It’s common knowledge that our Southern Resident killer whale (orca) population (74 whales as of December) is endangered and in dire need of assistance. In response, Governor Jay Inslee has recently proposed a $1.1 billion initiative to save the whales. Inslee explained the urgency of the situation in an interview to the Seattle Times, “There are a lot of things in life you can put off for a decade. This is not one of them… This is a one-time shot.”
Inslee hopes to fund unprecedented and widespread efforts to help recover these endangered Southern Resident orcas, and obtaining such a large amount of cash is only possible by tax increases.
His initiative includes reviving Columbia River salmon runs and creating spill programs for the Columbia and Lower Snake River dams, establishing a new panel to evaluate Lower Snake River Dam’s bypasses, instating a three-year moratorium on commercial whale watching of southern resident whales, and more.
His proposal includes almost $363 million for salmon recovery, culvert removal, water-quality, and water-supply projects statewide. He hopes to give the Washington Department of Transportation $296 million for culverts requiring repairs; $12 million to increase Chinook hatchery production; and $750,000 dedicated to evaluating the socioeconomic costs and benefits of breaching the Lower Snake River dams to increase the number of Chinook reaching the orcas.
However, Congress holds the authority when it comes to breaching these federal dams, and according to Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Dan Newhouse, “Eastern Washington communities… depend on the many benefits [these dams] provide, breaching them is out of the question.”
A proposal such as this is unprecedented, and not everyone is as keen on the idea as Inslee, but he’s aware of the sacrifices Washington residents must make and the support required to achieve this billion-dollar initiative, “and that’s exactly what saving the killer whales that frequent Puget Sound will take.” He continues, “Everybody is involved in this mission and everyone has to be for it to succeed.”