Following local cities, Jefferson County proclaims rights for orcas

County becomes first in state to make declaration

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County is the latest local government to declare inherent rights for the region’s Southern Resident orca population, making it the first county in the state to issue such a proclamation.

Three Puget Sound cities issued similar declarations in December — Port Townsend was the first —all of which recognize inherent rights for the orcas, including the right to life, autonomy and free and safe passage.

Speaking at the Jefferson County commissioners’ meeting Tuesday, Port Townsend resident Deborah Ellers said the cities’ proclamations are causing people to think about the health of the orcas.

“This is spurring people to think how can we live our daily lives as orca-centric people in this community,” Ellers said.

Ellers is a member of the environmental activist group North Olympic Orca Pod, and she and her fellow group members were at Tuesday’s meeting dressed in orca costumes.

Each represented an individual orca.

“I represent L25 Ocean Sun. She was born around 1930 and she witnessed what the salmon runs were like,” Ellers said. “It’s her that spurs me on to try to restore the Northwest ecosystem.”

The recent declarations are the result of work by local activists, including Gig Harbor-based Kriss Kevorkian, founder of Legal Rights for the Salish Sea, who’s been reaching out to local governments about the proclamations.

In an email Tuesday, Kevorkian said she planned a meeting with representatives in Pierce County and that San Juan County was also considering a proclamation.

The proclamations are largely symbolic, but advocates say they send a message about what the public values. They hope to affect change at a higher level.

“One of our major initiatives is breaching the Lower Snake River dams, which is the single biggest thing we could do to restore millions of salmon into our Northwest ecosystem,” Ellers told commissioners.

Commissioners unanimously supported the proclamation, saying it reflected the county’s values.

District 3 Commissioner Greg Brotherton called the proclamation “a harbinger for the future.”

District 1 Commissioner Kate Dean said she had been moved by the 2018 images of the orca J35, “Tahlequah,” who gained international attention for carrying the body of her dead calf with her for 17 days.

“I had such a strong feeling of, we cannot, on our watch, let this species go extinct,” Dean said at the meeting. “And we know that we are at the critical point right now.”

The proclamations are part of a growing legal movement known as Rights of Nature, which argues that the natural world, plants, animals, even entire ecosystems, have legal rights akin to those of people.

Dean said she had previously worked on orca and salmon issues in her capacity as county commissioner which had caused tension with county officials elsewhere in the state.

“It’s been a really hard position to take with some of my county colleagues,” Dean said.

District 2 Commissioner Heidi Eisenhour said she grew up in a salmon fishing family and supported breaching the Lower Snake River Dams.

Environmental advocates have called for the removal of hydroelectric dams throughout the Columbia River Basin to aid the salmon and steelhead trout populations. Those in favor of keeping the dams point out that they are part of the Bonneville Power Administration, which provides electricity to communities in eight states.


Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at

More in News

Air Force to clean up station

EPA plans to oversee Neah Bay operation

Appraisal for Short’s Farm less than port expected

Port of PT considering purchase to support local agriculture growth

Artwork by Sixkiller, contemporary Cherokee artist, is on display in House of Learning, Peninsula College Longhouse now through March.
Cherokee artist to speak on Grandma Spider

Contemporary Cherokee artist Karen Sixkiller will speak on “Rediscovering… Continue reading

Jefferson PUD plans to standardize broadband fees

Some internet providers in Jefferson County may see their… Continue reading

Port Angeles Community Award recipients gather after Saturday night’s fifth annual awards gala, including, from left, Joe DeScala, representing 4PA, organization of the year; Dr. Gerald Stephanz, citizen of the year; Tommy Harris, young leader of the year; Natalie Snow, Katelyn Sheldon and Andrea Dean, representing Welly’s Real Fruit Ice Cream, emerging business of the year; and Hayley Sharpe, owner of MOSS, business of the year. Not present was John Gallagher, educator of the year. The awards are produced by the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Sound Publishing. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)
Community awards distributed at chamber gala

Six categories featured as event returns in person

One hurt in wreck at 104-Shine intersection

A Poulsbo woman was treated and discharged from Harborview Medical… Continue reading

Brock Tejeda, a high school senior, fits together his carefully crafted pieces of wood to make a step stool just like the larger finished sample on the left. Port Angeles High School hosted a Skills USA Olympic Regional contest in the woodshop at the school on Saturday. The contest involved students making in eight hours from precise directions a small step stool using their skills and the shop’s many tools and machines. Joe Shideler is the woodshop teacher, but retired woodshop teacher Tim Branham was the enabler who brought the contest back to the school after a four-year COVID absence. There were five high school contestants including one girl. Skills USA sponsors over 50 skills across the country. PAHS participated in the carpentry and precision machinery areas. (Dave Logan/for Peninsula Daily News)
Skills contest

Brock Tejeda, a high school senior, fits together his carefully crafted pieces… Continue reading

Matthew Nash/Olympic Peninsula News Group
About 100 people gathered in support of Sequim School District's proposed CTE building at Sequim City Council's last meeting. More than 20 people spoke in favor of the project in a public hearing.
Sequim council approves $250K for CTE facility

City’s contribution part of effort to raise $1 million

Monroe Athletic Field
Bidding opens for Monroe Athletic Field

Slated for completion this fall

Most Read