EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

Gray wolves are once again the center of attention for Oregon wildlife officials.

The state is considering revisions to the state’s Wolf Management Plan, which directs how the state’s gray wolf population is protected. The plan also addresses how conflicts with humans, livestock and deer and elk population goals should be handled.

“We’re looking at plan, how we implemented it, what works and what doesn’t - and what we could do better,” Wolf Program Coordinator Russ Morgan said Friday at an Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting in Klamath Falls.

Nature Time Improves Your Well-Being, Says OSU Study

Apr 21, 2017

Researchers at Oregon State University have found that people who spend time in nature feel greater life satisfaction.

That's certainly true for Gig Harbor, Washington, resident Bill Coughlin, who recently spent the day hiking with his kids at Smith Rock State Park near Terrebonne, Oregon.

"It recharges me more than anything," Coughlin said, gazing up at the giant red rock face. "There’s nothing like getting back into nature. It’s just so peaceful, too. It’s needed. In our busy lives, it’s just so important."

The state of Oregon has announced a new round of taxpayer-funded grants to help schools and other public buildings better withstand a major earthquake.

The grant program is funded by state bonds. It was created just over a decade ago when lawmakers became convinced of the need to protect critical infrastructure as well as to protect lives of vulnerable people in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

One of President Trump’s top economic advisors says the administration plans to approve a permit for the controversial Jordan Cove liquefied natural gas project in Coos Bay.

In an interview at a policy summit Thursday, White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn said building terminals that would ship LNG to Japan and Germany would offer a big boost the U.S. economy.

Looming Budget Cuts Put Scientists In Limbo

Apr 21, 2017

Eric Dexter pulls a giant windsock out a plastic tub and drops it into the Columbia River.

“So now we’re going catch the zooplankton samples, which is what I'm most interested in,” he said.

He’s looking for invasive species – but not the kind you usually hear about. Invasive plankton are practically invisible. They come in the ballast water of cargo ships, often from Asia. To even find these microscopic organisms, you need a plankton fishing net.

Washington’s Department of Ecology wants more information before deciding whether to approve a shoreline permit for a controversial methanol refinery in Kalama.

In its application, NW Innovation Works establishes a self-imposed limit of 976,131 metric tons greenhouse gas emissions annually. But in the letter to the county, the Department of Ecology says its calculations found an additional 232,136 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be emitted per year.

Oregon is proposing to relax protections for bald eagles on private land. A series of public hearings on the rule change began Wednesday.

Recovery of the bald eagle is considered to be an endangered-species success story. The eagle was taken off the federal list of endangered species in 2007. Oregon delisted it in 2012.

Helping juvenile salmon migrate out to sea has long been difficult and controversial. Barging is a common way to get the fish around dams.

The salmon are hauled around eight dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Idaho Conservation groups say this practice harms fish — and needs to stop now.

Seven groups sent a letter to NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agencies to this spring stop sending salmon along their migration route in barges.

Northwest communities are getting their drinking water from aging infrastructure that is costly to maintain and prone to breaking down.

That’s the conclusion of a new report issued by the Olympia-based Center for Sustainable Infrastructure, which is affiliated with The Evergreen State College.

The center's director, Rhys Roth, said those water systems were state-of-the-art when they were built a century ago.

Despite a wet and windy spring, wildfire season officially begins in Washington state Saturday. Oregon’s fire season typically begins next month, depending on weather conditions.

As the season begins, fire officials caution people working in the woods or clearing land to have fire prevention equipment on hand.

Boardman is best known to thousands of people for its roadside attraction: a sprawling tree farm along Interstate 84. Acres of poplar trees sprouted in orderly rows along the highway running through Eastern Oregon.

Now, most of those plantation trees have been cut down, the land sold. Part of it will soon become Oregon’s second-largest dairy. Lost Valley Farms just received a key permit at the end of March. Its owners say the dairy should be up and running in a few weeks.

From the BelleWood Acres farmhouse in Washington's Whatcom County, you can see piles of apple crates and rows of trees that stretch for acres. This is the biggest apple orchard west of the Cascades.

“Spring time’s magical in the orchard,” says John Belisle, who owns the orchard with his wife, Dorie.

“There’s bees everywhere,” Dorie agrees. “The orchards hum with their working.”

An early warning system for earthquakes is expanding to Oregon and Washington — thanks to a group of universities and government agencies.

California has had the "ShakeAlert" system for a couple of years. And depending on where an earthquake hits, it can give nearby cities a warning of up to a minute or two. That’s enough for a train to stop, a lift to open, or for people to get out of a building.

Remodeling or repainting an old home can trigger federal requirements to prevent exposure to lead-based paint. Demolishing that same home does not.

Oregon lawmakers are now hoping to help close that regulatory hole by giving cities and counties the authority to regulate the control of lead dust from home demolitions.

Demolishing older homes coated with lead paint can release toxic lead dust that disperses hundreds of feet. Those demolitions have been on the rise throughout the Northwest’s rapidly growing areas like Portland and Seattle.

Northwest rivers are running high as all that winter snowpack melts into spring runoff.

And that means the region is producing too much of a good thing: carbon-free, renewable energy in the form of both dam-generated hydropower along with electricity from spinning wind-farm turbines.

That's prompted the federal government to take an action it avoided during the last four years of drought conditions: shutting down wind power.

Opponents Aim To Block State Funding For Methanol Plant

Apr 6, 2017

Opponents of a methanol refinery proposed on the Columbia River say Washington is poised to spend $12 million in public funds to help build the controversial plant.

They sent a letter to Washington lawmakers Thursday asking them to block that spending because it would pay for a dock and a road needed by methanol project developer Northwest Innovation Works.

Mountain biking enthusiasts in Portland may soon have more places to ride within the city, thanks to the new Off-Road Cycling Master Plan.

The goal of the plan is to provide more off-roading experiences for bicyclists within the city – including trail networks in parks and stunt tracks. But the most contentious part of the plan is the proposal to add additional areas for bikers inside Forest Park.

Using Whale Breath To Find Out What's Ailing Orcas

Apr 5, 2017

Scientists have a new tool to figure out what’s ailing Puget Sound’s resident orcas. They’re studying whale breath, which is no easy feat.

“We had petri dishes that were mounted on an extendable pole,” explains Linda Rhodes, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “We had to position the boat close enough to the whale so that when it surfaced and exhaled we would be able to pass the petri dishes through the plume.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has said they will not ban an insecticide widely used on farms and orchards, including in Washington state.

This comes after recommendations from EPA scientists last year to ban the chemical in question, a pesticide called chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos was banned years ago for use in most household products.

In recent years, environmental groups have been petitioning to have it removed from agricultural use too. They say it can harm children.

What's Next For The Owyhee Canyonlands?

Apr 4, 2017

Last year, conservationists made a big push to convince President Obama to create a national monument in a vast area in Southeast Oregon known as the Owyhee.

It's a vast, rugged sagebrush steppe landscape with red rock canyons and unusual geology. But the proposal faced fierce resistance from ranchers and other locals in Malheur County. At the end of his term, the Owyhee was left off of Obama’s list of new and expanded monuments.