“This is welcome news because salmon habitat is disappearing faster than it can be restored. Dedicated funding is key to facilitating the survival of these crucial fish that Southern Resident orcas, and our communities, depend on as climate change threatens their ecosystems. It is imperative that we urge legislators to support and invest in these programs in 2022.”
Last week, Washington Governor Jay Inslee unveiled a suite of legislative proposals that would invest $187 million into drastically updating the state’s approach to protecting salmon.
The proposals are the result of two years of negotiations with Washington Tribal communities, for whom salmon are both a key resource and a cultural cornerstone. Members of the Swinomish, Tulalip, and Nisqually tribes joined Inslee during his announcement.
The Governor’s office noted that 14 salmon and steelhead species in Washington State are federally listed as threatened or endangered ., and 70% of those populations are not keeping pace with recovery goals. This includes the majority of Chinook salmon, which Southern Resident orcas depend on for food.
“This would be a significant investment in salmon conservation at a time when it is desperately needed,” said Kathleen Callaghy, Northwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. “The window we have to take action is closing rapidly. Reaching recovery targets for our salmon and orcas must be a priority, and this is a good step in that direction.”
The bulk of the Governor’s proposed funding will be used to protect and restore riparian habitat – forested areas along banks of rivers – to help keep the water clean and cool for salmon, which require cold water to survive.
The Lorraine Loomis Act, a key piece of legislation named for the Swinomish tribe’s prominent elder and salmon advocate, would also help protect these riparian areas from development and establish a statewide riparian plant propagation program. Another provision addresses the need to define and set a baseline for net ecological gain – an approach where land use development would not only prevent the loss of salmon habitat but work to improve it.
“This is welcome news because salmon habitat is disappearing faster than it can be restored,” said Callaghy. “Dedicated funding is key to facilitating the survival of these crucial fish that Southern Resident orcas, and our communities, depend on as climate change threatens their ecosystems. It is imperative that we urge legislators to support and invest in these programs in 2022.”
Beyond habitat restoration, the Governor’s proposals include investments into clean water infrastructure, correcting fish passage across dams and other barriers, and much-needed investments into additional research, monitoring, and accountability on salmon restoration efforts statewide. The budget also calls for $375,000 to fund the Snake River Mitigation Study, the assessment Governor Inslee announced earlier this year with Senator Patty Murray to identify reasonable means for replacing the services of the four lower Snake River dams, should the federal government act to remove them.
Defenders and its Northwest coalition partners continue to call upon officials to go further and produce a comprehensive and actionable plan by July 2022 for the removal of these dams.