EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

An eco-saboteur charged in a fire-bombing spree that spanned the American West changed her plea in federal court on Thursday. Rebecca Rubin pled guilty to conspiracy and multiple counts of arson.

Rubin is now 40 years old. When she was in her twenties, she joined a cell of radical environmentalists loosely affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front.

Federal investigators blame the shadowy cell for around 20 arsons spanning five Western states. The attacks happened between 1996 and 2001.

Closures on the Pacific Crest Trail aren’t all that uncommon. Parts of the 2,650-mile trail are often closed because of wildfires.

But, now, as the long-distance hiking season comes to an end, the government shutdown has closed all seven national parks and three national monuments along the trail.

Oregon's largest county today released its plan for responding to the health impacts of climate change, joining five others in the state that have looked at what global warming trends mean for people in the Northwest.

With climate models predicting hotter summers and wetter winters across the Northwest, health officials are bracing for more heat-related illnesses, mosquito-borne diseases, and asthma attacks from poor air quality and longer allergy seasons.

A sustained federal government shutdown continues to affect the region, and the Klamath Basin task force is the latest victim.

The final task force session, scheduled for Thursday in Klamath Falls, has been postponed due to the government shutdown.

“Unfortunately, we need certain federal participants in order to be able to complete work on this effort,” wrote Richard Whitman, the governor’s natural resources advisor.

Whitman has overseen the task force’s meetings, which began on July 11.

Octopuses' Gardens: WA Designates 7 No-Hunt Spots

Oct 7, 2013

When a 19-year-old man lured a giant Pacific octopus from its lair off Alki Beach in West Seattle last year – legally, it turned out – a small group of activists were aghast that the charismatic cephalopod wasn’t protected.

They lobbied the state for more protections for the octopus, and triumphed when the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Commission adopted rules to prohibit recreational octopus harvesting at seven popular dive spots in the Puget Sound region. The law went into effect on Sunday.

If you look up the North Fork of Central Washington’s Teanaway River, you can see snowcapped Mount Stuart in the distance.

This area outside Cle Elum is a popular destination for hikers and fishers, and it’s home to wildlife including a wolf pack, spotted owls, and moose.

Until this week, activists in some Oregon counties were pushing to ban genetically modified crops, sometimes referred to as GMOs. Now they are now looking at a statewide initiative.

Oregon lawmakers on Wednesday put the brakes on anti-GMO initiatives in four counties when they passed Senate Bill 863 this week. The bill prohibits local ordinances banning genetically modified crops.

Supporters of the bill say it ensures that farmers across the state can operate under one set of state regulations rather than patchwork of local rules.

A Western Washington tribe today won a legal victory that will ensure more water stays in the Skagit River to help salmon and steelhead.

The Washington state Supreme Court ruled that the Department of Ecology overstepped its authority in allocating water from the Skagit River for new development.

THIN ICE: Exploring Mount Hood's Glacier Caves

Oct 3, 2013

He’s wearing a white helmet with his name and “Cave Rescue” printed on it. Cartaya is worried because the sun is starting to rise and hit the ice.

His climbing partner Brent McGregor follows at a more reasonable pace. The bearded 60-year-old takes in the morning and smiles.

“One of the best sounds in alpine mountaineering is the sound of crampons and ice axes on good firm snow,” he says.

Check out OPB's full digital version of THIN ICE:

Glacier Caving Caution

Oct 2, 2013

When Brent McGregor and Eddy Cartaya explore the Sandy Glacier they follow safety protocols, including signing into cave register and staying in radio communication with local search and rescue teams.

Glacier cave exploration requires preparation for serious hazards:

The caves are located off-trail in steep areas that are difficult for search and rescue teams to access.

Blocks of ice that weigh more than a ton can fall from the ceiling, particularly near cave entrances.

Three environmental groups are suing the Port of Vancouver to overturn the approval of a lease for the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal.

Columbia Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Northwest Environmental Defense Center say the Port of Vancouver Commission held an illegal executive session before approving the lease in July. They're asking the court to rescind the lease.

Season of Smoke: Changing Climate Leads To Bigger, Smokier Wildfires

Oct 2, 2013

SEATTLE -- Each fire season is a roll of the dice.

Some years lightning strikes more often. Other years soggy summers keep big burns at bay.

This year more than 4,000 wildfires burned almost a million acres across the Northwest. That might sound like a lot, but it falls below the 10-year average. In the last decade, only one year has had fewer fires than this year.

PORTLAND – On hot summer days, 74-year-old HelenRuth Stephens doesn't dare leave her apartment. Not to get the mail or take out the trash.

"You don't do it because you'll be breathless by the time you get back," she says.

She suffers from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Both affect her lungs. Hot weather drains her energy, she says, and makes it hard for her to breathe.

Stephens is the type of person public health officials worry about as they're preparing for climate change.

About a hundred people attended a community meeting on the Tesoro-Savage oil terminal in Vancouver Monday night.

Tesoro Corporation and Savage Companies have proposed to transport up to 380,000 barrels of crude oil a day through the Port of Vancouver. The Port approved a lease for the project in July.

Toxic Algal Blooms And Warming Waters: The Climate Connection

Sep 30, 2013

SAMMAMISH, Wash. -- A photograph displayed in Jacki and John Williford's home commemorates a camping trip that would go down in family history.

The most memorable event from that outing in 2011 involved the mussels John and his two children collected from a dock near Sequim Bay State Park on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The family took them back to their campsite and steamed them in white wine with garlic and oregano.

“It was really good. Like the best mussels in the whole wide world,” remembers their son Jaycee, now 7. “And they were huge.”

How Farmworkers Experience A Warming Climate

Sep 27, 2013

HOOD RIVER, Ore. -- For 20 years, Victor Gonzales has traveled the West picking crops. In the Northwest that means pears, cherries and apples.

Right now, he’s working at a Hood River pear orchard. In the summer, temperatures here can reach 100 degrees. Gonzalez remembers one day when he’d been working really hard, sweating more than normal.

Gonzales felt like he was going to pass out. He was shaky and very sleepy, he says through a translator. Instead of sleeping, he went to the farmworker housing unit and drank a lot of water and rested until he recovered.

Jewell Praying Wolf James is a tribal leader and master carver of the Lummi Nation. Ten years ago he carved totem poles and presented them as gifts and symbols of solidarity and healing for the victims of the 9/11 attacks. He drove the totem poles across the country to Washington, D.C. and New York.

Now he’s on another journey with a slightly different mission. The Lummi tribal reservation abuts the proposed site of the largest coal export terminal on the West coast. He’s carved a 22-foot totem pole that represents tribal opposition to coal and oil exports in the Northwest.

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — The U.S. House has passed a bill that includes a one-year extension of federal subsidies for timber counties.

Oregon counties would get about $100 million under the extension of the now expired Secure Rural Schools program. The money was attached to a must-pass bill that would avert an impending shutdown of the federal helium reserve.

The House decision on Wednesday sends the measure back to the Senate, which has already backed the bill but must conform with technical changes made in the House.

The biggest railroad in the Northwest forcefully defended the safety of oil trains Wednesday.

It happened at a meeting in Seattle of environmental regulators from the West Coast. The context is the rapid rise in crude oil trains coming to the Northwest from North Dakota and this summer's deadly explosion in Quebec.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe hazmat expert Patrick Brady calls that train accident "an anomaly."

Study: Dams Help The NW Cope With Climate Change

Sep 25, 2013

A new study suggests Columbia River Basin dams are helping the Northwest cope with climate change.

Scientists say one result of rising average temperatures is that water from snowmelt is flowing earlier into rivers. That could mean lower flows during summer and fall when the water is needed for fish and crop irrigation.

But the new study says Columbia River Basin dams are helping offset these shifts.