Year 1 recommendations focused on…
- The immediate actions we can take that will have an impact as soon as they’re implemented, or
- Actions we need to get a head start on now.
Year 2 is more focused on the long-term health of orcas in the face of climate change and population growth.
My take-aways from the meeting
- Orca Health is declining: 73 Southern resident orcas remain after the presumed deaths of three that have gone missing. The orca pods have been spotted predominantly in Canadian waters, which is unusual for the summer when they are typically found foraging west of San Juan Island.
- There has been miscommunication on the Lower Snake River Dams stakeholder forum: Some Task Force members and members of the public expressed concern with the Lower Snake River Dam Stakeholder process set up by the Governor. They hoped for a forum or task force; however, the Governor has hired a team of consultants to interview key community stakeholders to create a report that will help inform the state’s position on the federal court-ordered Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the dams.
- Tribes appear frustrated with the Orca Task Force process: While they appreciate being at the table with other stakeholders, they asked the Governor last year for a formal government-to-government consultation process that runs parallel to the work of the Task Force.
- We need a Net-gain of habitat policy in the face of ineffective “no net loss” policies: The no-net-loss mandate for ecosystem functions in the Growth Management Act, Shoreline Management Act, and other laws is not working to protect habitat for Chinook salmon and other species important for orcas. It is also not working to reduce pollution. Instead, a policy of net-gain is needed in the face of climate change and population growth.
- We have to limit nutrients entering the Salish Sea: Excessive nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen can create low levels of dissolved oxygen, or dead zones, in Puget Sound. This can negatively impact the food web for orcas and will only be exacerbated by population growth and climate change. Ecology is currently looking at addressing excessive nutrient discharges from wastewater treatment plants – the largest contributors to nutrients in Puget Sound – by developing a Puget Sound Nutrients General Permit. A comment period is currently open on this idea.
- We need to consider climate change impacts to vital habitat for the salmon food chain: In addition to finding ways to cut carbon and methane emissions, we need to consider how climate change impacts such as sea level rise and storm surges will disrupt and eliminate forage fish habitat. They need shorelines. Shorelines have one of two options – disappear with seawalls and bulkheads protecting property or they will migrate landward because of erosion. We will need strategies to identify the most appropriate areas for shorelines to migrate. Also, recommendations should consider how to make sure we have enough water in streams in the summer and fall for salmon spawning and reduce high, fast flows in the winter that can kill eggs and juvenile salmon.
- The Task Force’s work will most likely continue into the future: Most members appear to support a hybrid approach for how Washington state continues to focus on orca recovery. This looks like a continuation of the Task Force; meeting once or twice per year to receive updates on implementation progress and adaptively manage those recommendations. This is different than going back to what we were doing before (disjointed) and creating a brand new governing body. The hybrid approach is cheaper than the latter and more effective than going back to the status quo.
The final meeting of the Orca Task Force is on October 7th. At this meeting, the Task Force will provide feedback on the draft Year 2 Recommendations and receive a briefing on recommendations related to our region’s population growth. Stay tuned for the draft recommendations report and an opportunity to weigh in with comments! We’ll have suggestions to help guide you through the comment period to make the process as simple and quick as possible. Make sure you’re opted in to our E-newsletters to have ways to take action delivered to you!
You can view the entirety of the Task Force meeting:
By Karlee Deatherage, Clean Water Policy Analyst | firstname.lastname@example.org