Washington State Budget Makes Puget Sound Orcas a Priority
Governor Jay Inslee’s recently released proposed budget for Washington state includes $1.1 billion of funding for efforts to rescue the Southern Resident orca population, now down to just 74 whales.
Earlier this year, the governor convened a task force with members from public, private, and nonprofit organizations. "Some [Southern Resident Orca Task Force] members are calling the budget (which draws from the state’s transportation, capital and operating budgets) ‘unprecedented’ in terms of funding for not just orca and salmon recovery, but also for programs that protect the entire Puget Sound ecosystem," reports Hannah Weinberger.
The task force put together a report pointing to the most important actions needed to save the orcas, and members say that the governor’s budget hits on all these items. The greatest concern is helping the starving whales by increasing the number of salmon and the whales’ access to them. "Boosting chinook salmon — the Southern Residents’ preferred food — will require reversing the effects of habitat loss, hydropower and overfishing," says Weinberger.
In addition, the budget calls for a limit on vessel traffic in the area, including a three-year ban on Southern Resident whale watching, and removal of toxic chemicals in the orcas’ habitat.
Weinberger says that whale-watching operators are on board with the plan. More contentious is the possibility of breaching or removing dams on the Lower Snake River that make salmon migration difficult. The task force stressed the importance of involving communities that would be affected by dam removals in any future planning activities.