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Inslee proposes $1.1 billion plan to save southern resident orcas

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Jay Inslee has proposed a $1.1 billion plan and a "herculean effort" to save the dying southern resident orca population of the Pacific Northwest.

Inslee detailed the plan as part of his budget proposal Thursday. If approved, it would provide across-the-board increases in programs related to habitats, hatcheries, vessels and toxins, including an additional $12 million for salmon hatcheries and $6.2 million to boost enforcement of existing habitat protection laws. He is also proposing a 3-year ban on boats watching southern residents.

The southern resident killer whales travel in three pods from central California to Southeast Alaska, but they spend most of the year in the Salish Sea and along the coast of Washington and Vancouver Island.

This year, the southern resident population dropped to 74, the lowest count in 30 years. And when a southern resident birthed a calf that died shortly after it was born, the world watched as the grieving mother, known as J35, carried her dead baby for an unprecedented 17 days.

The governor's plan to save the unique and dying orcas comes after months of work from a task force and countless public meetings. The task force identified three key issues that are threatening the southern resident population:

  • A drastic decrease in Chinook salmon, their food supply
  • An increase in toxic pollutants in the waters where they live
  • An increase in vessel traffic and other noise pollution

(Sara Hysong-Shimazu)

Here's a breakdown of what the $1.1 billion plan would fund, if approved by the Legislature:

  • $363 million in the capital budget for salmon recovery, culvert removal, water quality and water supply projects designed to expand and improve salmon habitat across the state.
  • $296 million in the transportation budget to correct fish passage barriers on state highways and to meet the requirements of the U.S. District Court injunction requiring removal of fish passage barriers in most of Western Washington.
  • $6.2 million to boost enforcement and improve compliance with state and federal habitat protection laws.
  • $18 million to create incentives that encourage voluntary actions by landowners to protect habitat through the Washington State Conservation Commission.
  • $12 million in the operating budget to maximize existing capacity at Department of Fish and Wildlife hatcheries to produce an
    additional 18.6 million salmon smolts.
  • $75.7 million to make improvements to keep the hatchery system operating and meet water quality standards.
  • $750,000 to establish a stakeholder process for economic and social impacts — as well as mitigation costs — of the potential breaching or removal of the Lower Snake River dams.
  • $580,000 for increasing the spill of water over the dams.
  • $524,000 to examine issues related to increasing the Chinook population by reestablishing salmon runs above Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River.
  • $743,000 to improve monitoring and management of forage fish that provide the food source for Chinook.
  • $4.7 million develop management options for sea lions and seals in Puget Sound and to increase management actions in the Columbia River (Sea lions and seals impact the Chinook population).
  • $1.1 million for enforcement of vessel "go slow zones."
  • $117 million to begin converting two of the state’s Jumbo Mark II ferries from diesel to hybrid-electric and to begin constructing two new hybrid-electric ferries.
  • $751,000 to fund rule-making that will require tug escorts for barges transporting oil through high risk areas of Puget Sound.
  • $3 million to enhance local contaminant source control programs and $4.2 million to speed up the management of toxic cleanups.
  • $3.5 million to remove toxic creosote structures.
  • $57.8 million to clean up toxic sites.
  • $51 million to reduce and manage stormwater.
  • $32 million to address contaminants from wastewater systems and other nonpoint sources.
  • $1.4 million to monitor zooplankton and increase monitoring of pollutants in marine waters.
  • $3.5 million to conduct research and modeling.
  • $1.3 million is included in the operating budget for state agencies to support overall recovery efforts and consultant support for the second year of the Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force.
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