AS A SELF-DESCRIBED cowboy from southern Idaho sagebrush country, Les Purce has never ceased to be amazed by Puget Sound. He grew to treasure it while serving as the longtime president of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, which has a national reputation for its programs in sustainability and environmental stewardship.

New book ‘We Are Puget Sound’ reminds us what’s at risk if we ignore the struggles of the Salish Sea

In 2018, Gov. Jay Inslee signed an executive order making it a state priority to protect and recover the southern resident killer whale population. Even though the orcas have been listed for protection under Canadian and U.S. endangered species laws, the population declined from 95 in 1995 to 74 in 2018.

As part of the executive order, Inslee created the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, appointing Purce and Stephanie Solien as co-chairs to lead representatives of nearly 50 government entities, native tribes, coalitions and industry groups with an interest in the inland sea.

Purce says he believes education of Puget Sounders, and those who visit the Sound, must play a central role in recovering the orca.

“It’s essential that we build a coalition of people who are serious about figuring out strategies to increase orca food sources, and about coming to agreement on how we will live with the orcas,” he says. “More importantly, we have to reverse the impacts of all the toxics that are in the Sound. The orcas, and how we all experience the Sound, are really at risk. We have to sustain the orcas, and in the process sustain us.”