Eryn Couch, 360-890-6604
Submit comments online, attend Oct. 7, 8 virtual public meetings
OLYMPIA - The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking public comments on draft rules for commercial whale watching designed to reduce vessel impacts on Southern Resident killer whales.
Prompted by Senate Bill 5577 in 2019, WDFW is developing rules for how, when, and where commercial whale watching of Southern Resident killer whales can occur.
The new rules, expected to go into effect in 2021, are intended to reduce impacts of vessel noise and disturbance on Southern Resident killer whales so that they can effectively find food, rest, and socialize.
“With two new orca calves born in the last month, we know people are excited and invested in helping create conditions that give these whales the best chance at survival,” said Julie Watson, WDFW’s killer whale policy lead. “We’ll have an official public comment period coming soon, but we wanted to check in with people on the draft proposals before then to collect feedback to help us draft the official proposal.”
The public can provide comments during virtual public meetings scheduled for 1 to 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7, or 9 to 10:15 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 8. Virtual public meeting participation is preferred, but people unable to attend may submit written comments online through Oct. 8. The formal public comment period on the draft rules will follow, from Oct. 21 though Nov. 13. The Fish and Wildlife Commission will also take public comment at a hearing scheduled for Dec. 4-5.
To view the draft rules and find instructions for tuning in to the Oct. 7 and Oct. 8 virtual public meetings, please visit WDFW’s commercial whale-watching rulemaking webpage at wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/orca/rule-making.
Throughout 2020, WDFW staff received input from its Commercial Whale Watching Licensing Program Advisory Committee as well as an intergovernmental coordination group and an independent science panel. The rules are also being informed by a report summarizing the science, an environmental impact analysis of various options, and an analysis of the economic impacts on industry and small businesses.
The public is also invited to participate in a concurrent public comment period on the environmental impacts being considered as part of this process through Friday, Oct. 23 online at wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/environmental/sepa/open-comments, by mail to Lisa Wood, SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504, or during a Oct. 19 State Environmental Policy Act public meeting.
The public may also sign up to receive email updates about public meetings and comment opportunities when the draft rules are available for comment, expected in October 2020: wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/orca/rule-making.
WDFW will present a summary of public comments it receives to the Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is scheduled to hear and consider the rules during meetings in December. Commission meeting times and agendas can be found online at wdfw.wa.gov/about/commission/meetings.
WDFW is the state agency tasked with preserving, protecting and perpetuating fish, wildlife and ecosystems, while providing sustainable fishing, hunting and other outdoor recreation opportunities.