EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

A plan to make room for more oil trains in the Columbia River Gorge is moving closer to a decision.

The Wasco County Planning Commission heard testimony Tuesday on a proposal to build a second set of Union Pacific Railroad tracks along the Oregon side of the Columbia River.

The humpback whale has made a significant recovery since being listed as endangered nearly 50 years ago. But a federal review issued Tuesday indicates Northwest humpbacks are still showing signs of trouble.

The review evaluated the Endangered Species Status of the whale worldwide. This time around, U.S. fisheries managers did something very different.

Green Crab Invaders Show Up in Puget Sound

Sep 6, 2016

Sean McDonald’s heart sank when he got the text last week.

“I was shocked and dismayed,” said the University of Washington shellfish and crab expert, “I was really hoping that we’d have more time.”

Citizen scientists volunteering with the Washington Sea Grant had found an adult male green crab on a routine sampling trip to San Juan Island’s Westcott Bay.

Leaders with the city of Portland say the $746 million plan to clean up the Portland Harbor Superfund Site isn't perfect, but it's good enough to move forward.

The headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge could remain closed for the rest of the year. It’s been closed since the armed occupation in January.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is installing security upgrades at the refuge headquarters and visitor center, and says the work could take until early next spring.

Oregon Fish and Wildlife has unveiled the first update in 10 years to its species conservation strategy.

That plan guides the monitoring and protection of non-game animals — the kind that aren’t hunted or fished. It also determines how the state uses millions of dollars in federal conservation grants.

The update identifies which habitats and species have the greatest need for conservation.

Lead-Tainted Water, Oregon's Lawmakers Drank It Too

Sep 2, 2016

Some drinking fountains have been turned off at the Oregon Capitol building after tests showed an unsafe level of lead in the water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says even small amounts of lead in drinking water can be hazardous, especially to children and pregnant women.

An initial round of tests in the Capitol showed unsafe levels of lead in two water fountains.

There was also lead in bathroom faucets in the oldest section of the Capitol building, which dates to 1938. That's home to the governor's office and both legislative chambers.

Openings on the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission have sport fishing groups eyeing an opportunity to gain a voice while some environmental groups worry they’ll lose one.

Two members are up for reappointment and another seat is vacant on the commission, which sets natural resource policies ranging from hunting and fishing rules to last year’s decision to remove gray wolves from the endangered list.

Seaside School District has four schools in the tsunami zone.

The school board unanimously approved a bond measure Thursday to build a new campus outside the tsunami zone. It tried to pass a bond to get them out in 2013, but that failed.

Superintendent Doug Dougherty thinks this time it’ll be different.

First, because Weyerhaeuser has donated land above the tsunami zone. And second, because Seaside is first in line to receive $4 million in matching funds from the state.

New rules are taking effect in Washington that require railroads to prove their readiness for an oil train spill.

The rules, adopted this week, will require railroads to file plans informing the state Department of Ecology of the steps they will take if an oil train derails and spills. The state then reviews those plans and puts railroads through drills to test their preparedness.

Spill planning was a longtime gap in oil train safety.

Railroads in Washington must now meet the same planning requirements as other forms of oil transport such as pipelines and ships.

Court Rules Corps Can Continue Killing Cormorants

Sep 1, 2016

A federal district court judge found the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers broke the law in approving a plan to kill cormorants on the Columbia River, but he allowed the plan to go forward.

In his ruling, Judge Michael Simon said the agency failed to consider alternatives before deciding to kill the birds, which prey on juvenile salmon and steelhead. However, he also ruled that the agency can continue killing the birds because it helps threatened and endangered fish.

The Washington Department of Ecology issued a $444,000 fine Thursday to Total Reclaim, the state’s largest electronic waste recycler.

The Federal Highway Administration has granted Oregon $2.1 million for the state’s pay-per-mile tax program. The pilot OReGO program started in 2015 and now includes more than 1,200 vehicles.

"We received funding to expand our technology options and to develop new ones potentially, including a manual option that we would need if we were to go to a fully mandated statewide program," said Michelle Godfrey, an Oregon Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

Crook County is the latest in rural Oregon to consider a natural resource plan that outlines policies on things like timber harvest, wildlife and fire management.

Crook County leaders voted 2-1 Tuesday to reject the natural resource plan submitted by a local political action committee.

Relations between federal land managers and residents of the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon have long been strained by disputes over the Bureau of Land Management’s forest plans.

With another large forestry project now under consideration, I went on a field trip with BLM staff and Applegate residents to look at the proposed Nedsbar timber sale on Bald Mountain.

Kristi Mastrofini, a field manager in the Medford, Oregon, office of the Bureau of Land Management, points the group toward our destination.

American white pelicans are conspicuous birds. With their long orange bills and their nine-foot wingspan, they stand out, even at a distance.

Sue Ehler easily spots a squadron of them through her binoculars from over a mile away, coming in for a landing on Puget Sound’s Padilla Bay.

“They’ve got that pure white. It just shines like a bright light out there. More than the other white birds,” Ehler says.

It’s the hottest day of the year so far, and a small garter snake decides to take a swim in Steamboat Creek. The thin creature wriggles its way lackadaisically across a deep green pool.

It doesn’t seem to notice the 170 adult steelhead hovering just a few feet below the surface.

“It’s really trying to tempt one of those steelhead to go grab it,” says John Kober, executive director of the conservation group Pacific Rivers.

Portland Public Schools said Thursday it's OK to eat vegetables grown in the dozens of community gardens on school grounds.

That reverses advice from last week telling Portlanders not to eat the school garden produce due to high levels of lead in school water used to irrigate the plants.

A wildlife rehabilitation facility in Central Oregon is under investigation by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The High Desert Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center voluntarily gave up its permit to care for wildlife after a visit from ODFW officials earlier this month.

"When that occurred, we went into the facility and dealt with those animals," said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for ODFW. She said the center was caring for mostly birds or small mammals that were then transferred to other care centers, released or euthanized.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has officially asked President Obama to designate a remote area in southeastern Oregon as a national monument.

Blumenauer is the only member of Oregon’s Congressional delegation to openly ask Obama to create an Owyhee National Monument.

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