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Orcas Recommended For Endangered Species Listing

ODFW staff are recommending that the Fish and Wildlife Commission list Southern Resident orcas as endangered under Oregon’s Endangered Species Act (OESA). The Fish and Wildlife Commission will decide whether to list them during their meeting Feb. 16 in Hillsboro at Hidden Creek Community Center, 5100 NE Hidden Creek Drive. The Commission first accepted a petition to consider listing them in April 2023.  The meeting starts at 8 a.m. See the agenda at https://www.dfw.state.or.us/agency/commission/minutes/24/02_Feb/index.asp  

To testify about Southern resident orcas during the meeting virtually, register on the agenda page at least 48 hours in advance (by Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 8 a.m.) To testify in person, sign up at the meeting using the paper forms provided. Comments can also be emailed to  ODFW.Commission@odfw.oregon.gov 

To testify about an issue that is not on the agenda during the public forum section of the meeting, email Michelle.L.Tate@odfw.oregon.gov  in the Director’s office at least 48 hours in advance (by Wednesday, Feb. 14 at 8 a.m.). The email should include your name, city of residence, any group you are representing and the topic you want to discuss. 

Before making their recommendation to list Southern Resident orcas, ODFW’s staff conducted a Biological Assessment that summarized information on their natural history, population status and trends, factors affecting their survival, and management actions being taken to recover the population.  

Southern Resident orcas are listed as Endangered under existing federal law. Their reproductive potential is in danger of failure due to small population size, inbreeding, and other reproductive issues. The key factors contributing to these problems include decreased quantity and quality of prey, sound and vessel disturbance, and exposure to high levels of contaminants.  If the Commission decides to list Southern Resident orcas as endangered under the OESA, they will also adopt survival guidelines that apply to actions proposed on state lands (or waters). These guidelines may also serve to guide state agencies that have a role to play in the conservation of the species. 

Survival guidelines to help Southern Resident orcas could include enhanced hatchery Chinook salmon production if capacity exists (Chinook salmon are their primary prey). Increased efforts to prevent oil and other hazardous material spills, limit PCBs and other environmental contaminants, and boater education on the current Federal vessel buffer guidelines could be steps other state agencies may take.  

In other business, the Commission is expected to appoint an Interim Director for ODFW. Longtime director Curt Melcher retires effective April 1, 2024. The Interim Director will serve in the position beginning April 1, 2024 and until a permanent Director has been selected and started the position at ODFW. During discussion at their Jan. 26 meeting, the Commission indicated they would choose an Interim Director who was not applying for the permanent ODFW Director position.  

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