DNR asking for $90 million to help critically endangered orcas

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The State Department of Natural Resources is asking for $90 million from the legislature that will ultimately help the Pacific Northwest’s critically endangered orcas.

“Right now, orcas are dying. We have to have immediate, transformative actions in our waterways,” said Hilary Franz, DNR’s Commissioner of Public Lands.

The orcas don’t have enough to eat. Chinook salmon, which they primarily feed on, are in decline.

The work, according to Franz, is already being done.

Restoring critical habitat for salmon, like the work done at Bird Island at Gene Coulon Park in Renton where Lake Washington essentially acts as a  nursery for baby salmon to eat and grow before moving on in the Puget Sound.

“We've been doing this work. but we haven't been doing it at a rate and pace, and scale we must do it if we want to ensure the long-term survival of salmon and orca,” Franz explained.

The budget request is a 62 percent increase from the last two-year budget of $55.5 million.

It would fund some of the items recommended by the Governor's Orca Recovery Task Force with the Southern resident population down to 74, a 30-year low.

KIRO 7 spoke to Senator Kevin Ranker, who represents Orcas Island. He’s also a member of the recovery task force and serves on the Senate Ways and Means committee.

He said he would not support the budget request in its entirety.

“Some of the things in here, like restoring the aquatic environment, specifically looking at toxins in nearshore shore marine environments, restoring eelgrass beds, those are critical items for orca recovery if we are going to avoid extinction,” Ranker said.

Franz also wants to remove more derelict vessels that create toxic pollution and waste. She also wants to remove more creosote pilings, which are also toxic.

“We don't have any time to waste,” Franz added.  “We have a responsibility. Not on our watch will we lose salmon and orcas, iconic species.”

Ranker said he was expecting agencies to ask for funding increases after the task force's recommendations came out last week.

“Our job in the legislature will be to have a really thoughtful conversation about which is most important and needs to be funded right away and have the greatest benefit for orca, salmon, and forage fish in the Salish Sea,” Ranker said.