Skip to main content

You make this possible. Support our independent, nonprofit newsroom today.

Give Now

Gov. Inslee proposes comprehensive orca recovery package

caption: J50/Scarlet and her mother, J16/Slick, travel toward the west side of San Juan Island, Wash., on Aug. 18, 2018.
Enlarge Icon
J50/Scarlet and her mother, J16/Slick, travel toward the west side of San Juan Island, Wash., on Aug. 18, 2018.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing $1.1 billion in spending to help save the region’s endangered killer whales from swimming into what he called “the eternal silence” of extinction.

Inslee said he was embracing the recommendations his task force on orcas made in November after months of contentious meetings, heavily attended by orca lovers and others.

“This is an unprecedented effort,” Inslee said Thursday. “Washington state will not allow them to be pushed over the edge. Our fates are inextricably linked to the orca.”

The package of measures aims to address three of the biggest threats to the 74 remaining southern resident killer whales’ survival: a lack of food, a lack of clean water and a lack of peace and quiet.

The biggest-ticket items wouldn’t help orcas immediately but would boost populations of salmon, the endangered orcas’ main food:

  • $376 million to restore salmon habitat
  • $296 million to fix salmon-blocking culverts beneath state roads – a measure forced on the state by a tribal lawsuit, which the tribes won at the U.S. Supreme Court in June
  • $76 million to boost fish hatcheries to produce more salmon

Other proposals include:

• $64 million to build two new electric ferries – quieter than the state’s 23 diesel ferries

• $58 million to clean up toxic sites

• $53 million to convert the ferries Tacoma and Wenatchee to quieter, hybrid-electric engines

• $51 million to control polluted stormwater runoff

• $18 million in incentives for landowners to fish habitat on their properties

More details here.

Inslee adhered to his task force’s recommendations on three controversial items by calling for:

  • Suspending whale watching aimed at the endangered orcas for 3 years. Whale watch trips aimed at other whales could continue
  • Studying whether to breach four salmon-killing dams on the Snake River
  • Studying what to do about booming populations of salmon-munching seals and sea lions in Puget Sound and on the Washington coast

The Democratic governor unveiled a smaller, $268 million package of reforms on Monday aimed at a fourth threat to orcas and humans: climate change.

Overall, Inslee is proposing a $10 billion increase in state spending over the next two years to support education, health care and other priorities.

He is pushing for a new capital-gains tax and increased business and occupation tax on professional services to pay for the new and expanded programs in his budget.

The state legislature, controlled by Democrats, ultimately decides how the state government spends taxpayer money.

Why you can trust KUOW