Snake River Dams Seen as
by Don Jenkins
Task force recommends options
Washington state's orca-rescue plan could include creating more fish habitat in Puget Sound and taking another look at removing lower Snake River dams, according to a task force's preliminary proposals.
Orcas don't have enough fish to eat, especially Chinook salmon, according to a task force report. The group may recommend studying how much the killer whales would benefit by breaching Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River.
Another proposal is to make more fish habitat in several basins in northwest and southwest Washington. Such projects in the past have included breaching dikes and flooding fields that had been used for agriculture.
The 49-member task force, which was created by Gov. Jay Inslee, will meet next week to finalize its recommendations. One task force member, House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Brian Blake, said Monday that there are more effective ways to help orcas than taking out the Snake River dams.
"I personally do not support removal of the Snake River dams. I think it's the wrong thing to be studying," said Blake, D-Aberdeen.
Some 76 orcas that travel between southern Alaska and central California spend most of the year in the Salish Sea and off the coast of Washington. The first census counted 66 orcas in 1973. The population peaked at 98 in 1995. The orcas are believed to be in poor condition and struggling to reproduce, according to the report.
Inslee created the task force in May. Public attention on ocras increased in July, An orca nicknamed Tahlequah by a whale museum had a calf that lived for half an hour. Tahlequah carried the calf for 17 days over more than 1,000 miles in "what was widely seen as a display of deep mourning," according to the task force report.
Orcas have become central in the long-running debate whether to remove the lower Snake River dams to produce more salmon. As of Monday, more than 653,000 people had signed an online petition to remove the dams to save orcas. Farm groups say the dams are important for barging wheat.
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