On March 28 2023, Pierce County, Washington signed a Resolution declaring the rights of the Southern Resident Orcas, which include “the right to life, autonomy, culture, free and safe passage, adequate food supply from naturally occurring sources, and freedom from conditions causing physical, emotional, or mental harm, including a habitat degraded by noise, pollution, and contamination.” The Proclamation also recognizes that “Nature and all living beings, including the Orcas and the ecosystems upon which they depend, are recognized as possessing inherent rights, including to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate, recover, and be restored.”
Notably, this Resolution is unique in acknowledging 2018 Resolution passed by the Affiliated Tribes of the Northwest Indians of the United States recognizing the Orcas as revered relations for which there is a sacred obligation to ensure they are treated in a dignified manner, as well as the County’s collaborative work with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe, the Nisqually Indian Tribe, and the Squaxin Island Tribe to implement policies and programs that promote Orca recovery.
Pierce County (WA) is the third county to pass a Proclamation recognizing the rights of the Southern Resident Orca. This action follows similar proclamations in Washington State by the cities of Port Townsend, Gig Harbor, and Langley (December 2022), Jefferson County and San Juan County (January and February 2023), and most recently – the cities of Bainbridge Island (February 2023) and Des Moines (March 2023).
The campaign to recognize the rights of the Southern Resident Orca is led by the Earth Law Center (ELC) and partner, Legal Rights for the Salish Sea (LRSS), to protect and recover their population and the ecosystems on which they depend. The long-term goal is State level recognition of the population’s inherent rights. The campaign was launched in 2018 and in 2022 ELC created a template resolution that serves as the basis for the subsequent local-level proclamations.