for funding.

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 whales primarily eat chinook salmon, which in Puget Sound are listed as threatened.

According to the task force, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife and area whale experts, the primary challenges the orcas face are a declining source of salmon, vessel traffic noise and water pollution.

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