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Potential recommendations from orca task force include mandatory slow speed zones and killing sea lions

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SEATTLE -- Q13 News has obtained documents containing potential recommendations that could come out of Governor Jay Inslee's task force to save southern resident orcas, but some task force members are already saying they don't go far enough.

The official draft report does not come out for another week, but these documents give us insight into what actions the expert working groups prioritized.

Some have lauded efforts to restore habitat and estuaries for salmon, but the most negative feedback Q13 News reporter Simone Del Rosario has received involves the lack of action regarding dams.

The only potential recommendation to choose from that includes dam removal is to provide funding for projects that are already approved and widely supported.

The highly controversial four Lower Snake River dams are on the backburner because the task force has not yet had their webinar on the topic, and that webinar is happening after the draft report comes out.

Prey Potential Recommendations 13:

Provide funding to sponsors to implement dam removal for those dams that have broad support and high benefit for Chinook live Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam, Pilchuck on the Middle Pilchuck River and Nelson Dam on the Naches River, plus any others that are supported by regional salmon recovery organizations. (Example costs for these projects are: removal of Middle Fork Nooksack $10 million, removal of Pilchuck $1.6 million.)

Another concern is what appears to be a heavy reliance on hatchery production and killing seals and sea lions, which eat the fish orca need. Simone spoke to a member of the prey working group who says the approach is too short-term.

"I worry that by overly relying on these actions we continue to divert attention and money and resources away from the root cause of these problems which is widespread ecological disturbance through the damming of our rivers and the degradation of floodplain and habitat," Robb Krehbiel with Defenders of Wildlife said. "There's a lot of good things in this but I'm concerned it's not as bold as it needs to be to prevent the extinction of southern resident orcas."

Prey Potential Combination Recommendation 25:

The Task Force and the Governor should support efforts to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act to more effectively manage pinniped predation of salmonids in the Columbia River.

There has been a lot of effort and hours that have gone into these recommendations. There are well over 100, but some of the recommendations Simone highlighted include mandatory slow speed zones for boats around whales; spilling over hydro dams, a controversial action that has been litigated in court for years; and dramatically reducing whale watching vessels by using a limited entry permit system.

Potential Vessel Recommendations 1:

In the 2019 Legislation Session, the State Legislature and Governor should update RCW 77.15.740 to establish a statewide "Slow -- No white-water wake" bubble for small vessels (<65ft) and commercial whale watching vessels within sight of orcas (defined as extending .5 nautical mile of about 1km).

Prey Potential Recommendation 15:

Recommend that the Governor request that the Department of Ecology move to immediately adjust Total Dissolved Fas allowance to 125%, as measured at tail races on the Snake and Columbia Rivers.

Potential Vessel Recommendation 3:

By May 2019, the Legislature and Governor should establish a Salish Sea limited-entry whale watching permit system, to be managed by the Department of Fish Wildlife, that dramiatically reduces the number of commercial whale watching vessels and commercial kayak groups around the souther resident orca on a given day.

Center for Whale Research's Ken Balcomb told Q13 news he is extremely disappointed with what he has seen so far.

"I have to really decide whether or not this task force is for me or not. It doesn't seem to be for the whales so, therefore, I think it's not for me," Balcomb said.

These recommendations and dozens more will be debated and hopefully narrowed down by task force members.

"We're a task force making recommendations and we're going to do the very best strongest recommendations that we can but we need to take the sorrow and the frustration and the anger people have expressed around the plight of these whales and put their voices to their policymakers," task force co-chair Stephanie Solien said.

The task force has about a week to review all of these potential recommendations. The public will be able to weigh in on the draft report on September 24.