Four consulting firms have been hired by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's office to gather views on whether removing the lower Snake River dams could recover Chinook populations vital to southern resident killer whales, and to put together a draft report by December.

The stakeholder process was recommended in fall 2018 by the Southern Resident Orca Task Force, and will be funded with $750,000 approved by the state Legislature earlier this year. The task force heard an update on the plan at its Sept. 9 meeting from Jim Cahill, senior budget assistant at Inslee's Office of Financial Management.

Cahill reported the governor's office hired a consulting team including Ross Strategic, Kramer Consulting, White Bluffs Consulting and Anchor QEA. They have started interviewing people around the state and region to understand both the negative and positive impacts of breaching or retaining the dams, he said.

The team will gather and summarize existing works on dam removal or retention, and interview stakeholders. In parallel, the governor's office will consult with tribes and the states of Oregon, Idaho and Montana. The office will also briefs legislators, the state's congressional delegation and federal agencies.

Consultants will then write a report on the social, economic and environmental impacts of dam removal. The report will not recommend whether the dams should be removed, but it will help inform the state's position on the federal EIS on Columbia River System Operations, the task force's meeting packet states.

The process also will not develop new mitigation options, nor provide recommendations on the best way to address costs and benefits from dam retention or removal, the meeting packet says.

Consultants expected to gather information through mid-November before writing a draft report in early December, which will be available for public comment.

They will then host public workshops in December before delivering a final report to the governor and Legislature by mid-February, when the draft CRSO EIS is expected to be released.

K.C. Mehaffey covers fish issues for Clearing Up, and is editor of the NW Fishletter. She joined the NewsData writing team in February 2018. From lawsuits to scientific studies, she is enjoying the deep dive into the Columbia Basin's many fish topics.