Earthfix Northwest Environmental News

NPR Story
6:31 am
Wed October 8, 2014

Is Alaska Safe For Sea Stars?

Near Sitka, AK, researcher Melissa Miner finds an ochre star with whitened diseased arms – a symptom of sea star wasting disease.
Greg Davis

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.

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New threats and a legal settlement
7:29 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

Illegal Pot Farms Are Poisoning This Furry Animal

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed listing the fisher as "threatened" under the Endangered Species Act. Its populations were first damaged by trapping and logging, and now face a threat from rat poison used by illegal marijuana farms.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Originally published on Mon October 6, 2014 7:30 pm

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.

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NPR Story
5:00 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

Scientists On A Quest For Knowledge About Coal Dust Risks

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey head into the marshes of the Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge near Washougal, Washington to learn how coal dust from trains might impact the environment.
Ashley Ahearn

Originally published on Wed September 17, 2014 1:00 am

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.

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NPR Story
4:15 pm
Mon October 6, 2014

Wyoming Offers Northwest Tribal Leaders A Free Trip To Coal Country

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has invited Northwest tribal leaders on an all-expenses-paid trip to see the coal operations in his state.
Michael Werner

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.

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NPR Story
3:00 pm
Fri October 3, 2014

Stealing Fish To Study Seabirds

Scientists are snatching fish from Rhinoceros Auklets to find out how much pollution they're exposed to in their diets. Seabird populations in Puget Sound have declined since the 1970s.
Peter Hodum

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.

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NPR Story
3:55 pm
Thu October 2, 2014

Bats May Mistake Wind Turbines For Trees, Study Warns

Hoary bats are one of the tree bats that die the most at wind farms in the Northwest. A new study says that tree bats might not be able to tell the difference between wind turbines and trees.
Flickr Creative Commons: Daniel Neal

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.

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NPR Story
6:18 pm
Wed October 1, 2014

Washington Governor Wants More Done To Ensure Oil Train Safety

A file photo of oil tank cars.

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.

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NPR Story
4:42 pm
Wed October 1, 2014

Oil Spill Task Force Braces For More Crude By Rail

A regional oil spill task force is bracing for the risks that come along with more crude oil traveling by rail.
Tony Schick

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.

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1:38 pm
Wed October 1, 2014

Elliott State Forest Management Decisions Near

Elliott State Forest
Francis Eatherington

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

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5:47 pm
Tue September 30, 2014

Proposed Oregon Nickel Mine Fails To Secure Key Permit

The Kalmiopis Wilderness. A nickel mine proposed for a roadless area outside the wilderness has run into difficulty in the permitting process.

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.

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NPR Story
5:00 pm
Tue September 30, 2014

Landslide Safety All Over The Map In Washington

Jim Simon looks over the Ledgewood Beach bluff from the unmowed lawn of a condemned home on Whidbey Island.
John Ryan/KUOW

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.

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NPR Story
3:47 pm
Tue September 30, 2014

Tidal Power Project In Puget Sound Abandoned By Utility

A crew deploying a "sea spider" in 2011 to collect data from the floor of Puget Sound in Admiralty Inlet. After eight years of testing and permitting processes, the Snohomish County PUD has decided to halt the project.
Ashley Ahearn

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.

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NPR Story
7:00 am
Tue September 30, 2014

We Are All To Blame For The Oso Slide

Dan Miller, a geomorphologist, hikes to a potential debris field in the North Cascades to look for signs in the landscape of landslides.
Katie Campbell

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.

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NPR Story
1:00 am
Mon September 29, 2014

Why The Northwest Is the New Frontier For Geothermal Energy

One of several geothermal exploration sites in Oregon is Newberry Crater, where a company has found a lot of underground heat but no geothermal fluid.
Bill Reynolds/Flickr

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.

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NPR Story
8:19 am
Fri September 26, 2014

Forest Service Chief Says No, You Won't Be Charged To Take Photos

File photo of Mt. Hood. The chief of the U.S. Forest Service confirmed that you will not be charged for taking photos on U.S. Forest Service land.
Andy Barrett / Wikimedia

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.

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NPR Story
10:01 pm
Thu September 25, 2014

Swinomish Tribe Prepares For A Changing Climate

EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran meeting with Swinomish Tribal Council Chairman Brian Cladoosby at the Swinomish Reservation to discuss a new $750,000 grant to help the tribe prepare for climate change.
Ashley Ahearn

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.

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NPR Story
10:35 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

Going For Launch With The Salmon Cannon

Washington Deparment of Fish and Wildlife crews load 30-pound fall chinook salmon into the salmon cannon. The cannon sucks the fish up to a truck at 22 miles per hour. The fish will then be driven to a nearby hatchery.
Courtney Flatt

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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NPR Story
4:19 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

Seattle To Fine Residents For Not Composting

A vote by the Seattle City Council may put the city more on par with Portland, Oregon, in terms of food waste recycling.
Flickr Photo/Dianne Yee (CC-BY-NC-ND)

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed a new rule Monday governing what residents put in your garbage bin.

The idea is to increase the amount of food scraps going to compost.

Council member Sally Bagshaw said promoting this practice could reduce up to a third of Seattle's waste ending up in landfills.

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NPR Story
1:00 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

Portland Wins International Climate Leadership Award

Portland won an international urban sustainability award for a plan to improve walkability in neighborhoods citywide.
Jeff Gunn/Flickr

The city of Portland is one of nine cities worldwide to receive an international City Climate Leadership Award.

The awards honor cities for urban sustainability and leadership on climate change on behalf of the climate leadership group C40 and the Berlin-based engineering firm Siemens. Winners were selected from a pool of 87 applications.

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NPR Story
10:41 pm
Mon September 22, 2014

Ocean Winds Responsible For Climate Change In The Northwest, Study Says

The Oregon Coast at Pacific City. A new study says changing wind patterns from the Pacific Ocean are the primary reason for climate change in the Northwest
Flickr/Randy Kashka

SEATTLE – Changing wind patterns are the primary cause of warming temperatures in the Northwest, according to a study published Monday.

The authors lined up historical wind data with coastal sea surface temperature in the Northeastern section of the Pacific Ocean since the beginning of the 20th century. They found that up to 90% of the warming in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California is driven by changes in wind patterns.

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