Instead of taking bold actions to help the starving Southern resident killer whales, our county council at its Oct. 8, meeting voted to do only the minimum required by a recent Growth Management Board ruling on the county’s Shoreline Management Plan. During the public hearings on this ruling, all public testimony favored increased protections for those parts of county shorelines that provide food and shelter for juvenile Chinook salmon. As the whales feed almost entirely on Chinook salmon, such habitat-protection measures would enhance their chances of survival. This is probably the most important contribution San Juan Islanders could make to address their plight.
But despite massive local, state, and national concerns being expressed for the survival of our orca whales, council members Rick Hughes and Jamie Stephens voted to adopt only the minimum shoreline protections that county attorney Amy Vera thought would satisfy the growth board. Whenever Bill Watson tried to increase shoreline protections beyond the minimum, he was out-voted by the other two council members.
Hughes opened the Oct. 8 proceedings by saying, “I need to know what are the minimum changes we need to do to be compliant.” Stephens quickly echoed him, saying, “I agree with what Rick’s asking.” And Stephens — a member of the governor’s orca task force — later asked, “Is this going above and beyond what we have to do?”
The decision of council members Hughes and Stephens to do only the bare minimum required by law fails to help the state-wide efforts to increase the population of Chinook salmon and give our starving orcas a chance to survive.
If people were to look back at my life and declare, “She did only the minimum,” I would not judge my life worthwhile.