Breaking! U.S. House of Representatives Passes A Reauthorization Bill That Pushes Pacific Northwest’s Killer Whales Closer to Extinction

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration Wednesday containing a damaging policy rider that will set back recovery and further imperil already endangered killer whales, salmon and steelhead in Oregon.

The bill would allow FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to delay taking any action for three years to address impacts to endangered species from harmful floodplain development subsidized through the National Flood Insurance Program. The rider was inserted at the request of Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore).

“Southern Resident killer whales and salmon are desperately in need of help, so this provision kicks these animals when they’re down,” said Ryan Shannon, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity in a statement. “FEMA has already stalled on helping killer whales and salmon recovery. More delays will push this beloved orca population closer to extinction.”

The iconic Southern Resident Killer Whale population of Puget Sound is down to just 74 orcas, the lowest number in more than 30 years. A main cause of the population’s decline is the scarcity of their preferred food, chinook salmon.

There’s not enough salmon for the orcas because of severe impacts to their habitat from dams and floodplain development. In a 2016 biological opinion, the National Marine Fisheries Service required FEMA to carry out a series of actions to reduce these impacts. If passed by the Senate, Rep. DeFazio’s rider will allow the agency to needlessly delay these actions.

“This provision is little more than a handout to developers seeking to build in the floodplain,” Ryan said. “Orcas and salmon can’t wait for habitat protections. We’re especially disappointed that Rep. Defazio would condemn orcas when we’re already seeing them dying out before our very eyes.”

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