Orca task force member: We don't have resources, capacity to do everything

SEATTLE -- The governor's orca task force has put forward 36 recommended actions to save southern residents from extinction, but at least one task force member and state senator is warning the state probably can't do them all.

State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, sat down with Q13 News Correspondent Simone Del Rosario to discuss the task force's ambitious package of recommendations and the reality that awaits it in Olympia.

"I think we need to, as a legislature, when we're prioritizing this, try to take the top handful, maybe up to 10 recommendations and move those," Ranker said. "But I don't think we're going to have the resources or the capacity to do everything."

He mentioned other funding requests facing the state, including the need to improve mental health. Washington Department of Social and Health Services just requested $800 million from the state to build a new psychiatric facility on Western State Hospital's campus.

"But at the same time, we can't forget about the environment and we surely can't forget about these whales," Ranker said. "So we have to fund these recommendations and I and others are committed to doing that."

As an elected representative in Orcas and a member of the task force, Ranker is getting some negative feedback from whale-watching captains in his constituency over his support of a multi-year suspension on watching southern resident orcas.

"Yes I've gotten some pushback, actually, quite a bit and some pretty ugly," he said. "But I will also say I've had far more support. I've had hundreds and hundreds of people email and call me, thanking me and the task force for doing that and hoping we stick to it."

He argued the moratorium on southern resident viewing for all vessels, recreational and commercial, is stronger than the original proposed no-go zone on the west side of San Juan Island because the suspension will act as a no-go zone around the whales at all times, not just in one area of the Salish Sea.

The idea of a suspension was brought up as a compromise when task force members were at a standstill over a whale protection zone at the final task force meeting in November. Still, Ranker said he is a long-time supporter of a no-go zone and is disappointed it didn't pass.

He also supports breaching four dams along the lower Snake River, a hotly-debated topic throughout the task force process and the most requested action from the public.

The task force ended up recommending an additional stakeholder forum to discuss breaching the dams in 2019, a decision and delay that has frustrated supporters who claim breaching those dams give the orcas the best chance of getting the salmon they need to survive.

Ultimately, breaching the dams will be a federal decision and the future of dams along the Snake River is being analyzed by federal agencies after a federal judge ordered an environmental review, now due in 2020.