Economic Growth Helping Salmon and Orca

Jan 29, 2018

With the number of Puget Sound resident orca dwindling to its lowest level in three decades, there are a number of bills before the legislature to address the problems they face. As we noted recently, in the near-term, Washington needs to focus on strategies that put more fish in Puget Sound and reduce competition for fish from other marine mammals. Governor Inslee is now making a similar call, supporting legislation from Congresswoman Jamie Herrera Beutler that would reduce sea lion predation of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River Basin.

For the longer term, however, Representative JT Wilcox has offered a piece of legislation that would help salmon and steelhead recover.

The rapidly growing economy has increased the estimate of state revenue by about $700 million. Rep. Wilcox has offered legislation to use a portion of that increase to help open salmon habitat and meet the state’s legal obligations under a court order.

The bill, HB 2902, would allocate $50 million to fix culverts, primarily on Department of Transportation property, that are preventing salmon and steelhead from reaching habitat. The bill notes private forest landowners removed over six thousand such barriers, but many of that habitat is still blocked because the state hasn’t fixed passage barriers downstream.

In addition to helping salmon, steelhead, and orca, the bill would also help sport fishers and comply with a court order to fix the barriers. The court ruled in favor of Washington state tribes, arguing that their right to a portion of the catch also meant they had an interest in the total number of fish, not just the percentage they could catch.

Combined with Rep. Blake’s bill to increase hatchery production, Sen. Ranker’s bill to keep kayakers and others at a reasonable distance, and the efforts to reduce predation by competitors, Rep. Wilcox’s bill is an important addition to efforts to help increase steelhead, salmon, and orca populations.