EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

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.

Since 2009, elections for a seat on the Port of Vancouver commission have been relatively low-key affairs. Candidates who ran for a six-year term on the three-member board that oversees the port have won their elections unopposed in the last three races.

That was then.

Now, a proposed energy project at the port has sparked interest in a race for an open seat on the commission, turning the primary election into a hotly-contested race.

A New Oil Terminal In Vancouver?

Jul 22, 2015

In the 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.

The fishing aisle at Swain’s General Store is well-stocked with tackle for catching salmon and trout on nearby rivers.

But something is missing among the tidy rows of lures, floats, line and ornately-tied flies: customers.

“You can see that not much has moved off the shelf,” says Wally Butler as he walks down the river-fishing aisle. Butler works at Swain’s and has lived in Port Angeles all his life. “Normally these would be almost empty...and they’re still pretty full so it’s affected us a lot. Nobody’s been fishing.”

It’s 6 a.m. and a special team of fire response coordinators is gathered at Port Angeles High School.

This incident command center is more than 100 miles from the wildfire they’re dealing with: the Paradise Fire. It's burning in the Queets River Valley, near the western edge of Olympic National Park.

The immediate vicinity of the fire is no place for a command center. There are only two ways to access the burn area: by helicopter or by fording a river and hiking more than 15 miles of trail.

This year is poised to be a difficult firefighting season in the Pacific Northwest. Most parts of Oregon and Washington experienced the warmest January to June since record keeping began in 1890, and the drought that has devastated California is steadily advancing north.

Making the season even more tense, firefighters are reporting an increasing number of near misses with unmanned drones, many of which appear to be sent by hobbyists or photographers trying to document fires.

Oregon and Washington officials are curtailing fishing starting Saturday on many of the states' rivers in hope of helping salmon, trout and steelhead survive drought conditions.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is imposing restrictions on 30 of the state's rivers. On some waterways it will be a complete closures; on others the prohibition takes effect from 2 p.m. until midnight.

Maybe you learned about it in high school, heard it on OPB, saw it in newspapers or maybe you have a subscription to The New Yorker. Or maybe all this earthquake talk is new to you.

Seismologists predict that the Northwest has a 37 percent chance of experiencing a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake happening in the next 50 years. It will be so disruptive, it will change the Pacific Northwest forever.

Warm Waters Cause Central Oregon Salmon Die-Off

Jul 15, 2015

Record heat that has warmed rivers in the Northwest has caused another fish die-off. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported 109 wild spring chinook salmon died last week in Central Oregon.

Water temperatures in the the Middle Fork John Day River reached the mid-70s. Biologists say those high temperatures combined with low stream flows are what likely caused the die off.

Biologists say they expect more salmon die-offs this summer, until spawning begins in September. Overall the John Day Basin has seen strong salmon returns this year.

Cooler temperatures around the region have slowed the number of wildfires burning in the Pacific Northwest.

"This is a nice reprieve in the middle of July," said Robin DeMario, a spokesperson with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.

Right now, fire crews are making gains on seven large-scale fires that are burning about 60,000 acres in Oregon and Washington.

The cool and at times even wet weather during the past week has given the 1,300 firefighters scattered around the Pacific Northwest the upper hand, at least for now, DeMario said.

Unusually warm waters in the Columbia River Basin have prompted federal officials to invoke measures to help migrating fish survive the hostile conditions.

A federal plan to protect endangered salmon and steelhead, known as the BiOp (or biological opinion), has contingencies for drier, warmer years. That includes the release of cooler water from upstream reservoirs.

So far, extra water has been released from reservoirs in Canada, Montana, and Lake Roosevelt in Washington.

A damaged icebreaker that's essential to Shell Oil Company's controversial plans to drill in the Arctic this summer is heading to Portland's Vigor Industrial shipyard for repairs.

The company says the vessel was damaged on its way from Alaska's Port of Dutch Harbor to the drill site in the Chukchi Sea, about 70 miles off the coast of Alaska. Shell plans to drill two exploratory oil wells in the area this summer.

The hottest June on record for Oregon and Washington came on the heels an unusually warm winter and spring. Now, Northwest rivers are running at or near all-time lows and cities with water reserves are drawing them down.

Some towns have already issued water advisories and asked residents to cut back voluntarily. Even the cities with lots of water, like Portland and Seattle, are finding they have less to work with.