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Russell grants will aid orca whales, clean water

An endangered female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound. A series of grants from the Gig Harbor-based Russell Family Foundation is aimed at protecting the whales and restoring the salmon runs that provide them with food.
An endangered female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound. A series of grants from the Gig Harbor-based Russell Family Foundation is aimed at protecting the whales and restoring the salmon runs that provide them with food. AP 2014

Efforts to protect endangered orca whales in South Puget Sound will get a half-million dollar boost from a Gig Harbor-based charity.

The Russell Family Foundation will donate $590,000 to environmental groups working to sustain the health of Puget Sound and its marine life, the foundation announced last week.

A major focus of the grants will be research and protection of orca whales and the Chinook salmon runs on which they depend. Grants will also go to a number of nonprofit groups that advocate for clean water and fight pollution.

One grant of $40,000 will help a preservation group acquire an 816-acre wilderness preserve on the shores of Little Skookum Inlet in Mason County.

The Russell foundation, also known as TRFF, is a charity founded in 1999 by the investor George Russell and his wife, Jane. The grants were announced July 9 by Richard Woo, chief executive officer of the foundation.

Among the grants were $40,000 to the nonprofit Oceans Initiative for the study and protection of orca whales, $50,000 to the Puget Soundkeeper Alliance for work on pollution control and prevention, a $95,000 multi-year grant to Pure Blue, a nonprofit which helps towns and cities adopt new technologies for controlling wastewater and storm runoff pollution, and a $40,000 grant to American Rivers for work on flood-plain restoration along the sound.

The survival of Puget Sound’s dwindling population of orca, or southern resident killer whales, has become a matter of concern as the pods suffer from dwindling food supplies, increasing water pollution, and noise from encroaching vessels

Here is how the Russell grants will help:

The grant to the Oceans Initiative will help finance the group’s research efforts to identify targets for Chinook salmon recovery, assess impacts of vessel and acoustic noise on orca foraging, map key foraging areas and provide technical and scientific expertise on conservation of the whales, the foundation said.

The Seattle-based Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, best known for its boat patrols and lawsuits against polluters, will use its grant to help fund its clean water monitoring and enforcement work, community engagement and civic activism.

PureBlue, a nonprofit with teams in both Seattle and Tacoma, said it will continue to assist towns and cities to adopt technologies that address green infrastructure, pollution runoff, stormwater, wastewater and nutrient reduction targets. The grant will help it expand its staff, the group said.

American Rivers, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., will work on federal river and floodplain policy and management on Puget Sound, with a focus on the endangered Green-Duwamish and Puyallup-White-Carbon watersheds. The nonprofit’s work concentrates on floodplain management and restoration, safe fish passage and reduction of polluted water into Puget Sound.

Also included was a $50,000 grant to the Billy Frank, Jr., Salmon Coalition, a coalition of tribal and other governments. The funding will be used to hire a facilitator to lead efforts to manage habitat, storm water, land use and fisheries policies to restore healthy salmon runs.

In Mason County, the $40,000 grant to the nonprofit group Forterra NW will aid efforts to purchase a conservation easement for 816 acres along the southern shore of Little Skookum Inlet, including two miles of shoreline and three salmon-bearing creeks. A critical habitat for threatened Chinook and steelhead salmon, orca, river otters, shorebirds, crustaceans and forage fish, it is in danger of being lost to development, the group said. Little Skookum Inlet is a branch of Totten Inlet, about 5 miles south of Shelton near Kamilche.

“People, education and natural resources are forever intertwined,” said Woo, the TRFF CEO, in announcing the grants. “Intentional planning and strategizing on the parts of individuals, nonprofits, local communities and governments ensures we can do the necessary work to keep our region healthy.”

The Russell foundation also announced $175,000 in grants from Jane’s Fund, which promotes education. The grants will go mostly to programs that benefit high school and college students in Tacoma and Pierce County, including one that allows high school seniors to visit college campuses before making application decisions.

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