Earthfix Northwest Environmental News

Wildfires in the West are getting bigger, hotter – and more costly. A new report from a national science advocacy group says climate change is one major reason wildfires are getting worse.

And short-sighted development policies are a big reason they’re costing more.

In recent years, the number of homes and businesses built in wildfire-prone areas has skyrocketed. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, across 13 Western states there are more than 1.2 million homes -- with a combined value of about $190 billion -- that are at high or very high risk of wildfires.

Wildlife veterinarians suspect a mysterious disease causing hoof deformities in elk herds across Southwest Washington has now crossed into Oregon.

Sporadic cases of deformities have been around for decades, but in recent years there have been more frequent sightings of clusters of elk hobbling because their hooves are missing or malformed.

5 Safety Concerns With Shipping Oil By Water

Jul 31, 2014

While many Northwest communities are focused on the safety risks of shipping crude oil by rail, a new report raises safety concerns about another shipping method: oil by water.

Across the country, more and more domestically produced oil is being shipped by barges and tankers as pipelines fill up to capacity. The report, by the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, concludes: "This rather sudden shift in transportation patterns raises concerns about the safety and efficiency of oil tankers and barges."

Portland State University students are finishing construction of a new venue on the Pickathon music festival grounds, just in time for the first guests Thursday.

The Pickathon venue is called the “Tree Line Stage.” It will hold an audience of up to 500 people. What makes it interesting is that PSU architecture students designed and built the venue entirely out of pallets.

For the second year in a row, the Oregon Department of Forestry says it will draw on a catastrophic loss insurance policy to help cover the costs of fighting wildfires.

ODF is responsible for protecting 16 million acres, roughly half the forestland in the state. It fights fires on Bureau of Land Management land, privately owned timber, and state and county forests.

SEATTLE -- When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wanted to show the connection between climate change and an unpleasant and costly consequence for his constituents, he decided to tour a sewage treatment plant.

Inslee's visit Tuesday to the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in Seattle's Discovery Park was the latest stop on his statewide tour to raise awareness about the costs of climate change.

MYRTLE CREEK, Ore. -- The idea behind logging on the Buck Rising timber sale is to take out trees the same way nature does.

Bureau of Land Management forester Abe Wheeler touts this method of selective logging as a way of making revenue while being no more obtrusive than a natural fire cycle.

Investigators still aren’t sure what’s causing a cluster of birth defects in central Washington, where the rate is four times the national average. Health officials met Monday to figure out what to do next.

A new public service announcement is one way health officials are trying to teach women about folic acid. It's also available in Spanish.

One of the birth defects folic acid helps prevent is anencephaly, which results in unformed skulls in babies.

Two members of Oregon's congressional delegation introduced a bill Monday that would open the door to $50 million in federal funding for Columbia River pollution cleanup.

Northwest Wildfires Boost Call For Funding Reform

Jul 25, 2014

Fires continue to rage through tinder-dry wildlands in Oregon, Washington and California. Nearly a million acres have burned so far, destroying more than 200 homes.

With the nation’s eyes turned toward the Northwest, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and the Obama administration have taken the opportunity to renew their efforts to change how the federal government pays to fight and prevent wildfires.

In a conference call from Washington, D.C., Wyden said fire season in the West is changing, and fast.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee tried to woo electric carmaker Tesla Motors to build a massive battery factory in the Evergreen state. But according to at least one report, the company may have already broken ground near Reno, Nevada.

This isn’t just a factory. It’s a "gigafactory."

What is a gigafactory? That’s the name Tesla has given to its planned 10-million-square-foot, multi-billion-dollar battery production facility.

A statewide rail safety report released today identifies gaps in the resources Oregon needs to prevent and respond to an oil train derailment.

The report, ordered by Gov. John Kitzhaber in February, calls for more rail safety personnel and more funds to pay training emergency responders for an oil train derailment. To help pay for both of those needs, the report recommends charging fees for transporting crude oil by rail through the state.

If it’s built, the coal-exporting Gateway Pacific Terminal will create more than two thousand jobs in Whatcom County during construction and several hundred permanent jobs once it’s operational.

The outlook for the the central Puget Sound region isn’t as optimistic, according to a new economic study from the Puget Sound Regional Council issued Thursday.

Seattle Considers Fining Residents For Failing To Compost

Jul 24, 2014

The city of Seattle might start fining residents who put food waste in the garbage instead of the compost bin -- the latest idea to push for better recycling rates.

Dozens of cities nationwide now give residents the option of putting their household food scraps in a curbside compost bin. Seattle is looking at making it a requirement.

Oil Train Tanker Cars Derail In Seattle

Jul 24, 2014

SEATTLE -- Three tanker cars in an oil train from North Dakota derailed at a rail yard in Seattle early Thursday, but BNSF Railway says none of the oil spilled.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said a locomotive and buffer car loaded with sand also left the rails about 2 a.m. at the Interbay yard as the train with 102 cars of Bakken oil was pulling out, headed for a refinery at Anacortes.

The Elliott State Forest has been a losing proposition for the state of Oregon. Annual management costs are about $3 million dollars more than what it brings in by selling timber for logging companies to cut.

One option being considered to make money off the Elliott is to sell all 93,000 acres of the forest -- including old-growth tracts -- on the south Oregon coast to private timber companies. The proceeds of such a sale would go into the state's Common School Fund, which supports public education.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed the most comprehensive rules to date aimed at improving the safety of trains carrying large shipments of crude oil and ethanol.

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined Portland-based Columbia Sportswear $100,800 for failing to label clothes treated with pesticides.

Between 2010 and 2013, the company sold socks and hats that were treated with a product called Insect Blocker but didn't have the label notifying consumers as required by federal pesticide labeling laws.

SEATTLE -- Scientists have concluded that rain, groundwater seepage and a long history of big landslides likely contributed to the massive landslide of March 22 that killed 43 people and destroyed dozens of homes near Oso, Washington.

Those findings came out Tuesday, the result of a scientific team's rapid-fire assessment of geology and localized factors.

Joe Wartman, a University of Washington associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and a co-lead author of the study, said rainfall very likely played a key role in the slide.

EarthFix Conversation: Puget Sound Whales For Sale

Jul 22, 2014

The resident killer whales of Puget Sound are an endangered species. There are about 80 of them left.

But there was a time, not too long ago, when people were catching these whales and selling them into captivity.

Sandra Pollard has documented the history of orca capture in Puget Sound in a new book: Puget Sound Whales For Sale: The Fight To End Orca Hunting.

She spoke with EarthFix's Ashley Ahearn about this dark period in orca history.

Ashley Ahearn: Let’s go back in time here a little bit, why did people start catching orcas?

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