Rally for 74, Orca Task Force Recommendations Released

An “Orca Formation of Mourning” rally for the remaining 74 Southern Resident orcas was held on the steps of the Temple of Justice Friday in Olympia. Indigenous speakers included Jesse Nightwalker, his mother Carrie Chapman Schuster Nightwalker, center, and his sister Della Ann James Cootes, all of the Palus (Palouse) Tribe.

Published November 19, 2018

OLYMPIA, Wash.  —  Washington State Governor Jay Inslee received a list of 36 recommendations in a report made by the Southern Resident Orca Task Force on Friday.

Inslee said he and his staff will review the recommendations and assess each one for the most impact in the short and long-term.

The report is available at:
https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/OrcaTaskForce_reportandrecommendations_11.16.18.pdf?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

One of the draft recommendations discusses the potential breaching or removal of the Lower Snake River Dams, but couched it in terms of not interfering with the current Columbia River Systems Operation National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

For some, that spells indefinite delays in the process.

The Southern Resident Killer Whales do not have time. The population has declined to 74, which is the lowest number of Southern Residents in more than three decades.

In response to the release of the report, an “Orca Formation of Mourning,” was held on the steps of the Temple of Justice Friday afternoon in Olympia.

The event was organized by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, a non-profit, marine conservation organization based in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Washington.

The group urged Governor Inslee to call Lt. General Todd Semonite of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and demand the immediate breach of the Lower Snake River dams.

An environmental impact statement already in place suggests breaching the dams and could be chosen by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Seventeen seconds of silence was also held in honor of Tehlequah and her calf. Tehlequah was the orca who birthed a calf and held onto it past its death for 17 days last August.

Indigenous speakers at the rally included Jesse Nightwalker, his mother Carrie Chapman Schuster Nightwalker, and his sister Della Ann James Cootes, all of the Palus (Palouse) Tribe. Jesse Nightwalker said that he attended every meeting of the task force.

The Nightwalkers also delivered a petition, “Recommendation 74,” to the Governor’s Office calling for the breaching of the Snake River dams so the Southern Resident Orcas may enjoy their right to life, which includes their food source, the Chinook from the Snake River Watershed.

Later, activists chanted, “Tell the Corps to Breach All Four,” in the hall outside the Governor’s Office, meaning all four dams. The Governor did not make an appearance.

“We seek to have the dam removal agreement of 50 years ago, made with two Senators, Jackson and Magnuson, who promised to remove the dams with a handshake agreement with my grandmother, Mary Jim Chapman. We seek to have the state honor the agreement indefinitely,” said Jesse Nightwalker.

“This is a formal request of the Palus (Palouse). The Dams on the Snake River have forever been the bane of our existence. Our family was taken away from our land after existing there in the last living encampment there, for over 14,000 years.

“As an endangered human species, our survival was tied to the provision of fishing Salmon, gathering, and hunting on the lands surrounding the Snake River. We were wrongfully removed by the government, like an orca put into a tank miles away from home, to make way for the Army Corps of Engineers to build the dams and were promised to be able to return after 50 years,” he wrote in his petition to Governor Inslee.

Jesse Nightwalker, right, and his sister Della Ann James Cootes, center, Palus (Palouse) Tribe, deliver a petition, “Recommendation 74,” to the Governor’s Office calling for the breaching of the Snake River dams. Michelle Seidelman, rally organizer with Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Portland, stands to their left.

Where there were once millions of wild Chinook, there are now less than 10,000, said Howard Garrett of the Orca Network.

“The orcas are starving. The monster dams are killing fish and orcas, and worst of all, there is no real need for four deadly dams on the lower Snake River,” he said.

Garrett and other speakers expressed impatience with the 45 member task force.

“They’ve been asked to come to a consensus about where to place priorities that are guaranteed to impact, sometimes severely, the vested interests and economic future of their own identity group,” he said.

But also said there were good things in the report, he said, including salmon and forage fish enhancement, toxin reduction and the need for funding and legislation action, and breaching of the dams, someday.

Southern Residents are classified as endangered in Washington and surrounding waters, under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and in Canada under the Species at Risk Act.

According to the task force, three primary factors threaten Southern Resident populations: prey availability, legacy and new toxic contaminants, and disturbance from noise and vessel traffic.

Recent studies indicate that reduced Chinook salmon runs undermine the potential for the Southern Resident population to successfully reproduce and recover.

Both Southern Residents and Chinook salmon populations are adversely impacted by warming oceans and ocean acidification due to climate change.

Presence of contaminants and accumulation of pollutants in Washington’s waters are also linked to the decline of Southern Residents. Key sources of contamination in stormwater runoff remain to be addressed and the potential for a catastrophic oil spill continues to threaten Southern Residents and the entire ecosystem of Puget Sound.

In addition, increased boat and ship traffic has caused greater underwater noise that interferes with Southern Resident critical feeding and communication.

Inslee Statement

In a statement released earlier in the day about the task force, Inslee said that the resulting process “brought together diverse voices from a variety of perspectives, yet all had the same goal – to protect and recover these iconic and endangered creatures.”

“These recommendations include the weight of extensive public engagement and feedback. We heard from thousands of people from all over the state, region and the world who are very passionate about saving these animals,” he said.

The task force, co-chaired by Stephanie Solien and Les Purce, will continue its work in 2019. The executive order charges the task force with producing a second report outlining the progress made, lessons learned and outstanding needs by October 1, 2019.

Orcas joined in a chant, “Tell the Corps to Breach All Four,” in the hall outside the Governor’s Office in Olympia on Friday.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published for the Little Hollywood blog. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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