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Money, time in short supply to save southern resident orcas

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LACEY, Wash. -- Time and money are in short supply in the race to save the region's endangered southern resident orcas.

One year ago this month, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order to form a 2-year orca task force.

Monday's meeting in Lacey kicked off the second year, but the battle against extinction is just beginning.

In what is now a familiar sight outside orca task force meetings, demonstrators donned orca suits outside the Lacey Community Center Monday morning, greeting task force members as they arrived.

"We’re trying to send a message that we really need to get some nutrition really fast and what’s going on in here is a little too slow," Ed Chadd explained.

Inside, task force members faced the reality of how far they have come in the past year and how far they still have to go.

The biggest battle they face is funding.

"If [Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife] is not adequately funded, it will undermine all the other things that we are trying to get done in this process," argued Phil Anderson, a task force member representing the Pacific Salmon Council.

The task force members proposed lofty goals last year, and the governor asked for $1.1 billion to achieve them.

With so many additional priorities, from mental health to education to homelessness, the state does not have enough funds to go around.

"That is going to require new revenue, period," Inslee's senior policy adviser J.T. Austin stated.

Since the governor's request for a blockbuster orca recovery budget, task force member Brad Smith said he's heard some 'alarming' feedback.

"When we meet in a group like this, everybody has a common goal to help the orcas, and as the governor said, 'Extinction is not an option,'" Smith said. "But as the budget comes out and people see the minds of some people, extinction is an option."

It is, of course, not considered an option for the people serving on the task force as they turn their attention to Year 2 and what's next.

Their first priority is pushing the governor's three orca recovery bills into law by the end of the legislative session.

"They are all alive, which surprises some," Austin said.

At their next meeting in June, the task force will begin dealing with even more difficult endeavors, like tackling climate change long term.

Some members say the 2-year task force is too short to accomplish real recovery.

"If we haven’t overcome salmon recovery in 30-plus years, there’s no way we’re going to be able to recover the orcas and permanently have program funding in place," said Rep. Debra Lekanoff, D-Bow.

But for now, two years is what the task force has to make waves in the name of southern resident orca recovery.

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