by Janet Alderton
Tahlequah is the mother orca who carried her dead calf for 17 days. Her grief has deeply moved me, and I am alarmed by the decline in orca numbers. During the last three years, every newborn Southern resident orca calf has died.
The Southern resident orcas are starving. They do not have enough Chinook salmon. Historically, our near-shore waters have provided the habitats young salmon need to find shelter and abundant food before they migrate to the Pacific Ocean. But shoreline development has degraded these critical habitats. In two public hearings, one on San Juan Island and the other on Lopez, every person who spoke urged bold action to protect our shorelines to help feed the orcas. Instead, councilors Jamie Stephens and Rick Hughes opted to do the minimum required by the Western Washington Growth Management Board.
The minimum requirements were created before we fully understood the extinction crisis faced by the Southern resident orca whales. Only Councilor Bill Watson responded by proposing increased shoreline protections. Both Stephens and Hughes explicitly stated that they wished to do the minimum that would satisfy the growth board. Stephens has represented San Juan County on Governor Inslee’s Orca Task Force. Stephens should know that our islands’ near-shore waters are critical habitat for juvenile Chinook salmon. Never the less, he failed to take the bold actions urged by his constituents. Without bold actions, the extinction of our resident orcas is certain. This is why I wrote in “Tahlequah” for county council instead of voting for Jamie Stephens.
Stephens has represented our islands since his election in the fall of 2010. He has many accomplishments as county councilor, including helping establish our San Juan Islands National Monument, helping to solve the solid waste crisis and promoting agriculture and affordable housing in our islands. On August 15, 2017, Stephens showed strong leadership by making a motion to adopt the citizens’ 2017 Immigrant Protection Initiative as a San Juan County ordinance.
Stephens said, “San Juan County is an inclusive and compassionate community. People should not be afraid to seek services and have equal protection under the law. Anything that will give people some stability and certainty as to how their government will act is in the public’s best interest.”
Despite these accomplishments, I am disappointed that Stephens has not acted to protect the fragile web of life that sustains our resident orca whales. I, along with more than 140 others, voted for “Tahlequah” with the hope that Stephens might listen to the mother orca, who carried her dead calf for 17 days and act boldly to save our magnificent whales.
If we save the orca whales from extinction, we just might end up saving ourselves, too.
Janet Alderton is a mother, grandmother and 15-year resident of Orcas Island.