Port of Edmonds Commission President Steve Johnston was recently appointed to Washington State’s Southern Resident Killer Whale (Orca) Recovery Task Force. Johnston fills a recently-vacated seat and will be working alongside more than 40 federal, tribal and state representatives, as well as representatives from nonprofit organizations and the private sector.
The task force was established on March 14, 2018 under an executive order by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. Its initial goal was to prepare a report identifying priorities and action items for supporting Southern Resident Orca recovery efforts. The report, presented to Inslee in November 2018, included recommendations related to increasing the population of Chinook salmon, the resident pod’s primary food source), improving the whales’ access to Chinook and other prey, decreasing any potentially harmful contamination, and reducing vessel disturbance.
The Southern Resident Orca population is composed of the J, K and L pods, which spend most of the year in the Salish Sea near the San Juan Islands. In pursuit of migrating salmon, Southern Resident Orcas are also known to head south during the fall and spend time near the Columbia River mouth in winter months.
As Johnston joins the task force, the objective of the group has shifted to implementing the recommendations through the state legislative process. The task force is also expected to produce a second report for Gov. Inslee by October 2019 that outlines progress and continued needs related to Chinook salmon recovery, and the impacts of climate change on the orcas.
“I am honored to have been selected by the Washington Public Ports Association to serve on the task force and to continue the work the members have undertaken to date to preserve and enhance the health and viability of the Southern Resident Killer Whale,” said Johnston. “I look forward to working with the extraordinary professionals who make up the task force to advance effective and reasonable measures to preserve and sustain this most valuable and iconic natural resource.”
According to a Port of Edmonds announcement, Johnston brings 35 years of environmental experience to the task force, including 10 years serving as chief executive officer for a leading Pacific Northwest engineering and environmental firm. Over the span of his career, Johnston has managed many marine-related development projects and has provided consultation to state and federal agencies on environmental issues and policies. One such partnership was with the Washington State Department of Ecology, where he helped develop state hazardous-waste regulations. He also managed consulting services for a federal study that assessed the environmental impacts of oil transportation by vessel in Puget Sound, which included impacts to marine mammals, the port announcement said.
Johnston’s maritime experience includes 30 years in the U.S. Navy, where he retired as a captain. As a long-time member of the Washington Public Ports Association and a Port of Edmonds Commissioner since 2016, Johnston also will bring port knowledge and experience to the task force, the announcement said.