EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

The Vatican has invited Portland Mayor Charlie Hales to discuss climate change and human trafficking with Pope Francis. The city says Hales is one of 16 mayors from around the world chosen to attend a papal summit on July 21.

Pope Francis is issuing a decree this week on climate change. In a draft leaked by an Italian magazine, he backed the scientific explanation of climate change, and linked the issue to global inequality and poverty.

As the Northwest drought deepens, millions of dollars in emergency federal aid are headed toward stricken states, top Obama administration officials told seven western governors Friday.

The White House says it will make $110 million available to help those suffering from the effects of drought.

A variety of federal agencies will disperse the money. Some will be used to help farmers find ways to conserve water, change grazing practices and improve irrigation.

Rob Manning/OPB

Northwest  forest policy is once again heating up.  Last week, federal officials presented their latest assessment of the Northwest Forest Plan, which covers more than 2 million acres of federal land in Washington, Oregon and California.  Jes Burns from our EarthFix team gets together with JPR’s Liam Moriarty to break it all down.

On a former landfill site in Northeast Portland, a white rot fungus has taken hold – and that's a good thing. It's a mushroom known for its ability to clean up water pollution.

Dean Smith, 72, sits in his car by the tracks north of Seattle.

It’s a dark, rainy Tuesday night, and Smith waits for an oil train to come through town. These trains are distinctive: A mile long, they haul 100 or so black, pill-shaped cars that each carry 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

Smith has been monitoring oil trains in his community for about a year, noting each one on a website he built. He does it because the railroads share little information about oil train traffic with Washington state. They don’t have to because they’re federally regulated.

Julie Weikel has just returned from a trek in the high desert of Eastern Oregon. Her goal was to confirm the migration pattern of Pronghorn Antelope between the Hart Mountain and Sheldon National Wildlife refuges. Weikel is 68 years old and a retired large animal veterinarian. She's been involved with wildlife and conservation efforts for decades.

Marine Toxin Closes Washington Crab Season

Jun 12, 2015

Washington fishery managers say they are in “uncharted territory” following the closure of a major ocean fishery off the state’s southern coast.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it was closing the recreational and commercial Dungeness crab fisheries after samples of crab revealed unsafe levels of a harmful, naturally occurring marine toxin called domoic acid that has already shut down razor clam fisheries in both Oregon and Washington.

Jordan Cove LNG's Federal Environmental Review Pushed To September

Jun 12, 2015

Jordan Cove LNG's federal environmental review has been pushed back to September.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a revised Notice of Schedule on Thursday, a day before the proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal was expected to receive its final environmental impact statement.

The final EIS is now expected to be released Sept. 30, with a 90-day federal authorization decision deadline moved to Dec. 29.

On a hillside in southeastern Washington, bunch grasses ripple in the wind. A storm is forming off in the distance, and crickets chirp nearby.

It’s here where botanist Mark Darrach has found three rare flowers previously unknown to science. That’s a lot. He said many botanists are lucky to find one in their career.

“It’s a unique plant community that hasn’t been recognized until just a couple years ago when we stumbled across these and started scratching our heads, like ‘Where did this come from? We’ve never seen this before,” Darrach said.

The issue of forest policy is once again heating up in the Northwest. On Tuesday federal officials presented their latest assessment of the Northwest Forest Plan, which covers more than 2 million acres of federal land in Washington, Oregon and California.

Q: Can you remind us what the Northwest Forest Plan is?

Two technicians balance on a floating fish trap about the size of a double bed. They dip nets into the water and scoop out small fish and mats of vegetation. The fish are carefully placed in five-gallon buckets and the weed is casually tossed back into to river.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife techs are recording their catch from shallow side channel of the middle Klamath River. They're observing variety, inspecting the fish for signs of trouble, and packing up hatchery for disease testing at a lab.

A new federal recovery plan for Snake River sockeye salmon recognizes progress in rebuilding a species that nearly vanished in the 1990s.

It calls for moving into a new phase of recovery for Idaho's iconic fish – beyond preventing extinction.

A new oil refinery is the last thing you might expect Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's administration to be courting. After all, Inslee has developed a national reputation as a champion of curbing the use of fossil fuels.

Mercury Cleanup Begins In Central Oregon

Jun 5, 2015

Cleanup of a mercury-contaminated site began Monday on a Bureau of Land Management area in Central Oregon.

The Barnes Butte Area near Prineville will close for two weeks while crews work to remove mercury contamination from a 1940s mine site. The BLM area is a popular destination for hikers, dog walkers and and horse riders.

BLM field manager Susie Manezes said no one has ever complained to the BLM of health problems associated with the contaminated area. But the high mercury levels aren't safe.

The Port of Astoria attempted to scare hundreds of sea lions off its docks Thursday using a motorized orca made of fiberglass. But after a series of mishaps, the experiment went belly up.

Port leaders had high hopes for the fake orca as it pulled into town on a trailer from Bellingham, Washington. A fake baby orca tagged along, lashed onto the roof of an SUV.

She was a year and a half old, whimpering under the shade of a horse trailer when rescuers found her.

A wildfire in North-Central Washington had been burning for a month. The young bear's paws were so badly charred that she'd been crawling on her knees and elbows. They were burned, too.

That was in 2014. The bear was a casualty of what would be known as the Carlton Complex fire. It was the biggest wildfire in Washington history.

Matt Madsen watches as a commercial kitchen mixer churns in the center of his lab. Inside the stainless steel bowl is a thick, chunky brown mixture. This is no ordinary dough.

“Diatomaceous earth, bentonite clay, compost, worm castings,” said Madsen, an ecologist at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center, ticking the ingredients off on his fingers.

In the latest attempt to shoo away the hundreds of hungry sea lions lying around Port of Astoria docks, the city is bringing in a fake baby orca to swim alongside the adult-sized model Thursday. Reporter Cassandra Profita reports that the models will be dropped into the water after noon.

Poach Fish, Get Caught, Keep Your License

Jun 2, 2015

Get caught poaching fish one too many times in Northwest waters and you’re likely to lose your sport fishing license.

Do the same under a commercial license, on a much larger scale, and you’ll likely avoid the same fate.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has suspended thousands of recreational fishing licenses since 2003 because of rule violations, according to agency data. It has revoked zero licenses for commercial fishing violations since then. They're almost as uncommon in Oregon.

Following the untimely death of the widely photographed and loved mule deer known as "Buck Norris," a group is hoping to raise enough money to build a memorial in honor of Central Oregon's unofficial mascot.

"He fearlessly roamed the roads and yards around town and made friends across the region," wrote the campaign's creator Cari Lampshire on the GoFundMe page. "Let's give Buck the memorial he deserves for bringing so many of us so much joy and awe over the years."