Inslee brings presidential campaign and environmental message to Whidbey

WHIDBEY ISLAND – Presidential hopeful Gov. Jay Inslee brought his message to save the whales to Whidbey Island Wednesday.

The 2020 Democratic candidate didn’t spot any orcas or grays during his visits to Deception Pass State Park’s West Beach and Cornet Bay, but he did learn about local efforts to educate people on the giant sea creatures and restore habitat for the fish that are vital to the Southern Residents orca’s diet.

Against the Salish Sea backdrop, a representative from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recognized Inslee’s focus on orca recovery through the task force he convened last year and package of bills meant to protect the animals that he signed in May.

The governor in turn commended the effort to make the state park’s West Beach area an official stop on the Whale Trail, which identifies sites to view marine mammals from the land and spans from California to British Columbia.

“We are celebrating a way to connect our Washingtonians with our orcas,” Inslee said.

The sign marking the Whale Trail spot had just been installed about a week prior to the governor’s visit, according to Park Manager Jason Armstrong. It includes pictures of and information about the types of animals wildlife viewers are likely to see in the area.

Cindy Elliser, of Pacific Mammal Research, nominated the site to be a part of the trail, which includes over 100 locations. Several seals, which are a featured mammal on the sign, made an appearance Wednesday.

Inslee said there’s value in getting people to look up and think about what’s living below the waves; it can help garner support for the types of actions that need to be taken to save those animals, he said.

Needed actions could include the restoration of habitat for juvenile salmon and forage fish, such as what was done at Cornet Bay between 2012 and 2014. Inslee traveled to the site where “hard armoring” had been removed from the shoreline to transform it back to its natural state.

Volunteers from the Island County Marine Resources Committee regularly take samples to determine how juvenile Chinook salmon are faring. Although there isn’t enough data to draw conclusions, those involved in the project told Inslee that preliminary numbers show an increase in the salmon populations, which is good news for the orcas that eat them.

At the state level, Inslee said his next priority is to repair hundreds of culverts to ensure safe fish passage.

Protecting the environment and combating climate change are at the center of Inslee’s presidential bid. His plans total more than 100 pages and detail his ideas to eliminate fossil fuel use, create clean energy jobs, reduce carbon input and bring green technologies to underserved communities, he said.

Inslee will appear at 5 p.m. on night two of the second Democratic debate on Wednesday, July 31. The governor will share the stage with nine other candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris.