EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

The Royal Dutch Shell icebreaker, Fennica, has left Portland after undergoing repairs at a local dry dock, but it wasn't an easy task.

Officials spent the afternoon removing environmental activists with Greenpeace USA who were hanging from Portland's St. Johns Bridge. Greenpeace and other activist groups oppose Shell's ongoing drilling efforts for oil in the Arctic.

Police and rescue officials spoke at a press conference after the protesters were removed.

Protesters dangling for two days from Portland's St. Johns Bridge kept a Shell Oil icebreaker at bay for more than 36 hours before it passed through en route to the Arctic.

Greenpeace and other environmental groups involved claimed their temporary blockade a success: they sent Shell a message and drew worldwide attention to their campaign to stop Arctic oil drilling and to wean the world from fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.

But what does it really mean in the context of plans for offshore drilling in the Arctic?

Portland Mayor On Bridge Activists: 'Protests Are Helpful'

Jul 30, 2015

For more than 24 hours, protesters with the environmental group Greenpeace have suspended from ropes below Portland's St. Johns Bridge like spiders hanging by a thread, blocking the passage of the Fennica, an icebreaker that is key to Shell's Arctic oil exploration plans.

A judge in Alaska has ruled that Greenpeace will be fined $2,500 for each hour the protesters remain in place. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Portland Police Bureau have not made any attempts to remove them.

A standoff continued Thursday on the Willamette River between environmental group protesters and a multinational energy company in Portland. Protesters suspended from the St. Johns Bridge and in kayaks on the water essentially blocked the Shell icebreaker, Fennica, from leaving for oil exploration in the Arctic.

The Fennica moved north along the river with the U.S. Coast Guard enforcing a safety zone, petty officer George Degener said.

Update 5:59 p.m.: The Shell icebreaker, Fennica, has cleared the St. Johns Bridge and has moved past the protestor blockade to continue on the Willamette River.

Reporter Amelia Templeton was at the scene as the ship crossed under the bridge. Protesters weighed down the nearby docks, yelling "Stop the boat!" as the Fennica moved by. Templeton said the ship appeared so close to the protestors paddling nearby that they could have reached out and touched it as it passed.

A Shell icebreaking vessel being protested in Portland by activist groups turned around Thursday morning to head back toward the dry dock after a showdown with protesters.

The U.S. Coast Guard was escorting the icebreaker on the Willamette River and warned the activists that they are breaking the law.

Shell is beginning an oil exploration mission, and its first icebreaker ship — which also contains crucial equipment for dealing with possible spills — can't get out of the Portland area. Protesters in kayaks, who have been dubbed "kayaktivists," showed up on Saturday when the Fennica arrived at Swan Island for repairs to a gashed hull.

In the middle of a heat wave this month, Portland State University researchers Vivek Shandas and Jackson Voelkel drove across the city of Portland with a thermometer sticking out the window.

The thermometer was connected to a GPS unit. Together the two devices logged the temperature and location every second as the car moved along city streets. As they drove past the Portland International Airport, Shandas noted lots of asphalt and a near total lack of trees.

"This is one of the hottest places in the city," he said.

A Shell icebreaking vessel being protested by Greenpeace and other activist groups will not leave a Portland dock Wednesday, according to the Columbia River Bar Pilot dispatch.

Word of the cancellation came as 13 protesters dangled from the St. Johns Bridge about a mile downstream from the Shell vessel.

Greenpeace USA executive director Annie Leonard says the protesters dangling off the bridge have enough water and food to last for days.

Portland Mayor Charlie Hales last week joined more than 60 mayors from around the world on a trip to The Vatican to meet with Pope Francis about climate change.

The group also discussed ways to address human trafficking during the two-day summit.

On Tuesday, Hales spoke with Think Out Loud host Conrad Wilson about the city's plans for curbing the effects of climate change following his trip.

Gov. Inslee Seeks A Cap On Washington's Carbon

Jul 28, 2015

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday directed the state Department of Ecology to put a cap on carbon emissions by stepping up enforcement of existing pollution laws.

In a news release, the governor announced he would use his authority under the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon pollution in the face of staunch opposition from Republicans and the oil industry to stronger legislative measures.

The plight of greater sage grouse is at the top of mind for ranchers, conservationists and politicians across the West — so much so that one ranch in southeastern Oregon has put a wildlife biologist on its payroll.

Andrew Shields roams the Roaring Springs Ranch in Harney County every day, monitoring the progress of the imperiled bird.

“I see more wildlife species than people, and I don’t think many folks can say that — wildlife biologist or not,” Shields said.

Oregon Panel Adopts Sage Grouse Rules

Jul 27, 2015

New rules adopted Monday by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission move the state a step closer to putting together a plan to protect greater sage grouse.

Historically, sage grouse spanned 11 western states. Good habitat throughout those states has become greatly fragmented by things like invasive weeds, wildfire, encroaching juniper trees and development.

Northwest forests that have significant damage from insects, like the mountain pine beetle or the western spruce budworm, might seem more prone to wildfires. Those critters can chew their way through a forest and leave large stands of dead trees in their wake.

However a new study from Oregon State University shows that's not necessarily the case.

Portland's Swan Island basin was still and remarkably quiet Saturday as a flotilla of kayakers dipped their paddles in and out of the water, pulling themselves north toward the Vigorous, the largest dry dock in America.

Then, with a cry, a drumbeat began. One hundred paddles smacked the water, and people yelled, "Shell no!"

Vancouver Oil Terminal Sparks Controversy, Concerns For Community

Jul 24, 2015

In Washington's Vancouver region, there is arguably no issue more hotly felt than the proposed Tesoro-Savage oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver. The port commission has been criticized for approving a lease to the company in 2013 without what many opponents felt was a proper public process.

Distressed Trees Prompt Early Watering Reminder

Jul 24, 2015

With high temperatures around state, the Oregon Department of Forestry is reminding people to water their trees.

Signs of distressed trees include leaves that are curling, wilting or appear scorched.

Cynthia Orlando, an ODF spokesperson, said deep watering is essential.

"Using a soaker hose and letting the water get down deep on all sides of the tree so that it soaks all the way down into the soil," she said. Additionally, she recommended putting out mulch to help retain moisture and maintain soil temperatures.

Clark County Judge David Gregerson ruled Friday that port leaders in Vancouver, Washington didn’t violate state laws in 2013 when they negotiated a lease for an oil terminal.

The lease between Tesoro-Savage companies and the port remains in place. If built, the terminal project could ship 360,000 barrels of oil daily from the port to refineries along the West Coast.

The Oregon Forestry Board delayed a decision Thursday on logging restrictions to keep water cool for endangered salmon.

At issue is how many trees should be left standing to provide shade along fish-bearing streams. Cold water is essential for many Northwest fish. When too many trees are cut, direct sun causes water temperatures to rise.

Federal Bill Could Trump Oregon GMO Bans

Jul 23, 2015

Supporters of Jackson County’s proposed genetically-engineered crops ban were ecstatic when it was announced Measure 15-119 had passed by a two-to-one margin.

Organic farmer and campaign organizer Elise Higley said the vote was a strong statement of local values.

“I’m just so grateful that the community stepped up in supporting local farmers and showing that they really care about their food security and want to protect family farmers against the threats of genetically engineered pollen and crops,” she said.