EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

Fire officials are starting to get a handle on the cost of Oregon's most destructive wildfires this year.

To date, the lightning-caused Canyon Creek Complex has cost about $30 million. The bill is shared between the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

"So we split that based on the number of acres across the entire incident," said Tracy Wrolson, who is the assistant district forester ODF's Central Oregon district. "ODF, private grounds had about 18 percent of the total acreage on Canyon Creek."

Gov. Kate Brown has declared a drought emergency in Marion County.

The governor's action on Friday makes Marion the 25th Oregon county to be under a drought declaration. Last year, 10 of Oregon's 36 counties were under drought emergencies.

The governor's drought declaration does not bring any help in the form of aid or loans, but does allow increased flexibility in how water is managed.

Last winter saw a record-low snowpack, leading to low streamflows this summer that have affected irrigators as well as fish.

More Details Emerge On Portland's Bike Rental Program

Sep 16, 2015

The City of Portland unveiled more details Wednesday about its new bike rental proposal.

About 600 bikes will be rented for about $2.50 per half-hour. That’s cheaper than most of the 65 similar programs around the nation.

But the city hopes to make up the difference with annual memberships. Those will likely cost $10 to $15 a month.

Commissioner Nick Fish expects the program to do well.

“The big deciding point for me is family trips to other cities where this has been a huge success," he said.

Walden Holds Fire Meeting In Canyon City

Sep 15, 2015

More than 50 people turned out Monday in Canyon City to discuss the Canyon Creek wildfire and forest policy. The meeting was convened by Republican Congressman Greg Walden.

Canyon City residents who lost homes or property in the fire still face uncertainties. Will the government provide aid for replanting and restoration? How much salvage logging can take place? Can rehabilitation be completed before winter rains begin?

Northwest Tribes Question Federal Firefighting Priorities

Sep 14, 2015

Several inches of ash blanket the ground where a wildfire recently passed through a pine forest on the Colville Reservation. Most of the trees have scorched trunks and dull brown needles … but some could still bounce back.

Cody Desautel, the tribe’s Natural Resources Director, grabed ahold of a scorched bough on a small sapling. “These buds in the end, see, they’ll still look pretty viable,” he said. “So next spring potentially these things could break bud and you could have green needles come out of this.”

Fire officials said Monday the Horsethief Butte Fire in south central Klickitat County has burned more than 8,000 acres and is 50 percent contained.

An undetermined number of outbuildings have burned, but so far no homes have been lost.

On Sunday, officials evacuated more than 300 residents and the town of Wishram, Washington, east of The Dalles.

County officials said evacuation orders have been reduced to level one, meaning residents should be ready to go.

The Red Cross has opened a shelter in in Goldendale.

Earlier this summer, EarthFix reporter Jes Burns took us on a walk in the Southern Oregon woods with Oregon Wild. The conservation group had been chosen by Google to use a backpack-mounted Trekker camera. The plan was to document trails on Bureau of Land Management lands that could be affected by upcoming changes to how the forests are managed.

Washington Residents Evacuated After Wildfire Grows

Sep 14, 2015

Fire officials in Kilckitat County, Washington evacuated 300 residents Sunday after a fast moving wildfire grew to more than 400 acres.

The evacuations include the town of Wishram, Washington, east of The Dalles, according a release from the county.

The Hoursethief Butte Fire was first reported around noon Sunday. State resources were authorized around 3 p-m.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter in Goldendale.

Scientists know a little more about how big earthquakes happen, from research published Thursday in the journal Science.

The study from the U.S. Geological Survey looked at a number of subduction zones, but not the Cascadia Subduction Zone, off the Northwest coast. The research doesn't change predictions that there's a one-in-three chance of a big quake in the Northwest in the next 50 years.

Cool Weather Helps Firefighters Gain On Wildfires

Sep 8, 2015

Cool, wet weather during the last few days has helped wildland firefighters in Oregon and Washington make gains on several large fires.

More than 10,000 firefighters are working on 19 large fires in Oregon and Washington.

“The weather was a huge asset to the firefighters," said Mike Stearly, a spokesman with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland. "We received reports from teams out in the field that received anywhere from a quarter inch to over an inch of rain.”

Jordan Cove LNG Opponents 'Hike The Pipe'

Sep 5, 2015

Opponents of a natural gas export project in Southern Oregon are on a month-long protest hike along the route of a proposed pipeline. This weekend, the hikers neared the halfway point in Jackson County.

The 230-mile Pacific Connector Pipeline would supply the Jordan Cover liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal, proposed for Coos Bay on the Oregon coast.

On Saturday, six “Hike the Pipe” trekkers temporarily gave up their boots for life vests. They floated the stretch of the Rogue River where the pipeline would cross.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a key step Friday in completing a 1,200 mile trail from Glacier National Park to the Pacific Ocean.

Hikers already use what's called the "Pacific Northwest Trail," but it has gaps, and isn't fully built out.

Vilsack has named 23 advisers to help finalize the trail corridor, including Jon Knechtel with the Pacific Northwest Trail Association.

Waterside Energy announced Wednesday plans to expand its proposed energy project in the Columbia River town of Longview, Washington.

In addition to a crude oil refinery, the company now wants to build a $450 million transload facility for liquid propane and butane gas, also known as LPG for liquified petroleum gas.

One unit train – about 115 tank cars long – would arrive from Canada at the facility every day, Waterside Energy CEO Lou Soumas said.

“Then loading it on gas carrier to go to the Asian markets,” he said. “The customer base is export.”

Fishing Restrictions Temporarily Lifted In NE Oregon

Sep 3, 2015

Fishing restrictions on 10 bodies of water in Northeast Oregon have been temporarily lifted effective immediately, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The ODFW announced the relaxed rules, which will impact lakes and ponds in Baker, Union, Umatilla and Wallowa counties, Wednesday.

After Denali, Should Oregon Change Mount Hood's Name?

Sep 2, 2015

Days after President Barack Obama signed an executive order renaming Alaska’s Mount McKinley to its traditional Alaska Native name, “Denali,” OPB’s Think Out Loud discussed the idea of changing Mount Hood’s name to the Native American name Wy’east.

Human-Caused Fires Strain Resources In The Northwest

Sep 2, 2015

Ninety-seven large wildfires have burned on 1.5 million acres across Oregon and Washington this season. Of those fires, 43 were started by lightning. At least 12 were human-caused, but dozens more remain under investigation.

A wildfire can burn more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, that’s more than twice as hot as the surface of Venus. Its flames can reach more than 50 meters high.

Wildfires can get so big that they create their own weather systems, with hurricane force winds. On the ground, the average wildfire moves twice as fast as the average person can run.

How do wildland firefighters tame such an inferno?

Afternoon Fishing Restrictions Lifted In Oregon

Sep 1, 2015

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife rolled back afternoon fishing restrictions Tuesday for most rivers around the state.

Since mid-July, fishing for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and trout has been prohibited after 2 p.m.

Low water levels and warmer-than-average temperatures this summer were hard on fish species in the region.

This is the second story in our two-part series on how drought and climate change are changing the way the Northwest looks to reservoirs to meet its water needs. Read part one here.

This summer’s hot, dry weather has left Northwest apple growers hurting for water to irrigate their orchards. It’s a hint at what’s predicted as the climate continues to warm.

Marine life is struggling to survive in the oxygen-starved waters of Hood Canal.

It’s common during the summer for fish to struggle for oxygen in this long, deep inlet of Puget Sound. But the lack of oxygen is at record lows, researchers say, forcing fish up out of the depths, gasping for air.

Hundreds of rockfish hovered in shallow water, listlessly crowded together to access the limited oxygen closest to the surface. Wolf eels, normally reclusive creatures, came out of their dens, “panting” so as to move water over their gills and avoid suffocating.