EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

The Oregon Legislature has just adjourned for the year, leaving some unfinished business when it comes to a state forest that’s been the subject of controversy.

Conservation groups expressed dismay last year when state officials decided to sell parts of the Elliott State Forest to timber companies. The Legislature had the opportunity to shape the future of the forest. But with no action on three different bills, its fate is still far from decided.

Juniper is a native Oregon species. But decades of fire suppression and grazing have allowed the tree to spread voraciously over Eastern and Central Oregon. That's a problem because juniper consumes sage grouse habitat and sucks up a lot of water.

The Oregon Legislature passed two bills at the end of the session to help boost juniper harvest, HB 2997 and HB 2998.

The bills provide funding to boost the state's fledgling juniper harvest industry.

Gerard Joseph LaBrecque operates a milling and harvesting company out of Hines that targets juniper.

New Year Brings New Pups To OR-7 Wolf Pack

Jul 7, 2015

Oregon's wandering wolf's lonely days are far behind after biologists found evidence that OR-7's Rogue Pack has expanded by a second set of pups.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released a video from trail cameras Tuesday that shows the yearling wolves playing in the Cascades east of Medford, which ODFW shared on its Oregon Wildlife Viewing Facebook page.

You know legislators are serious about something when they appoint a czar like a drug czar. Well now, Oregon has the equivalent of its own earthquake czar.

The less sexy title is "Oregon’s earthquake resiliency officer." But Jay Wilson, the chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Commission, says the job will be to coordinate what state agencies do to prepare.

"We just really felt like this needed to come from an executive level position, rather than it being tied to one agency and the limited authority of a single agency," he says.

You would think that Vancouver, British Columbia, residents would be breathing a little easier following the end of the Women's World Cup, but smoke from nearby fires is making it near impossible.

A Central Washington Water Project Gets Senate Hearing

Jul 7, 2015

A warming climate is making water more scarce in places that rely on runoff from mountain snowpack -- places like the Yakima River basin in Central Washington.

That’s why a group of about 20 stakeholders have come together to develop a plan to help manage water in this agricultural center. Those stakeholders traditionally haven’t gotten along: environmentalists, farmers, the Yakama Nation tribal leaders, and government officials.

http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/

Wildfire season in the Northwest started early this year. Crews recently subdued the 5,345-acre Buckskin fire near southern Oregon’s Illinois Valley.

The Buckskin fire is called a “reburn” because it’s on land that was scorched by wildfire in the recent past. These reburns are a positive indication that the forests are recovering from decades of fire suppression.

A government whistleblower protection office has authorized an investigation into alleged misuse of federal funds by a Klamath Basin irrigators’ group.

Earlier this spring, two federal biologists filed a whistleblower complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. They said the Klamath Water and Power Agency used money earmarked for drought-stressed fish to pay for things like office space, travel and employee salaries.

Since 2008, nearly $50 million in federal dollars has been paid to the Klamath organization.

A federal jury in Washington has ruled that railroad company BNSF retaliated against a whistleblower who brought safety concerns to light. This week the court awarded the former employee $1.25 million in damages.

In 2011, BNSF employee Mike Elliott raised safety concerns about the freight and passenger rail line connecting Vancouver, Washington, and Seattle. He said the signal system, which controls traffic on the line, did not function properly and was obscured by overgrown vegetation.

With Warming Rivers, Salmon Released Early

Jul 2, 2015

Federal hatchery managers are keeping an eye on warming river water as temperatures continue to rise throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week released 6 million fish from the Little White Salmon and Willard National Fish hatcheries about one week ahead of schedule. Both hatcheries feed into the Columbia River near White Salmon, Washington.

Along the fence line between two houses in Southeast Portland, an arborist cuts through the trunk of a cherry tree with a chainsaw. He's clearly not in a forest. But he is, arguably, logging.

Urban lumber advocate David Barmon is watching. He’s waiting for a crane to lift sections of the tree trunk out of the yard and into his trailer so he can mill them into tabletops.

Ever since gray wolves returned to Oregon and Washington their population has been increasing steadily -- especially over the past few years.

Wolves are slowly dispersing from the remote areas where the first packs got established. In the past few months, wolves have been spotted in areas that haven’t had wolves for decades, including Mount Hood, Klamath Falls and Malheur County. This week an animal thought to be a wolf was struck by a car in Western Washington east of Seattle.

Fire fighting resources are stretched between two wildfires burning in Central Oregon.

Firefighters made good progress on the 4,802-acre Sugarloaf Fire, near the John Day Fossil Beds. The lightning-caused fire is now 40 percent contained, but the Corner Creek Fire south of Dayville continues to spread. The blaze grew to more than 6,000 acres in two days.

Monday's Supreme Court decision to reject the Environmental Protection Agency's air pollution rules won't have any immediate effect on Northwest power plants, and its long-term effects are still unclear.

The court ruled the EPA should have considered the cost of mercury and toxic air pollution limits earlier in the regulatory process. With that, the judges sent the rule back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for review.

A stream of thousands of steelhead plop into Rock Lake. In this final leg of their journey they fall out of a tanker truck and into the lake. To get here the fish have traveled seven hours in tanker trucks from Puget Sound, over the Cascade Mountains, and into the Eastern Washington desert.

“This lake is real nice and deep, so it won’t take them long to find some lower depths and find some cooler water,” said Brian Russell, who is leading the team stocking Rock Lake.

Thousands Of Hatchery Fish Die After Valve Clogs

Jun 29, 2015

About 400,000 baby fish died Sunday at a hatchery near Roseburg.

The entire run of pre-smolt spring Chinook that the Rock Creek Hatchery planned to release next year died when a clogged intake valve cut off their access to fresh water, said Greg Huchko with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Water flow was only interrupted for about an hour, but river temperatures are so high that the fish could not survive.

More than 200 firefighters are working to contain the 4,600-acre Sugarloaf Fire in Central Oregon. The blaze is burning in grassland, juniper, and conifer forest, and was likely ignited by lightning. The wildfire is burning on both private and federal lands north of Dayville.

Part of the fire is within the John Day Fossil Beds. To protect the national monument, firefighters are working to hold the fire and let it burn out, rather than bringing in bulldozers or other heavy equipment.

About 100,000 acres of federal land in southwest Oregon would be off-limits to new mining claims under a proposal expected Monday.

The area is in Josephine and Curry counties near the Chetco River. Conservation groups have been trying to protect the area from nickel mining and other types of mineral extraction.

The Bureau of Land Management has the power to stop new mining development for up to 20 years through a process called “land withdrawal.”

It’s been a one-two punch of low snowpack last winter and not enough rain this spring for many Northwest rivers. Warm temperatures and low river flows are causing problems for salmon making the return migration.

In rivers and streams across the Northwest, waters are reaching a tipping point for salmon. Salmon like water temperatures to be 68 degrees. Officials say water temperatures in June are what is normally expected in late August.

Tom Petersen’s 50-foot crab boat sits idly in the Port of Willapa Harbor, a tiny coastal inlet 40 or so miles north of the mouth of the Columbia River.

On a normal early-summer day, Petersen would be selling Dungeness crab to canneries, big-city buyers and even fresh off the back of his boat to locals and tourists.

And he’d be making good money doing it. With crab selling at up to $10 per pound, Petersen could be making thousands of dollars a day.

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