EDITORIAL: Federal moves to protect sound come at crucial time

On Monday, the Center for Whale Research announced that the oldest member of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population — 105-year-old J2 (Granny) is likely dead. The news comes just weeks after an 18-year-old male southern resident was found dead in Canada and caps a year that saw six of the endangered whales die.

It’s not a great start to 2017.

What is a great start is Congress’ decision to allocate $451 million worth of habitat restoration funds, as part of the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. According to The Seattle Times, funds will be directed to three projects: Duckabush River Estuary near Hood Canal, the restoration of the Nooksack River Delta in Whatcom County and restoration of the North Fork Skagit River Delta near La Conner. While none of the projects impact Vashon, or even areas nearby directly, Puget Sound is large and the projects do aim to restore the health of the sound by ensuring the existence of deltas and tidelands crucial to salmon populations. And healthy salmon populations are good news for the Southern Resident orcas who depend on Chinook salmon as their only food source.

So the $99.3 million to preserve the Skagit River Delta — the Skagit is the only large river system in Washington that contains healthy populations of all five native salmon species — is a big win for the island even though we won’t be seeing the work being done in the area first hand.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that Chinook salmon numbers are down 60 percent from 1984 and are continuing to decline due to habitat loss and harvesting. This work, combined with the ongoing shoreline restoration projects underway by King County and the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, will give the orcas, and the whole of Puget Sound, a fighting chance at survival.

The Seattle Times reports remaining negotiations and actual construction on these conservation projects may take 10 to 20 years to complete, but, in the meantime, there are many things everyday citizens can do to help, including volunteering to plant trees or clean up streams and creeks, buy sustainably-harvested salmon at the grocery store and support agencies working to protect these watersheds and habitats.