Earthfix Northwest Environmental News

As the sun rises over a remote rye field in northwestern Colorado, about 170 greater sage grouse dance in a distinctive mating display. Males make popping and whooshing sounds and fight to attract the female’s attention.

“All these males that you see out here, less than 10 percent will actually get to breed,” whispers Brian Rutledge, the director of the Audubon Society’s Wyoming office.

Obama Administration Finalizes Clean Water Rule

May 27, 2015

The Obama Administration Wednesday announced a new clean water rule. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will help limit pollution in streams and wetlands.

The rule is meant to clarify uncertainty about who can regulate these smaller waterways and water bodies.

Environmentalists say the new rule will keep drinking water clean. Lauren Goldberg is the staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. She says this new rule will provide critical protection for clean drinking water and fish habitat.

A man and woman drive a blue pickup to the back of a Chinese restaurant.

A man approaches them with a scale as the woman pulls a bag heavy with clams from the back of the truck.

The transaction is quick and casual, as though they’ve done this before. And they have. But this time, a hidden camera has captured their transaction.

“The whole thing happens in less than four minutes,” says Detective Wendy Willette as she watches the tape.

The push for cleaner fuels in Oregon and Washington has led to proposals that would bring the region more crude oil and a new refinery along the Columbia River.

Riverside Energy, a subsidiary of Houston-based company Waterside Energy Inc., intends to build a refinery to process mostly crude oil and some biofuels that can meet a growing demand for low-carbon fuels in the Portland metro area, according to interviews and documents.

Officials Start Killing Columbia River Cormorants

May 26, 2015

Crews with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services have started killing cormorants on an island in the Columbia River, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Can Carbon Markets Help Oregon's Small Forests?

May 26, 2015

When cancer comes calling, what if owners of small forest plots had another choice but to sell or to cut.

That’s the premise of a pilot program being launched in Washington and Columbia counties of northwest Oregon.

Anchored by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and an $820,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Forest Health/Human Health Initiative envisions what planners call an “A-Tree-M” card for forest owners who are threatened by medical bills but don’t want to cut or sell.

The Future is Now for Three Small Forests In Oregon

May 26, 2015

Some of Oregon’s forest owners are seeking innovative ways to make a living off their land without logging it hard. Oregon’s small forest landowners, those with 10 to 5,000 acres, are responsible for just 15 percent of the timber harvest on average even though they lay claim to 44 percent of the state’s privately owned timberland.

Here is a look at three forests where owners are purposely going light on the land:

Acres: About 1,000 acres in the northern Oregon Coast Range, Hyla Woods is about an hour’s drive west from Portland.

The federal government has been telling Oregon for over a decade that its rules to protect threatened coastal salmon are not up to snuff. Now, the state is faced with a loss of federal dollars unless it gets with the program.

In response, the Oregon Board of Forestry is weighing whether to require timberland owners to leave more trees standing along streams to better protect fish habitat. And that’s got owners of small timber lands especially worried.

The marina at Howard Prairie Lake is high and dry. The docks tilt awkwardly this way and that, stranded on the uneven lake bottom.

“Normally, on a year when the lake is full, we’d most likely have 15 to 16 feet of water above our heads. So, yeah, it’s a little pasture right now,” says Steve Lambert, Program Manager of Jackson County Parks.

Kelly Welker knew Seattle’s Georgetown area was an industrial neighborhood when she moved here nine years ago. The air quality isn’t great. But lately, she says, it’s been getting worse.

“I had never experienced going outside of my house and having my eyes burn within a couple of minutes,” Welker said. “Having my sinuses burn within a couple of minutes.”

The Obama Administration is expected to announce a new clean water rule in the next few days, which has some Northwest farm groups worried what new regulations could mean for their operations.

The rule has also drawn criticism from property rights groups and praise from environmentalists.

Of all the shellfish that sell on the black market, one clam is above the rest -- the geoduck.

Pronounced "gooey-duck," these hefty clams bury themselves in sand where they stay for 100 years, doing little more than stretching their meter-long, fleshy siphons up into the water column to feed on phytoplankton.

In shallows when tides have retreated, people dig up geoduck clams with shovels. In deeper areas, scuba divers spray high-pressure hoses into the seafloor to unearth them.

Governor Declares 8 Additional Counties In Drought Emergencies

May 22, 2015

Gov. Kate Brown declared drought emergencies in eight additional counties around Oregon Friday, bringing the total this year to 15.

She also released a public service announcement launching the hashtag #ORdrought.

“It may look green now, but we are going to experience one of the worst droughts in the history of our state," said Brown in a statement. "Snow pack is at historic lows and severe water shortages are nearly a certainty in many areas.”

Astoria officials and locals have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out how to get rid of the ubiquitous barking sea lions that have arrived by the thousands this year on the city's docks. But now, the city may be bringing in the big guns, or should I say, whale.

The Daily Astorian reports that the Port of Astoria is looking into bringing a fake orca near the East End Mooring Basin to hopefully scare away pesky sea lions laying around.

“This exciting discovery shows that wolves are continuing to naturally regain their historic range in the Pacific Northwest,” said spokesman Chase Gunnell in a news release.

Unlike Oregon's famous wandering wolf, OR-7, this wolf doesn't have a radio collar.

In recent months, roaming wolves have also been spotted near Mount Hood, Klamath Falls, and Malheur County in Oregon.

As of 2014, there are 16 known wolf packs in Washington and 9 known packs in Oregon.

This summer is expected to be dry and hot, and that means increased wildfire risk. Communities near range or forest land are especially vulnerable.

In Oregon, it costs an average of $56,000 to protect a home from an encroaching wildfire. That's according to a study by the Headwaters Economics, a public policy think tank out of Bozeman, Montana.

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — The state has hired a wildlife-conflict specialist to help reduce tensions caused by the state's growing population of wolves.

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife hired Francine Madden, who is executive director of the Human Wildlife Conflict Collaboration in Houston. The nonprofit works to resolve conflicts that arise when protecting animals leads to problems in local communities.

Madden was introduced Thursday to members of the agency's Wolf Advisory Group at a meeting in Spokane.

The Oregon Department of Energy announced $1.5 million in grants Thursday to developers across the state. Of the 17 projects the department funded, all but one involves solar power.

The one exception is a $110,000 hydroelectric project for the Sisters Irrigation District. The solar recipients include a school, two ranches, a theater, a visitors center, and two affordable housing projects.

The biggest awards were $250,000 each for proposals based in Klamath Falls, Sheridan and St. Paul.

A federal judge in southern Oregon heard court arguments Wednesday in a challenge against a county's restriction on growing genetically engineered crops.

Two farms brought the case against Jackson County, arguing the ban violates Oregon’s Right to Farm Act. The farmers had genetically engineered-alfalfa planted before voters approved the ban.

Several dairies accused of polluting the groundwater in Washington’s Yakima Valley will now start handling their waste more carefully. That’s because a federal judge has approved an order between environmental groups and dairies. Environmental groups had sued the dairies because they worried about pollution leaking into water supplies.

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