EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

As international leaders prepare for the next round of climate talks in Paris, the plight of climate refugees is expected to be front and center.

The question confronting these global leaders is this: how should the developed world help poor, island and coastal nations whose lands and livelihoods are threatened by sea level rise, extreme weather and other climate change-related risks?

Here in the Northwest, sea level rise is forcing a Native American tribe to consider abandoning lands it has inhabited for thousands of years.

Two of the largest timber companies in the United States, Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek, announced plans Monday to merge under the Weyerhaeuser name.

The combined company will be the largest private timberland owner in the South and the Pacific Northwest, with stock worth $23 billion and a portfolio of more than 13 million acres.

That includes 7.3 million acres of Southern yellow pine forests in the Southern U.S., 3 million acres of Douglas fir forest in Oregon and Washington, and 2.6 million acres of mixed hardwoods in Michigan and the Northeast.

The sagebrush ecosystem is in trouble — thanks to invasive species and wildfires, which have damaged much of the land in the West. Now, to help restore some recently burned areas, inmates from central Washington are planting sagebrush that has been grown in prisons.

The vast steppe-like landscape near Ephrata, Washington, stretches almost as far as you can see. Most of the sagebrush is pretty healthy, if not too dense. But this 240-acre patch of public land was burned last year.

After a failed vote of 3-4 on a less restrictive proposal, the board elected to more than double the stream-side shade requirements under the Forest Practices Act to protect cold water for fish. The rules bring Oregon closer in line with logging policies meant to keep streams cool in the neighboring state of Washington.

The new rules increase the size of the restricted areas along small and medium fish-bearing streams. They’re estimated to affect between 15,000 and 30,000 acres of forestland altogether.

Rare Blue Whale Washes Up On Oregon Beach

Nov 5, 2015

A 78-foot-long blue whale washed up on the shores of southern Oregon this week.

Though gray whales occasionally turn up on Oregon beaches when they die, it’s rare to find blue whales.

Bruce Mate, who serves as marine mammal director at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center, said this is the first time he's seen a blue whale on Oregon beaches. He's been doing research in the state since 1968.

After more than five years of negotiations and much secrecy, the Obama Administration released the full text of a controversial Pacific Rim trade deal Thursday. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement streamlines business between 12 Asia-Pacific countries, including the United States.

It’s a 6,000-page document that stakeholders on a number of fronts — including agriculture, manufacturing, the environment and labor — are just starting to dissect as they prepare to lobby Congress, which will likely decide next spring whether or not to ratify the deal.

California officials delayed opening its recreational crab fishing season Thursday. Scientists have found high levels of a potentially lethal toxin in Dungeness crab in California. A similar delay could come any time for California's commercial crab season.

Hugh Link, the director of the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission, says testing is underway, but no decision has been made about Oregon's season.

The penalties keep coming for Applebee Aviation.

After suspending the company’s license for a year, seeking a court order to stop it from spraying and fining it $40,000, the Oregon Department of Agriculture announced fines totaling $180,000 for the helicopter company and its owner, Michael Applebee, along with a five-year license suspension.

Portland City Council Votes To Oppose Oil Trains

Nov 4, 2015

A large crowd cheered Wednesday night as the Portland City Council voted 4-0 to approve a resolution opposing projects that would increase the number of oil trains traveling through Portland and Vancouver, Washington.

The resolution calls for using existing laws to address environmental impacts of oil trains, and to ask railroad companies to share their plans and address safety concerns. But it can't stop oil trains from coming through town because the city doesn't have jurisdiction over railways.

City Of Portland Considers Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Ban

Nov 4, 2015

Environmentalists, business leaders and children made an impassioned plea Wednesday for the City of Portland to reject any new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Pete Salinger is a 13-year-old from Sunnyside Environmental School. He's studying climate change, and said when he was in Alaska this summer, tour guides pointed out glaciers that had shrunk to little more than patches of snow. “I want to be able to show my children majestic glaciers and not talk about them as something that once was. That is not too much to ask,” he said.

A Northwest senator is behind a proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by going to the very start of the carbon cycle: the coal, oil and natural gas that has yet to be extracted from the ground.

Scientists have found dozens of poisoned dolphins, whales and sea lions off the coast of Washington, Oregon and California this year. They tested positive for a toxin caused by a massive algae bloom this summer in the Pacific Ocean.

Toxic domoic acid is produced by algae in the ocean, and this year the algae are thriving in the largest bloom ever recorded here. Marine mammals are poisoned when they eat fish that are contaminated.

Jes Burns/EarthFix

As cooler, wetter weather comes to the Northwest, wildfire season is coming to a close. This year’s fires are leaving behind more than just charred forests. They’re setting the stage for what’s expected to be a fundamental shift in the landscape. Because of a changing climate, what grows back could permanently look very different than what was there before. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a draft plan Monday for recovering threatened Snake River fall chinook salmon – fish that have to pass eight Columbia and Snake River dams to reach their spawning grounds.

In the past, nearly a half million of these fish returned to the Snake River each year. But with overfishing, dam construction and habitat loss, those numbers dropped to just a few hundred by 1992, when the fish were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Neighborhoods where non-English speaking Latinos live tend to have the most toxic air quality, according to new research out of Washington State University.

Picture a U.S. map with clusters of flaming red dots laid over it. And the dots represent hot spots for cancer-causing air pollution.

That’s one way to view Raoul Liévanos’ latest research findings. He’s an assistant professor of sociology at WSU.

Lynnwood, Wash. -- Carlo Voli moves through the crowd of protesters outside a recent public hearing in Washington. He pauses to talk to a woman holding a cardboard cutout of an oil train and directs her over to where a group holding similar train car posters is lining up to complete the phrase “No More Exploding Oil Trains.” One by one, as the crowd grows, local politicians, tribal members and activists take the microphone to urge opposition to a proposal to bring oil by rail to Shell’s refinery in northern Puget Sound.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has formally recommended removing gray wolves from the state endangered species list.

The agency released its recommendation to the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission Thursday. The Commission will vote on the recommendation next month.

The wolf population in Eastern Oregon reached the conservation target for delisting in January. The state delisting process was triggered when Eastern Oregon reached four breeding pairs of wolves for three consecutive years.

The Bureau of Land Management has opened an internal investigation after the federal agency allowed an Oregon-based contractor to spray pesticides on public land without a valid license.

The spraying in early October prompted the Oregon Department of Agriculture to secure a restraining order to stop Applebee Aviation from operating while its license was suspended. ODA also fined Applebee Aviation $40,000.

When summer began this year, signs weren’t good for water in the Willamette River Basin.

Record low snow packs had already melted, spring precipitation was well below average, and — for some cities — it had been the hottest June on record.

By the time summer was over, the Detroit Lake Reservoir had dried up to an unprecedented level. And according to the Department of Agriculture, Oregon is still experiencing severe drought.

“When it comes to coal, here at Crow you’re not going to have controversy,” said Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of the Crow tribe. Two years ago, he signed an agreement giving Cloud Peak Energy — one of the nation’s biggest coal companies — an option to lease 1.4 billion tons of coal on the reservation. He argued the jobs and revenue the agreement will provide are essential to his community.