Washington State Fights for Salmon and Whales

L95 Breach
L95 Breach on Oct. 24, 2015
Credit: Center for Whale Research, Photos taken under Federal Permits NMFS 15569 / DFO SARA 388

The Governor of Washington State stepped up his leadership today in the race to save our Southern Resident killer whales. To quote Bon Jovi, these beloved whales are livin’ on a prayer. Well, a prayer and a few last fish.

There are only 76 Southern Resident killer whales left. That’s about the number of kids that fit in just one city school bus. That’s it. That’s all. If we lose them, we lose them forever.

What our whales need is salmon. The researchers and locals--who know each of these whales by the shape of the white saddle on their back--also know that the Southern Residents are starving to death. The whales are visibly skinny. We humans have decimated the Pacific Northwest’s salmon runs, and the Southern Residents depend on salmon for their survival.

Governor Jay Inslee sent a letter today expressing his deep concerns with HR 3144. There is so much bad legislation in Washington, D.C. these days that it’s hard to keep track, but HR 3144 is the bill aimed at reversing a court order issued by Federal Judge Michael Simon.

Perhaps this legislation smells fishy because it's an attempt to run around a federal court's order. Or perhaps it's because it could kill a lot of fish.

Judge Simon ordered the Army Corps of Engineers, Bonneville Power Administration, and the Bureau of Reclamation to work together to increase "spill" (the water that helps salmon pass over the Columbia and Snake River dams), and he ordered a public National Environmental Policy Act review process to look for new alternatives to manage the Columbia and Snake River hydrosystem to increase the survival of salmon. In Governor Inslee’s words, this process would “provide valuable information on a range of potential future dam operations and salmon management strategies.” To stop the plans for increased spill and halt the NEPA process would, Inslee states, “not only hurt salmon but also the recreational and commercial fisheries, tribes, and other species (such as Puget Sound’s southern resident killer whales) that benefit from healthy salmon runs.”

Credit: Center for Whale Research, Photos taken under Federal Permits NMFS 15569 / DFO SARA 388

I live in Oregon, not far from the banks of the Columbia River and just across the river from Washington State. I live on land that historically was Wasco and Yakama territory. Around here, the salmon are in the trees. No other species connects the ocean, the whales, the rivers, the bears, the trees, the people as powerfully as the salmon. Without salmon, we don’t only lose a magnificent family of killer whales. We lose the glue that binds a whole ecosystem of people, forest, and wildlife together—we lose our community.

Thank you for your leadership, Governor Inslee.