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Commission lists Southern Resident orcas as endangered, adopts survival guidelines

February 16, 2024

HILLSBORO, Ore.—The Fish and Wildlife Commission today voted unanimously to list Southern Resident orcas as endangered under Oregon's Endangered Species Act (OESA).

Southern Resident orcas now number just 75whales in three pods and have been listed as endangered under federal law since 2005. Their reproductive potential is in danger of failure due to their smallpopulation size, inbreeding, and other reproductive issues. Scarcity of prey (especially Chinook, their preferred prey), sound and vessel disturbance and exposure to high levels of contaminants are the primary reasons for their decline.

The Oregon coast is an important travel corridor for Southern Resident orcas in the K and L pods with the area near the Columbia River mouth serving as a foraging hotspot. Oregon's coastal waters (6-200 m depth) were federally designated ascritical habitat in 2021.

TheCommission also adopted survivalguidelines for Southern Resident orcas. These are required under OESA and applyto actions proposed on state lands or waters and help guide state agencies that play a role in conservation until the Commission approves a management plan forthese agencies.

Guidelines adopted today direct relevantstate agencies to further monitor and address pollutants especiallythose posing the highest risk for Southern Resident orcas and their prey; increase boater education on the current federal vessel buffer guidelines to reducevessel and noise disturbance; enhance hatchery Chinook salmon production ifcapacity and funding exists; and increase efforts to prevent oil and otherhazardous material spills.

In other business, the Commission appointed Davia Palmeri as interim director. Palmeri will serve in the position starting April 1, 2024 (when current ODFW Director Curt Melcherretires) until a new permanent director starts at ODFW.

In her sixyears at ODFW, Palmeri has served as the Conservation Policy Coordinator andTribal Policy Coordinator. Last year, she served in a six-month rotation asActing Deputy Director for Fish and Wildlife Programs. She is currently servingas the Acting Land Resources Program Manager.

Palmeri isnot applying for the permanent director position. (Commissioners indicated theywould choose an interim director who was not a candidate for the positionduring their Jan. 26 meeting.)

Chair Wahlalso discussed the timeline for selecting a permanent director, noting that the Commission expects to select a new director at the May meeting.The public forum with final candidates is also expected to occur in May.

A recordingof today's meeting is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E26TMIilGDE

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Contact: Michelle Dennehy, (503) 931-2748, Michelle.N.Dennehy@odfw.oregon.gov
   
 
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