We All Want Thriving Salmon and Orca – Our Plan to Help Starts at (Their) Home

As the Puget Sound resident orca population continues to dwindle, reaching a 30-year low, we have a ray of hope.

Or three – a trio of female orcas are pregnant right now, researchers announced recently.

But we haven’t seen a juvenile orca survive in three years in Puget Sound waters, and the populations of salmon the iconic sea mammals feed on have continued to decline in quantity, too.

Orca populations in Puget Sound are at a 30-year low. (Photo by Candice Emmons, NOAA Fisheries)
Orca populations in Puget Sound are at a 30-year low. (Photo by Candice Emmons, NOAA Fisheries)

That’s why Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources today announced a $90 million environmental funding request to conserve critical aquatic habitat, improve water quality, and grow the trees and forests to ensure clean, cool waters necessary for salmon to survive.

“The existential struggle of many of Washington’s native species requires us to make immediate and significant investments in our landscapes,” Franz said. “This funding package allows DNR to take the next steps needed to protect and restore salmon habitat and water quality, helping secure a future for our orcas, our salmon, our way of life.”

According to the Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force, the decline in orca and salmon populations is primarily driven by vessel traffic and noise, toxic contaminants in the water, poor habitat, and declining prey.

The funding package is designed to support the work of the task force and other entities by protecting and repairing habitat damaged by toxins, development and barriers to fish passage. By repairing salmon habitat, populations of salmon have more places to rebound, providing food for orcas and sufficient salmon to support tribal treaty fishing obligations, while also reopening closed commercial and recreational fishing opportunities.

Several of the actions recommended by the state’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force would be fully funded and implemented, as well as proposals from the Puget Sound Partnership and the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

Here are a handful of different ways this proposal would improve salmon and orca habitat:

A worker segments a polluting piling removed from Washington's waters so that it can be removed from the beach. (DNR photo)
A worker segments a polluting piling removed from Washington’s waters so that it can be removed from the beach. (DNR photo)
  • $7 million from the state operating budget would provide permanent funding to protect the aquatic food web by removing legacy toxins, restoring eelgrass beds, and removing marine debris.
  • $1.5 million would help DNR’s scientists assess the impact of ocean acidification in Washington, advancing research critical to the continued viability of oyster harvesting and other aquaculture.
  • $2.1 million would enhance urban forestry, keeping more stormwater runoff – the top pollutant of Washington’s waters – in the ground and out of salmon and orca habitat.
  • $8 million would fund Puget SoundCorps workers performing critical salmon habitat restoration.
  • $5 million would pay to remove several large derelict boats that are dangers to both fish habitat and public safety.
  • $1.5 million would allow DNR to perform conservation work on its natural lands, preserving threatened environments while providing natural resilience to climate change.
  • $1.6 million would fund experts to help small private landowners protect salmon habitat in their lands, and $23 million would be set aside to help landowners maintain protective buffers around streams and unstable slopes.
  • $31 million would go toward removing barriers to fish passage, including the removal or replacement of undersized culverts, on both state and private lands.
  • $1.4 million would go toward glacial landslide research, so DNR can understand and limit slides into streams and rivers.
  • $820,000 would be used to ensure that roads built for forest practices purposes are safe and do not add sediment to salmon-bearing streams.

How you can help

You can help protect the Puget Sound ecosystem at home, too.

Be mindful of when you use fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides, and try using non-chemical alternatives, like compost or pest-deterring plants. Make sure your car, truck or SUV doesn’t have any leaks, and recycle used oil whenever possible. Use commercial car washes or wash your car on your lawn or in other areas where the water can be absorbed, so it doesn’t go into storm drains. And if you have a septic tank at your property, make sure to service it regularly so it does not fail and release sewage into the environment. (Find a full collection of water-friendly tips at the state Department of Ecology’s website.)