Local initiative to increase distance between boats and whales loses in court

A group of folks from Lopez Island concerned about the effect whale-watching boats have on the Southern Resident Killer Whale population gathered signatures to place an orca protection zone initiative on the ballot. While they had the number of signatures needed, the initiative won't be on the ballot. The Pacific Whale Watch Association filed suit against the initiative. There was a summary judgment hearing last week in Skagit County Superior Court. 

NOAA photo

According to people in attendance, Judge Svaren ruled that the Initiative exceeds the scope of local initiative power and won't be allowed on the ballot this fall. He concluded that it was preempted by the Endangered Species Act and Marine Mammal Protection Act because San Juan County does not qualify as a state that may be able to enact more stringent rules (he didn't clearly identify the different treatment for states under the ESA or MMPA) and that the Initiative attempted to exercise the police power that state law has delegated exclusively to the local legislative body. 

The initiative would have increased the distance boats are required to stay away from the SRKW pods - J, K and L - to 650 yards. 


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