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Gov. Inslee proposes $1.1 billion budget to aid Puget Sound orcas

An endangered female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound west of Seattle, Wash. Jan. 18, 2014. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced his proposals for the state’s 2019-21 budget Thursday, and among the list of priorities is a $1.1 billion investment in the region’s orca population.

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“We share so much with the orcas, we share about the same body temperature, we share about the same heart beat rate, we share close familial social interactions and bonds, and we share the need to defeat environmental degradation,” Inslee said. “When we save the orcas from toxins, when we save the orcas from climate change, when we save them from pollution — we save ourselves.”

The governor’s proposal targets the lack of prey — Chinook salmon — that orcas rely on. It also addresses pollutants, vessel traffic, and the potential of breaching the lower four dams on the Snake River. The proposal follows up on task force recommendations released earlier this year which Inslee says he is embracing. It also follows the effort to save one ailing orca and the deaths of newborn calves over the past year that garnered many headlines.

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The governor’s budget proposal states:

Besides helping orcas, these investments will have significant benefits for the region’s entire ecosystem and complement efforts to recover salmon, tackle climate change, improve water quality and more. These investments are based on actions most likely to yield strong benefits for Southern Residents orcas over the short term while setting up a sustainable, data-driven path for longer-term efforts.

Proposed funding includes:

  • $363 million for salmon recovery.
  • $296 million for the Washington State Department of Transportation to correct fish passage barriers.
  • $6.2 million for greater enforcement with habitat protection laws.
  • $75.7 million for the state’s hatchery system.
  • $4.7 million to collect pinniped (sea lion) population information and to develop management actions.
  • $524,000 to examine issues related to increasing Chinook population by reestablishing salmon runs above Chief Joseph Dam on the Columbia River.
  • $117 million to covert two of the state’s ferries (Jumbo Mark II models) to hybrid-electric ferries (Inslee expects this to save the state $7 million in annual fuel costs).

Breaching the lower four Snake River dams is also mentioned in the proposal, which is part of a current federal process. Inslee wants to put $750,000 toward a task force to study the impacts and mitigation costs of such an action.

Gov Inslee office

Also included in the budget are proposed actions:

  • A temporary three-year ban on all whale watching of Southern Resident orca, to be reviewed afterward to assess its effectiveness. Whale watching for other whale species will continue.
  • $1.1 million for the Department of Fish and Wildlife to enforce the whale watching suspension.
  • Increasing the distance between marine vessels and orcas to 400 yards, also a “go slow” zone within half a mile of orcas.
  • Increased funding for toxic cleanups, including $3 million for local control programs; $4.2 million to speed up cleanups; $3.5 million to remove creosote structures; $57.8 million to clean up toxic sites; $51 million to reduce stormwater, $32 million to address contaminants from wastewater systems.
  • Millions in funding for scientific support of the orca recovery effort.

Washington state

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