Today, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced a nearly $90 million package of aquatic habitat protections and improvements to be carried out by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Puget Sound’s southern resident orcas have declined to a 30-year low of just 74. According to Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, the decline in orca populations is primarily driven by vessel traffic and noise, toxic contaminants in the water, poor nearshore habitat, and declining prey, particularly Chinook salmon.
Commissioner Franz’s requested funding package will support the work of the task force by restoring development-damaged aquatic lands and access to rivers cut off by barriers to fish passage.
“We haven’t had a baby orca survive in three years. Our salmon runs continue to decline. The struggle of many of Washington’s native species requires us to make immediate and significant investments in restoring our waterways and landscapes,” said Commissioner Franz. “This funding package will allow DNR to protect and restore salmon habitat and water quality, helping secure a future for our orcas, our salmon, and our way of life.”
Commissioner Franz submitted her $90 million funding request ($22 million in operating budget requests, $68 million in one-time capital budget projects) last month, in advance of the 2019 legislative session.
This package funds direct implementation of several actions recommended by the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task to boost orca habitat, as well as action items identified by the Puget Sound Partnership and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
The proposal supports aquatic and salmon habitat by:
Committing to restoring aquatic environments:$7 million from the state operating budget to provide permanent funding to protect the aquatic food web by removing legacy toxics, restoring eelgrass beds, and removing marine debris.