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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Orca Task Force Meeting #5: What the draft recommendations look like now

Truck parked outside the Landmark Convention Center in Tacoma on October 17, Day 1 of the two-day task force meeting
With another task force meeting – this one a 2-day marathon – in the books, I thought it would be worth posting an update about how the package of draft recommendations is looking. I recognize that this process is frustrating and moving slower than many would hope for, but it really is a positive move for the Southern Residents overall to have all these interest groups at the table discussing the difficult topics and moving at a pretty rapid pace.

The basis for discussion over the last two days was an updated draft package of recommendations prepared by the steering committee based on the most supported recommendations according to the task force members and public survey results, the most effective recommendations according to the working groups, and feedback from direct conversations with each task force member in the week preceding this meeting. To make things even more confusing, all the action items have been renumbered from the survey, with many items having been merged and some deleted. While we and they were told actions could still be added or deleted from the package during the meeting, in reality the items in this package didn’t seem to change much over the course of the meeting. Instead, the discussions focused more on wording and fine-tuning the action items. While there is still more refinement by the steering committee, another round of public and task force comment, and a final task force meeting (which is scheduled to focus on further discussion of the more controversial action items), I thought it would be worth posting an update of what looks likely to be moving forward at this time. It’s unclear how much more in terms of prioritization will happen; actions will likely still be ranked to some degree, but it’s not clear if the task force will pitch everything to the governor, or will try to narrow it down to a “Top 10” or something like that.

Here is a summary of the actions as they stand now, down from ~50 to ~30. New recommendations numbers (likely the numbers that will be referred to during the upcoming public comment period survey) and wording is taken from the draft report, with old action item numbers from the last survey at the end of each bullet point.

Goal 1: Increase Chinook Abundance
1.     Significantly increase investment in restoration and acquisition of habitat in areas where Chinook stocks most benefit the SRKWs, including mandating additional funding to Chinook and forage fish habitat restoration projects, emphasizing large-scale estuary restoration programs,  and removing barriers in areas of high benefit to Chinook (such as Middle Fork Nooksack and Pilchuck dams). Formerly Habitat Recommendations 1 and 2 and Hydropower Recommendation 2.
2.     Immediately fund acquisition and restoration of nearshore habitat to increase the abundance of forage fish for salmon sustenance. Formerly Forage Fish Recommendation 1.
3.     Enforce laws that protect habitat. Formerly Habitat Recommendations 3 and 4.
4.     Have the legislature immediately amend existing statutes to provide stronger protections for Chinook and forage fish habitat. Formerly Habitat Recommendations 3 and 5.
5.     Have state agencies develop and encourage voluntary actions to protect habitat, including providing financial assistance to cooperative conservation programs. Formerly Habitat Recommendation 7.
6.     Increase hatchery production to benefit SRKW in methods consistent with wild fish conservation, available habitat, and existing recovery plans. Formerly Hatchery Recommendation 1C.
7.     Prepare a strategy to re-establish salmon above existing dams, including the Chief Joseph and Grand Coulee dams. Formerly Hydropower Recommendation 1.
8.     Increase allowable dissolved gas allowances in the Columbia Basin from 115 to 125% to match the Oregon standard, advocating for increased spill over Columbia and Snake River dams. Formerly Hydropower Recommendation 4.
9.     Support full implementation of the 2019-2028 Pacific Salmon Treaty. Formerly Harvest Recommendation 3.
10.  Reduce Chinook bycatch in all west coast commercial fisheries. Formerly Harvest Recommendation 2.
11.  Convene an independent science panel to assess if pinniped predation is a limiting factor for Chinook in Puget Sound and along the Outer Coast of Washington, then convene stakeholders to evaluate potential management actions. Formerly Predation Recommendation 1B.
12.  Support authorization to more effectively manage pinniped predation of salmon on the Columbia River. Formerly Predation Recommendation 2A.
13.  Reduce population of non-native predator fish species that prey upon or compete with Chinook. Formerly Hydropower Recommendation 3.
14.  Monitor forage fish populations to inform decision on harvest and management actions to support increased Chinook abundance. Formerly Forage Fish Recommendation 4.
15.  Fund the Puget Sound zooplankton sampling program, which will help forecast forage fish and Chinook abundances and inform management decisions. Formerly Forage Fish Recommendation 3.
A.    Convene a stakeholder panel. Formerly Hydropower Recommendation 5B.
Unnumbered due to having limited support at the beginning of the task force meeting, but based on discussion, outside conversations, and the continued public pressure, I suspect this action may make the final report. I know it’s not as bold as some of us would hope, but it’s a hell of a lot more than we were looking at during the beginning of this process, when Snake River dams weren’t even being mentioned at the meeting. Even if something bolder were on the table, it would for sure be tied up in court until mitigation solutions are found for all stakeholders, so this process is essential. I finally got the opportunity to present the 600,000+ signature petition during the public comment period on the first evening, and it made an impact on the task force members. The number of supporters was brought up several times during Day 2, including by a task force member who was seemingly against breaching the dams but stated that, given the public outcry for action, the task force must move forward with a stakeholder panel to address the issue further.

Goal 2: Decrease Disturbance of Orcas from Vessels
16.  Establish a statewide “Go-Slow” zone bubble for all small vessels within half a nautical mile of orcas. Formerly Vessel Recommendation 1.
17.  Establish a limited-entry whale-watching permit system for commercial whale-watching and commercial kayak groups. Details of implementation still unclear. Formerly Vessel Recommendation 4.
18.  Increase and improve boater education on Be Whale Wise regulations and guidelines. Potentially include a mandatory marine endorsement fee for saltwater boater registration in the state. Formerly Vessel Recommendation 5B.
19.  Increase enforcement capacity to fully enforce vessel regulations. Formerly Vessel Recommendation 2.
20.  Discourage use of echo sounders and underwater transducers within 1km of orcas. (Updated from switching echo sounders from 50kHz to 200kHz because apparently changing the settings doesn’t actually stop the pings at 50kHz.) Formerly Vessel Recommendation 3.
21.  Implement shipping noise-reduction initiatives and monitoring programs, coordinating with Canada. Formerly Vessel Recommendations 5 and 6.
22.  Accelerate the transition from Washington State Ferries to quieter vessels and reduce speeds when SRKWs are present. Formerly Vessel Recommendations 9 and 18.
23.  Reduce threat of oil spills in the region, including requiring escort tugs, updating oil spill prevention, etc. Formerly Vessel Recommendation 13.
B.    No-Go Zone of some sort – was not on the initial list of recommendations at this meeting but was brought back to the table; no consensus reached on where, when, what, how, etc. but will be discussed further at November meeting.

Goal 3: Reduce SRKW Exposure to Contaminants
24.  Accelerate implementation of the ban of PCBs in the state. Formerly Contaminant Recommendation 1.
25.  Identify, prioritize, and take action on chemicals that impact orcas and their prey. Formerly Contaminant Recommendations 2 and 3.
26.  Reduce stormwater threats and accelerate clean-up of harmful toxics. Formerly Contaminant Recommendations 4, 7, and 8.
27.  Improve effectiveness, implementation, and enforcement of NPDES permits. Formerly Contaminant Recommendations 5 and 6.
28.  Increase monitoring of toxic substances in marine waters and create and deploy adaptive management strategies. Formerly Contaminant Recommendation 9.

Additional Recommendations
29.  Provide sustainable funding for implementation.
30.  Continue research, science, and monitoring to inform adaptive management.
31.  Monitor progress of implementation and needed enhancements during Year 2.

Also, here’s a summary of the main themes during the public comments, indicating the number of speakers on each topic:
Lower Snake River dam removal – 23
Bold action in general – 12
Moratorium on whale-watching – 4
Against any restrictions on fisheries – 2
Vessel impacts – 2
Pro-dams – 2
Fishing moratorium – 2
Oil export – 2
Puget Sound habitat restoration – 1
Habitat “net increase” – 1
Unfair task force process – 1
Against proposed asphalt plant – 1

On one hand, it feels like a lot of jargon that could very well be bolder, will not all be implemented, and will be watered down in the legislature. On the other hand, we are potentially looking at a package that will increase funding for barrier removal (including dams) and ready-to-go habitat restoration projects; increase spill over dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers; take Snake River dam removal discussions to the next level with a much-needed stakeholder panel that will have to wrap up in less than a year; reduce harvest, reduce bycatch, and increase hatchery production of Chinook which will all result in more fish in the water; activate major toxin cleanup and redevelopment of stormwater hotspots; modernize an oil spill response plan; and quiet the waters around the whales by reducing speeds of shipping traffic, ferries, and small vessels. Stated that way, it almost feels like we may be on the right track after all.

In addition to calling Governor Inslee’s office (360-902-4111) and continuing to advocate for his support of near-term removal of the four Lower Snake River dams and full-funding of all salmon habitat recovery programs in the state, the next time your voice is needed is October 24-29 when another public survey and comment period will be open on these updated and further refined recommendations. Stay tuned, as we will also be helping to provide another survey guide, simplified if need be.


Rabbits' Guy said...

Thanks for the nice update and insight. Maybe a glimmer of confidence in some of the possible recommendations. It seems like one high priority action would be to create a broad capacity to get the general public on board regarding issues and solutions and support. The scientific and bureaucratic gibberish of the draft report won't do that and if left to the various task-force member organizations we will probably just get dueling proposals and sales pitches.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the update! And I agree with what Rabbits Guy said, that we need to translate these reports into simpler, more meaningful language that the broad public can relate to.

Monika said...

Yes, a group of us translated the original document into a more digestible version for the first public comment survey, and we plan to do so again for the upcoming public comment period as well.