Earthfix Northwest Environmental News

More dams are being removed from rivers as they get older and no longer produce hydropower. Researchers have found after these dams come down, rivers return to their natural state surprisingly fast.

Over the years lots of sediment backs up behind dams. Ecologists have worried the release of that sediment would harm habitat and cause flooding.

Seattle's Great Northern Tunnel Turns 110

Oct 9, 2014

SEATTLE -- This month the Great Northern Tunnel, which runs through the heart of the city of Seattle, turns 110 years old. Back in the fall of 1904, when it was finished, the mile-long tunnel was the tallest and widest in the United States.

The Great Northern Tunnel took a year and a half to build and cost $1.5 million back in 1904.

That’s about $38 million today.

PORTLAND -- Inside the operating room at the Portland Audubon Society Wildlife Care Center, head veterinarian Deb Sheaffer is carefully inserting a syringe into the shoulder of an injured red-tail hawk.

The hawk was brought in with a broken wing after it was hit by a car. And as with most raptors brought into the center, Sheaffer and her colleagues want to test it for lead poisoning.

“It’s a very simple blood draw.” Sheaffer said. “It takes one drop of blood, and we run it through a machine, and it takes about three minutes and we get a result back.”

Is Alaska Safe For Sea Stars?

Oct 8, 2014

SITKA, AK -- It’s early morning in southeast Alaska. Stars have yet to fade from the night sky. A group of scientists sets out in search of a different kind of star.

Sea stars, commonly known as starfish, have been vanishing from North America’s Pacific shoreline.

“Almost everywhere we’ve looked in the last year, we’ve seen catastrophic losses of sea stars,” says Pete Raimondi, a biology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who has been studying an alarming epidemic that’s been killing starfish by the millions.

PORTLAND -- New threats and a legal settlement prompted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal today to list West Coast populations of fisher as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

The fisher, an elusive cousin of the mink, otter and weasel, was first driven into scarcity by fur trappers and loggers in the late 1800s. Today it's getting poisoned by marijuana growers.

WASHOUGAL, Wash. -- Coal had been transported around the country by rail for decades before the recent push to bring it by train to ports in the Northwest.

And yet, scientists don't really know how much coal dust could escape from rail cars, how far it might travel, and what coal-borne mercury and other contaminants might do to aquatic life.

With the permitting process moving forward for two large coal terminals in Washington, a team of scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey is trying to find out how the chemicals in coal might interact with the environment.

Wyoming Offers Northwest Tribal Leaders A Free Trip To Coal Country

Oct 6, 2014

Treaty fishing rights give Northwest tribes extra clout when it comes to the future of proposed coal terminals on the Columbia River and Puget Sound.

That's not lost on the governor of Wyoming, a big proponent of coal exports.

Gov. Matt Mead is inviting Northwest tribal leaders on an all-expenses-paid trip to coal country in Northeastern Wyoming, according to an email obtained by EarthFix.

The governor's invitation went out to tribes in Oregon and Washington, including the Umatilla, Yakama, Swinomish and the Lummi.

Stealing Fish To Study Seabirds

Oct 3, 2014

SEATTLE -- Seabird populations in Puget Sound have declined since the 1970s and scientists believe pollution is partially to blame.

But how do you prove that? Study what the seabirds are eating. A new paper published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin found that seabirds in Puget Sound are eating fish that are two to four times more contaminated than fish on Washington's outer coast.

Bats May Mistake Wind Turbines For Trees, Study Warns

Oct 2, 2014

An unprecedented number of bats are being killed by wind turbine blades. A new report has found bats may be mistaking wind turbines for trees.

Bats are often looking for a place to roost when the moon is bright and winds are low. That’s when the conditions can be the deadliest for bats flying near wind turbines.

SEATTLE — Oil trains moving through Washington state need upgrades, and slower speed limits. That’s part of Washington Gov. Jay Inslee response to a new state report released Wednesday about the risks of oil transport. The report also lays out some key recommendations for the Legislature

“Sobering” is how Inslee summed up this draft report. In it, the State Department of Ecology points out more oil is moving through Washington by pipeline and railways. And with that, comes a cascade of risks…to public health, safety, and the environment.

Oil Spill Task Force Braces For More Crude By Rail

Oct 1, 2014

A regional oil spill task force met in Portland Wednesday to discuss the risks of crude oil traveling by rail.

The Pacific States British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force coordinates oil spill response plans among five U.S. states and B.C. A lot of its members have noticed the same worrisome trend: more crude oil is traveling by rail cars instead of arriving on ships, and many agencies aren't prepared for oil spills along rail lines.

Elliott State Forest Management Decisions Near

Oct 1, 2014

ASHLAND, Ore. -- When the State of Oregon agreed last spring to sell three tracts of the Elliott State Forest to timber companies, conservation groups mobilized in opposition.

Now people will have an opportunity to speak to the decision-makers in person at a special meeting of the State Land Board in Coos Bay.

Wednesday, Oct. 8

3-6 p.m.

1988 Newmark Ave., Coos Bay

ASHLAND, Ore. -- It’s difficult to use water when there’s no water flowing. Or so discovered a UK-based mining company this week when Oregon regulators denied one of the many permits required before development of a nickel mine can get underway in Southern Oregon.

The Red Flat Nickel Corporation wants to use water from a creek in the Kalmiopsis Roadless Area in Southwest Oregon for exploratory drilling. It proposed to siphon off 10 gallons per minute from a small creek.

Landslide Safety All Over The Map In Washington

Sep 30, 2014

The deadly Oso landslide in March sparked a debate over Snohomish County’s apparent failure to protect residents at the base of a known landslide zone.

But Washington state is dotted with landslide-prone slopes, and many counties and cities do less than Snohomish County to keep homes away from harm.

Most counties’ rules set buffers at 50 feet or less, although landslides often travel hundreds of feet. The Oso slide was an extreme case; it traveled more than 3,000 feet.

A long-awaited tidal energy project in Puget Sound has come to halt. The project was set to generate electricity and connect it to the grid – the first project of its kind in the world. But it just got too expensive.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District had hoped to install two underwater turbines in Admiralty Inlet near Puget Sound’s Whidbey Island. The pilot turbines would have generated enough power for about 200 homes and stayed in the water up to five years.

We Are All To Blame For The Oso Slide

Sep 30, 2014

As a geomorphologist, Dan Miller has extensively studied the land formations and landslide history of the Stillaguamish Valley and Steelhead Haven. Miller and other scientists knew it to be a hazardous place, long before the devastating slide occurred.

Read and hear other stories from Oso by EarthFix partners KUOW and KCTS 9.

Why The Northwest Is the New Frontier For Geothermal Energy

Sep 29, 2014

PORTLAND -- The Geothermal Energy Association chose to hold its annual meeting in Portland this year, and leaders say that's in part because they see the Pacific Northwest as a new frontier for the industry.

Under fire from free speech advocates and nature enthusiasts, the U.S. Forest Service, said Thursday it has absolutely no intention of charging people to take pictures on public land.

Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell wanted to make one thing perfectly clear.

“There's no way that our proposal will infringe on anyone's First Amendment rights,” he said.

Tidwell said journalists and the public will NOT be required to get a permit or pay a $1,500 fee to bring their cameras into wilderness areas.

Swinomish Tribe Prepares For A Changing Climate

Sep 25, 2014

La Conner, Wash. -- The Swinomish people have lived near the mouth of the Skagit River north of Seattle for thousands of years. Now, climate change threatens their lands with rising seas and flooding.

The Obama administration recently awarded the tribe a large grant to help cope with climate change.

The entire Swinomish reservation is pretty much at sea level, on a spit of land tucked into Skagit Bay.

Going For Launch With The Salmon Cannon

Sep 23, 2014

WASHOUGAL, Wash. -- Salmon may soon have a faster way to make it around dams. There’s a new technology that’s helping to transport hatchery fish in Washington. It’s called the salmon cannon -- yes, you read that right.

First, let's set the record straight: there’s not really an explosion. But the salmon cannon does propel fish from one spot to another.

That was demonstrated Tuesday, when the salmon cannon transported fish from southwest Washington’s Washougal River to a nearby hatchery. The goal is to make the move easier on the fish, in three steps.

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