WDFW seeking comments on commercial whale watching rules

WDFW – The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is seeking public comments on the scope of environmental impacts it should consider as part of its work to license commercial whale watching and develop rules for commercial viewing of Southern Resident Killer Whales.

The ensuing rules, prompted by Senate Bill 5577 passed in 2019, are intended to reduce impacts of vessel noise and disturbance on Southern Resident Killer Whales so that they can effectively find food, rest, and socialize.

The rules are expected to take effect in January 2021.

Part of an environmental review process in accordance with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), the public comment period will be open through 5 p.m., Monday, June 8.

Comments will inform the department’s development of a future environmental impact statement.

“As we begin exploring options for these rules, it’s important that we hear from a broad community of people, whether you’re part of the commercial whale watching industry, involved in orca recovery work, or interested in the whales for the role they play in our state and tribal history, environment, and culture,” said Julie Watson, WDFW killer whale policy lead.

WDFW is accepting comments online at (https://wdfw.wa.gov/licenses/environmental/sepa/open-comments) or by mail to Lisa Wood, SEPA/NEPA Coordinator, WDFW Habitat Program, Protection Division, P.O. Box 43200, Olympia, WA 98504.

WDFW will also take general public comment at a Thursday, May 28 public meeting, which will take place virtually.

This public meeting is part of the two-day agenda for the May 28-29 Commercial Whale Watching Advisory Committee meeting, which the public is also invited to observe.

The meeting information and agenda will be available at https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/advisory/cwwlp.

WDFW expects to release the draft environmental impact statement for public review in early September.

For more information about the rulemaking process, please visit WDFW’s commercial whale-watching rulemaking webpage at https://wdfw.wa.gov/species-habitats/at-risk/species-recovery/orca/rule-making.