Another chance to comment on actions to save Southern Resident orcas

We’re calling on all of you once again to Take Action to help save the Southern Resident orcas!  The Washington State Task Force released an updated draft of recommended actions last week, allowing just 5 days for public comment.

As several Task Force members have remarked, the time to save the Southern Residents was 20 years ago – but the next best time is now.  The orcas need bold actions to be implemented right away to ensure their immediate survival and ongoing recovery.  We greatly appreciate the hard work of the Task Force over the past six months to create the current suite of ambitious actions, and encourage the final recommendations to be even bolder by including clarifying and more definitive language, concrete timelines, and measures for oversight and adaptive management to ensure actions occur on schedule and have tangible benefits to orcas, salmon, forage fish, and our shared habitat.

I have been diligently attending Task Force and working group meetings since the process began in May, have reviewed all the material released by the Task Force, and compiled and summarized information and research to send to Task Force members to help inform their decisions.  You have been with me the whole time.  The fight to protect Southern Resident orcas is a community effort, and just as I could not have been involved without your support, the Task Force cannot make their final recommendations without our input.  We are asking you to weigh in once more on the actions proposed by the Task Force.

  • With one minute: SIGN THIS PETITION from our colleagues at the Washington Environmental Council.
 
  • With five minutes: submit a PERSONALIZED COMMENT to the Task Force. Suggested text is below, and please keep in mind that individual voices truly do matter here.  Tell the Task Force why you care about Southern Resident orcas and what you think should happen to ensure their survival.

Thank you for the hard work, dedication, and focus of the Task Force in developing recommendations for the survival and recovery of the Southern Resident orcas.  I urge everyone to come together and make decisions that may be difficult, but can truly benefit the endangered Southern Residents. The final set of recommendations for Year 1 actions must be comprehensive and address all threats to the orcas’ survival – a lack of salmon, toxic pollution, and noise and disturbance.  The actions should not be reduced to a short list that are more politically convenient, they must be bold and audacious, and represent a balance of actions throughout the state.  Habitat protection and restoration must be the primary way to ensure Chinook recovery to support Southern Resident orcas.  This should include addressing barriers to fish passage (including the Lower Snake River dams), protecting and restoring Chinook and forage fish habitat, fully funding restoration projects, and enforcing and strengthening habitat protection and recovery regulations.  Impacts from vessel noise and harassment must be addressed, along with a reduction in toxic contamination that affects orcas and their prey.  Many of the proposed actions can occur under existing programs or authorities, but need the resources and funding to restore habitat and reduce contaminants.  It is the responsibility of the Task Force to address all threats impacting the Southern Resident orcas, and to ensure that their recommendations prioritize the needs of the orcas first and foremost.

  • With 25-30 minutes: DIVE INTO THE SURVEY WITH US!  This is a big commitment, but a unique opportunity to directly address recommended actions.  We put together our guide on the survey (see below) to help you navigate the process, and our colleagues at Orca Network, Whale Scout, Orca Behavior Institute, and the Salish Sea Ecosystem Advocates updated their simplified guide with additional information on each proposed action.

Even though the Task Force will wrap up its efforts for Year 1 and deliver its recommendations to Washington Governor Inslee on November 16th, this work is far from over.  The Task Force will continue in 2019 to review, modify, and add additional actions for Southern Resident orca and salmon recovery.  And as the Washington legislative session begins in 2019, we will be mobilizing support and resources to ensure the legislature passes the necessary measures to support, fund, and enact the recommendations from the Task Force.  So please make your voice heard now, and get ready to gear up and hit the ground again in 2019!

The world watched this summer as tragedy unfolded in the Southern Resident orca population, but we must remember that the events of 2018 are not isolated incidents.  Other Southern Resident mothers have also lost calves and mourned their deaths, and in the summers of 2016 and 2017 we watched as two other juvenile orcas who were part of the “baby boom” of hope, Dipper (J54) and Sonic (J52), slowly faded away. 

We are losing these orcas, our neighbors in the Salish Sea and icons of our region, and without swift and bold action, we will bear witness to their extinction.  Saving the Southern Residents will require participation and commitment to change from all stakeholders and the engaged and concerned people of the Pacific Northwest and from all over the world.  Change can be hard, but it is necessary to save the Southern Residents, the salmon they rely on, and our shared ecosystem.  We must not be afraid to take the steps necessary to ensure their survival.

Make your voice heard today!  The deadline for comments is midnight tonight – October 29, 2018.

Southern Resident orca
young Southern Resident orca L121 (Windsong) chases a salmon

WDC’s advice on the survey:

Strongly support:

Recommendations 1: Significantly increase investment in restoration and acquisition of habitat in areas where Chinook stocks most benefit Southern Resident orcas. *With change in language to include dams in the analysis of fish passage barriers.

Recommendation 2: Immediately fund acquisition and restoration of nearshore habitat to increase the abundance of forage fish for salmon sustenance. *With updated timeline to finalize new rules by June 2019.

Recommendation 3: Enforce laws that protect habitat.

Recommendation 4: Immediately strengthen protection of Chinook and forage fish habitat through legislation that amends existing statutes, agency rulemaking, and/or agency policy. *Request that state agencies re-evaluate the current “no-net-loss” policy and plan for a transition to “ecological-net-gain” policy for salmon and forage fish habitat restoration and protection in urban and rural areas.

Recommendation 8: Increase spill to benefit Chinook for Southern Residents by adjusting Total Dissolved Gas allowances at the Snake and Columbia River dams.

Recommendation 9: Determine whether removal of Lower Snake River Dams would provide benefits to Southern Resident orcas commensurate with the associated costs, and implementation considerations. *The forum should be focused on developing an implementation plan and mitigation strategies in concurrence with the ongoing NEPA process to plan for potential removal of the four Lower Snake River dams.

Recommendation 11: Reduce Chinook bycatch in west coast commercial fisheries.

Recommendation 17: Establish a statewide “go-slow” bubble for small vessels and commercial whale watching vessels within half a nautical mile of orcas.

Recommendation 18: Establish a limited-entry whale-watching permit system for commercial whale-watching vessels and commercial kayak groups in the inland waters of Washington to increase acoustic refuge opportunities for the orcas.

Recommendation 19: Require an annual “Be Whale Wise” certification for all recreational boaters on the inland marine waters, and ensure that all boaters are educated on how to limit boating impacts to orcas.

Recommendation 22: Implement shipping noise-reduction initiatives and monitoring programs, coordinating with Canadian and US authorities.

Recommendation 23: Reduce noise from the Washington State ferries by accelerating the transition to quieter and more fuel-efficient vessels and implementing other strategies to reduce ferry noise when Southern Residents are present.

Recommendation 24: Reduce the threat of oil spills in Puget Sound to the survival of Southern Residents.

Recommendation 25: Coordinate with the Navy in 2019 to discuss reduction of noise and disturbance affecting Southern Resident orcas from military exercises and Navy aircraft.

Recommendation 27: Determine how permit applications in Washington state that could increase traffic and vessel impacts could be required to explicitly address potential impacts to orcas.

Recommendation 29: Draft recommendation 29: Accelerate the implementation of the ban on PCBs in state purchased products and make information available online for other purchasers.

Recommendation 30: Identify, prioritize and take action on chemicals that impact orcas and their prey.

Recommendation 31: Reduce stormwater threats and accelerate clean-up of toxics that are harmful to orcas.

Recommendation 32: Improve effectiveness, implementation and enforcement of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits to address direct threats to Southern Resident orcas and their prey.

Recommendation 33: Increase monitoring of toxics substances in marine waters; create and deploy adaptive management strategies to reduce threats to orcas and their prey.

Recommendation 34: Provide sustainable funding for implementation of all recommendations.

Support:

Recommendation 5: Develop incentives to encourage voluntary actions to protect habitat.

Recommendation 14: Reduce populations of non-native predatory fish species that prey upon or compete with Chinook.

Recommendation 15: Monitor forage fish populations to inform decisions on harvest and management actions that provide for sufficient feedstocks to support increased abundance of Chinook.

Recommendation 16: Support the Puget Sound zooplankton sampling program as a Chinook and forage fish management tool.

Recommendation 20: Increase enforcement capacity and fully enforce regulations on small vessels to provide protection to Southern Residents.

Recommendation 21: Discourage the use of echo sounders and underwater transducers within one kilometer of orcas.

Recommendation 26: Revise RCW 77.15.740 to increase the buffer to 400 yards behind the orcas.

Recommendation 35: Conduct research, science and monitoring to inform decision making, adaptive management and implementation of actions to recover Southern Residents.

Recommendation 36: Monitor progress of implementation and identify needed enhancements.

Neutral:

Recommendation 6: Increase hatchery production and programs to benefit Southern Resident orcas consistent with sustainable fisheries and stock management, available habitat, recovery plans, and the Endangered Species Act. Hatchery increases should be done in concert with increased habitat protection and restoration measures.

Recommendation 7: Prepare an implementation strategy to re-establish salmon runs above existing dams, increasing prey availability for Southern Resident orcas.

Recommendation 28: Establish a whale protection zone to reduce disturbance to foraging orcas.

Oppose:

Recommendation 10: Support full implementation and funding of the 2019–2028 Pacific Salmon Treaty. *The currently available details of the Treaty have no concrete benefits to Southern Resident orcas.

Strongly oppose:

Recommendation 12: Direct the appropriate agencies to work with tribes and NOAA to determine if pinniped predation is a limiting factor for Chinook in Puget Sound and along Washington’s outer coast and evaluate potential management actions.

Recommendation 13: Support authorization to more effectively manage pinniped predation of salmon in the Columbia River.

Our top five recommendations: 1, 3, 9, 17, 32