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Recommendation: 42

Status: Pending

Create one or more entities with authority and funding to recover and advocate for Southern Resident orcas by implementing task force recommendations, creating new recommendations as needed, and reporting to the public, governor, and tribal co-managers on status.


Action 1

Establish an oversight group that incorporates the following elements:

  • Is co-managed by the Governor’s Office and tribes.
  • Coordinates with federal agencies in the United States and Canada to stay connected to ongoing policies about species recovery.
  • Aligns with the Governor’s priority on diversity, equity, inclusion, and environmental justice.
  • Maintains and supports working groups similar to the task force, businesses, and other stakeholders to monitor implementation of existing recommendations, consider new recommendations, and recommend course corrections for continued recovery.
  • Maintains and enhances public visibility and interest in this crisis and facilitates a robust public engagement process.
  • Builds on ongoing monitoring and reporting to maintain accountability to the public.
  • Ensures longevity of the group at least until the population reaches 84 whales by 2028.

Implementation Details

The Governor’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force identified three general options for moving this recommendation forward. By selecting one of the following options, the State can better ensure that between now and 2022, we witness evidence of consistently well-nourished whales, more live births, and the survival of several thriving young orcas.

With adequate consistency and attention, by 2028, we could see the primary indicator of body condition of the whales (the ratio of head width to body length in adults) remain high and stable between seasons and across years, and finally see the population increase to 84 whales—an increase of 10 whales in 10 years.

Options are summarized below:

Option 1: Expand Existing Agency Capacity

Expand the capacity and function of the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office to include orca recovery (e.g., Governor’s Salmon and Orca Recovery Office). This option leverages existing agency infrastructure and is modeled after the Salmon Recovery Funding Board, with policy coordination and administration functions within the proposed Governor’s Salmon and Orca Recovery Office and a policy board that includes governor-appointed members and agency heads.

Option 2: Create a New Executive-level Team in the Governor’s Office

Create an executive-level salmon and orca leadership team in the Governor’s Office. This option includes explicit tribal co-manager engagement by the Governor’s Office. This option houses the main functions of the policy leadership team within the Governor’s Office and maintains an executive-level focus on recovery.

Option 3: Create a New Orca Recovery Office

Create an orca recovery office led by technical experts. This option creates a new office that is staffed to implement actions. This office can be in the Governor’s Office or in an existing agency. The key element of this option is that it is not a stakeholder-led process.

The task force also recommends incorporating the Puget Sound Partnership’s recovery system into any of these options, as appropriate. The Partnership is well positioned to contribute to vessels recommendations, coordinate with Canadian representatives and actions, support scientific monitoring, advise on communications, and track progress. Likewise, salmon recovery councils on the Columbia River and Washington Coast could be useful partners.

The 2019 Task Force Final Report (Appendix 5, page 177) provides additional implementation details on the three options summarized above for the Governor’s Office to consider. The task force has laid a foundation for Southern Resident recovery; strong governance will be necessary to build on this foundation with immediate, sustained, and meaningful action.

Recent Progress

  • In 2021, the Legislature funded a position in the Governor’s Salmon Recovery Office to monitor progress of the task force recommendations and coordinate implementation.
  • The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife also received funding for a policy position to work on reducing vessel impacts on orca.
  • A progress report was completed in 2021 and presented to the Puget Sound Partnership.

More details may be found in the progress reports in the resources library.