Orca task force to write blueprint to save dying species

PORT ANGELES, Wash. -- The endangered southern resident orcas are still in critical condition despite statewide efforts to save them. In Port Angeles, the governor's orca task force met for one of the last times to finalize its final recommendations to the state.

It's been 18 months since Gov. Jay Inslee announced an executive order to form the task force. Like the first meeting and every one since, orca advocates stood outside the doors greeting task force members with signs and orca calls.

"It's time to take action and stop talking," Port Angeles resident Elizabeth Dunne said.

Not everyone believes in the task force process but month after month, they show up.

"I think it's important to show that we're still watching, we're still paying attention, and to let people know that we're still advocating for breaching the dams," Dunne said. "It's possible and we're not going to give up."

As the governor's orca task force winds down, members take stock of the moves they've made.

"I wish I could say the final recommendations will solve all the problems," said task force co-chair Stephanie Solien. "The work continues to go on; it is really just the beginning."

"I just don't think a year or two is going to reverse decades of mismanagement of our ecosystem," Suquamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman said.

Since the last task force meeting in June, the Center for Whale Research declared three more orcas are presumed dead. As the members face that reality, a new one sinks in: The problems facing the orcas are only compounding.

"Thousands and thousands of people are moving into our region and we don't really have a game plan for that," Solien said.

While the first year of the task force focused on the three threats facing the whales -- lack of prey, contaminants and vessel disturbance -- the second year is tackling the big-picture problems of population growth and climate change.

Problems of this magnitude, however, take more than meetings and plans.

"We are going to need more funding," Solien said.

"It will cost us some money but if we work together we can make it fair," Forsman said.

With just one month left before the final orca task force meeting, members are working to craft their final word. It will be a blueprint to action and a call to build on their efforts, because even though the task force will sunset this year, two years is too little to save a dying species.