Washington governor announces killer whale recovery plan

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) announced major plans Thursday to help the Northwest’s diminished killer whale population recover, including $1.1 billion in spending and a partial whale-watching ban, according to the Associated Press.

“We are undertaking a herculean effort to save these iconic creatures,” Inslee said in a prepared statement. “It will take action at every level of the environment across our entire state.”

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The region's orca population is nearing extinction, the AP noted. Those between Washington state and Canada’s Vancouver Island have failed to successfully reproduce in the last three years due to starvation from a lack of salmon, poisoning by pollutants and vessel noise that hampers their ability to hunt and communicate, according to the AP. 

The orca population now sits a 74, the lowest number since the 1970s when hundreds were captured in the Northwest and over 50 were kept for aquarium displays.

Inslee’s plan, which was detailed as part of the governor’s priorities for the 2019-2021 state budget, would fund protecting and restoring habitat for salmon, particularly those kinds favored by orcas, increasing production from salmon hatcheries, storm-water cleanup, and reducing vessel traffic noise, according to the AP. 

Funds would also be allocated to create plans to move or kill seals and sea lions that feed on Columbia River salmon, as well as to altering state water quality standards to allow more water to be spilled over dams, increasing young salmon's ability to reach the ocean.

Part of the plan includes banning commercial whale-watching of the orcas for three years while allowing whale-watching for other whales in Washington waters. Inslee also said he aims to double the size of the “no-go zone” for vessels around orcas to 400 yards and create a “go slow zone” with reduced speed limits within a half-mile of the whales, according to the AP.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife would also get $1.1 million to educate the public on the orcas and enforce the new rules.

Inslee proposed a new capital gains tax and hikes to business taxes to help pay for the plan.

Environmental groups told the AP the plan was a step in the right direction, but stressed that removing four dams along the Snake River was crucial to increase the salmon population to feed the orcas.

Inslee’s plan does not call for the destruction of the dams, but does include creating a task force to examine the implications of the dams’ removal, according to the AP, a move that is opposed by some Republican representatives in the area.

“The people of Eastern Washington whose livelihoods depend on these dams should not be collateral damage for anyone’s presidential ambitions,” Reps. Cathy McMorris RodgersCathy McMorris RodgersOvernight Energy: Fight over fuel standards intensifies | Democrats grill Trump officials over rule rollback | California official blasts EPA chief over broken talks | Former EPA official says Wheeler lied to Congress EPA head clashes with California over how car emissions negotiations broke down Lawmakers celebrate 100th anniversary of women getting the right to vote MORE and Dan NewhouseDaniel (Dan) Milton NewhouseHouse passes bill to protect 'Dreamers' Immigrant Heritage Month should spur congressional action to fix immigration laws Thirty-four GOP members buck Trump on disaster bill MORE, who represent Eastern Washington, said in a statement to the AP. 

Inslee has been floated as a possible 2020 presidential contender, telling Politico earlier this year that he was "not ruling it out."