State level bill to recognize the inherent rights of the Southern Resident Orcas

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We, the peoples and natural communities of the Salish Sea, do DECLARE the following:

Eight million people and the survival of countless species depend on a healthy Salish Sea. Yet human-induced impacts such as climate change, ocean acidification, increased shipping traffic, dams and other fish passage barriers, as well as wastewater and sewage runoff, have contributed to the pollution and degradation of the Salish Sea.

The Southern Resident Orcas are critically endangered with only 75 remaining. Their survival is dependent on healthy and functioning ecosystems including the Salish Sea, the Fraser River Watershed, the Columbia River Basin, and the lower Snake River Watershed.

Our legal system has proven inadequate in addressing the threats to these ecosystems and to the Southern Resident Orcas. Therefore, we need to join other communities and governments worldwide in adopting a new framework for environmental protection based upon the recognition that Nature has inherent rights and should be heard as a real party and interest in legal actions affecting her rights.

Despite being protected in the United States and Canada as endangered or at risk species, the Orcas do not have a legal right to life. As a result, human interests have outweighed protection and necessary action to recover the species, and the Orcas are not considered a party or stakeholder in policy decisions that may affect their health and life.

Because the Southern Resident Orcas do not acknowledge the border between the United States and Canada, or the difference between such governments and Tribal and First Nations, collective and collaborative action is needed to recover the species.

Therefore, we do PROCLAIM that:

Nature and all living beings have inherent rights to exist, flourish, evolve, and regenerate, and to restoration, recovery and preservation. This includes the Southern Resident Orcas and the Salish Sea.

The rights of the Southern Resident Orcas include, but are not limited to, the right to:



~Free and safe passage

~Adequate food supply from naturally occurring sources

~Freedom from conditions causing physical, emotional or mental harm, including a habitat degraded by noise, pollution and contamination.

We have a responsibility to conserve, protect and defend Nature, the Southern Residents and the Salish Sea. We need a transformational shift in our behavioral, societal, and economic relationships, as well as our governance, in order to live in harmony with Nature.

 In accordance with our connection and interdependence with the Salish Sea, we DEMAND the following:

~That national, state, provincial, and local governments and their citizens follow the Tribal and First Nations in recognizing the inherent rights of the Southern Resident Orcas and the ecosystems upon which they depend.

~The immediate creation of a stewardship board for the Salish Sea based on a Rights of Nature framework, including guardian representation for the Southern Resident Orcas.

~ Immediate actions to support the Southern Residents’ needs and address the main threats to their survival, which scientists have identified as prey availability, vessel and noise disturbance, and pollution.

Immediate actions include:

~Restoring wild Chinook salmon populations and their habitats so that the Southern Residents may enjoy their right to life and right to an adequate food supply from naturally occurring sources.

~Reducing noise and disturbance in Southern Resident Orca habitat so that they may enjoy their rights to life, to free and safe passage, to freedom from conditions causing physical, emotional or mental harm, and to autonomy.

~Decreasing the level of pollution and contaminants throughout the range of Southern Resident Orcas so that they may enjoy their right to life and right to freedom from conditions causing physical, emotional or mental harm.

*This declaration was created collaboratively with:

Legal Rights for the Salish Sea, Gig Harbor, WA

Earth Law Center, USA

Elizabeth Dunne, Esq., Dam Sense, Port Angeles, WA

Orca Network, Freeland, WA

Toledoans for Safe Water

RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs)

Boulder Rights of Nature

Orca Protection and Rescue

Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, USA

Friends of Brooks Point, Pender Island, BC, Canada

Pender Ocean Defenders, Pender Island, BC, Canada

Peter Holcomb, Democracy Awakening, Bellingham, WA

Rethink Captivity, Seattle, WA

Save Our Whales, Pender Island, BC, Canada

Endangered Species Coalition

Kitsap Environmental Coalition

Green Vegans / The New Human Ecology

Climate Pierce County

Martha L. Schmidt, WA. National Lawyers Guild

Peggy Oki, Origami Whales Project