Today, Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz announced a nearly $90 million package of aquatic habitat protections and improvements to be carried out by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
Puget Sound’s southern resident orcas have declined to a 30-year low of just 74. According to Governor Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Task Force, the decline in orca populations is primarily driven by vessel traffic and noise, toxic contaminants in the water, poor nearshore habitat, and declining prey, particularly Chinook salmon.
Commissioner Franz’s requested funding package will support the work of the task force by restoring development-damaged aquatic lands and access to rivers cut off by barriers to fish passage.
“We haven’t had a baby orca survive in three years. Our salmon runs continue to decline. The struggle of many of Washington’s native species requires us to make immediate and significant investments in restoring our waterways and landscapes,” said Commissioner Franz. “This funding package will allow DNR to protect and restore salmon habitat and water quality, helping secure a future for our orcas, our salmon, and our way of life.”
Commissioner Franz submitted her $90 million funding request ($22 million in operating budget requests, $68 million in one-time capital budget projects) last month, in advance of the 2019 legislative session.
This package funds direct implementation of several actions recommended by the Southern Resident Killer Whale Task to boost orca habitat, as well as action items identified by the Puget Sound Partnership and Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
The proposal supports aquatic and salmon habitat by:
Committing to restoring aquatic environments:$7 million from the state operating budget to provide permanent funding to protect the aquatic food web by removing legacy toxics, restoring eelgrass beds, and removing marine debris.
Developing adaptations for ocean acidification: DNR scientists are leading efforts to assess ocean acidification and geoduck research amid climate change. The $1.5 million request will advance this research, including critical links between zooplankton and salmon, while helping shellfish growers and others dependent on healthy aquatic environments adapt to changing marine conditions.
Investing in urban forests to lessen stormwater runoff: Stormwater runoff is the number-one source of pollution in Washington’s waters. A $2.1 million investment in urban forest canopies will decrease toxic stormwater runoff into salmon and orca habitat.
Removing large, hazardous derelict vessels: $5 million in capital funds to remove vessels that endanger habitat and navigation channels but are too costly for DNR’s derelict vessel budget.
Funding Puget SoundCorps: $8 million capital budget allotment to expand the efficient, effective work Puget Sound Corps crews do restoring salmon habitat.
Protecting vital conservation lands: $1.5 million to fund maintenance efforts on DNR’s natural areas – places that preserve Washington’s most distinct and threatened environments and provide natural resilience to climate change.
It helps private forest landowners, who own about half of Washington’s forests, support aquatic and salmon habitat by:
Helping families who own small forests to enhance habitat: $1.6 million to fund experts to help landowners enhance habitat and comply with timber regulations, plus $23 million in capital budget requests to help forest owners maintain protective buffers around streams and unstable slopes.
Reviewing forest roads: $800,000 to ensure new roads protect public safety and prevent sediment from degrading streams.
Removing barriers to fish passage: $31 million in capital budget requests to remove barriers, such as undersized culverts, on state lands, private forests, and partner agency lands.
Furthering knowledge of landslides in glacial geology: $1.4 million to study the mechanics of landslides in the SR 530 corridor, which will contribute to public safety and riparian concerns and inform future research in 18 Washington counties where glacial geology also exists.
Tribes, partners hail budget request
Commissioner Franz’s budget package has received support from Washington’s tribes, environmental advocates, and industry leaders.
Jeremiah J. Julius, Chairman, Lummi Nation said: “The Salish Sea, and all of our relations therein, are at a tipping point. Our late leader and visionary, Billy Frank Jr., once said that, ‘We and they are the same.’ The dire condition of the Salish Sea, the plight of the endangered salmon, the unimaginable extinction of our southern resident killer whales, and the denaturing of our fragile rivers, streams and creeks, all tell us about our own health. We must put aside narrow self-interests and commit all the resources needed to restore the health and well-being of the Salish Sea and all our relations. It is time for us to accept our inherent responsibility to take care of our home and our sacred responsibility to take care of each other.”
Mike Stevens, Washington State Director, The Nature Conservancy, said: “We cannot adequately restore our salmon runs and protect our environment without a holistic approach. Commissioner Franz is on the right track. DNR’s approach engages key partners, and helps support their efforts to protect and restore habitat. That’s good not just for salmon and orca, but for entire ecosystems.”
Douglas Reed, President, Green Diamond Resources Co., said: “We’re doing the work on our own lands, yet we’ve seen how efforts need to reach both up- and downstream to effectively increase and improve salmon and fish habitat. Incentives and funding to bring in more partners can add hundreds of miles of river habitat for returning salmon and aquatic species.”
Joan Crooks, CEO, Washington Environmental Council and Washington Conservation Voters, said: “Environment and clean water protections are essential for salmon recovery and healing Puget Sound. DNR’s work to restore habitat, remove wooden pilings soaked in toxic chemicals, and guard against ocean acidification is critical to the health and future of our region. The state must step up and invest to move faster and avoid losing iconic species like salmon and orca.”
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Led by Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz, DNR manages more than 5.6 million acres of Washington’s state-owned forest, range, commercial, agricultural, conservation, and aquatic lands. These lands provide trust revenue for beneficiaries, outdoor recreation, watersheds for clean water, and habitat for native fish and wildlife.