EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday laid out his wish list for how he'd like Washington state to combat global warming pollution.

It includes eliminating any electricity generated by coal and putting a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Legislative Republicans immediately raised concerns.

Scientists in two nations are on the lookout for an underwater epidemic that is killing starfish.

In September, divers in Vancouver Harbour and Howe Sound near Vancouver, British Columbia, noticed the pizza-sized starfish known as sunflower stars wasting away and dying in large numbers.

“The sick ones tend to just fall apart in front of your eyes,” Vancouver Aquarium biologist Jeff Marliave said. “An arm will actually break off and crawl away. They turn into goo.”

A commercial submarine operator is teaming up with the University of Washington to build a new, manned deep sea sub. The five passenger mini-sub could be available for charter by oil companies or researchers beginning in 2016.

Seattle-based OceanGate Inc. currently operates two small submarines for hire. It sees a market for deeper diving manned submersibles. To that end, the small company has partnered with the University of Washington and Boeing to design a stubby, bullet shaped mini-sub with a 180 degree viewing dome in its nose.

Shutdown Halts Logging On Northwest's National Forests

Oct 14, 2013

Loggers are packing up and leaving timber sales uncut across the Northwest. It's another effect of the partial government shutdown. Timber companies say even if a deal is reached soon at the nation's capitol, the effects from the logging hiatus could be felt all the way into next spring.

Timber companies received letters from the Forest Service telling them to cease operations. That's because the employees who oversee and inspect timber sales were furloughed.

Environmental and commercial fishing groups filed a lawsuit in federal court Friday calling on Washington state to update the fish consumption rate.

The groups say the state has failed to acknowledge how much fish people eat - and that standard will affect how clean state waters need to be - so they're suing the Environmental Protection Agency to step in.

Washington has been thinking about raising its fish consumption rate for several years now.

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.”