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Task force’s final word on saving the southern resident orcas

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To view the draft report, click here. To comment on the draft report, click here

SEATTLE -- For the last time, the governor’s orca task force came together Monday to save the southern residents from extinction.

As they craft what will become their final word on the matter, there’s still a lot of work left to do.

It's been about 18 months since dozens of task force members sat in the same room for the first time. It all started as an executive order: A quest by Gov. Jay Inslee to keep these dying southern resident orcas from becoming the last generation.

They were spurred on by the loss of Tahlequah’s calf months later and her 17-day tour of grief. That’s when this group took on a new sense of urgency.

The group's Year One report still serves as a blueprint for some of what’s needed to save the orca, since many of their 36 recommendations -- and much of the funding needs -- are still in the beginning stages.

Still, it’s a leap ahead from where they stood just 18 months prior. In the last legislative session, the task force's recommendations resulted in five new laws and hundreds of millions of dollars in funding toward orca recovery.

"The whales are better off today in terms of the seeds we have planted to protect them," said Donna Sandstrom of The Whale Trail.

"All of those recommendations from Year One, they still stand and we do recognize that they’re going to need more and more effort to make them happen," said Mindy Roberts of Washington Environmental Council. "I’m planning on working on those in 2020, in 2021 and as long as we have to until orca health turns around."

On Monday, task force members voted on recommendations that will go into the final report to the governor. The public will get to comment on a draft of that report from October 14 through October 25.

In it, members are holding strong to the original recommendations that have yet to be fulfilled, including  a dramatic need for increased funding for habitat restoration and contaminant cleanups and increased habitat protections.

But in broad strokes, it’ll also talk about how climate change and population growth will hurt the orcas if actions aren’t taken now to curb its effects, including advocating for ecological net gain, a concept of increasing habitat while a region develops.

"We haven’t had enough time to really develop those policies to be more specific, so I think this gives a good framework and I think the idea of following up and continuing the work to make sure it gets done is very important," said Jamie Stephens, a San Juan County councilmember.

Members also plans to recommend the governor continue the work with another group once the task force sunsets.

"Ultimately, that’ll be up to the governor, but for sure what’s rock solid is we recommend that this work not stop here, that a body or an agency be charged with implementing the recommendations we’ve worked so hard at," Sandstrom said.

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