EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

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.

Public Input To End On Timber Sale Near Oregon Gulch Fire

Jun 25, 2015

The public comment period for the New Hayden Fox vegetation treatment project in southern Oregon ends Friday. The Bureau of Land Management field office in Klamath Falls is proposing commercial timber thinning, brush mowing and reducing overall fire hazards.

The 1,450-acre area is located in the southwestern portion of the Klamath Falls Resource Area, just north of the California border.

The $343.5 transportation funding package to cover road and transportation updates has been abandoned by Oregon Senate leaders due to the looming end of session deadline.

The propsal was drafted by eight bipartisan lawmakers, known as the "Gang of Eight," and proposed raising millions annually through a 4-cent gas tax increase. However, Gov. Kate Brown said there just wasn't enough time to push the complex package through.

Oregon Firefighter Trains For A Big Season

Jun 25, 2015

Across the West, wildland firefighters are preparing for a busy season and a hot, dry summer, which is becoming the new norm. As EarthFix reported, more than 1.3 million acres have burned in the Northwest each year for the past three years.

Teresa Brna, 24, is a new seasonal firefighter with the Ochoco National Forest based in Prineville. OPB will check in with her throughout the summer. Recently, reporter Amanda Peacher followed her for a day at "guard school."

Update: Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday called for the repeal of Oregon's clean fuels law and the passage of a transportation package to be considered separately. See below.

Hot weather is coming to the region this weekend, which concerns fire officials. As a precaution, fire managers say they're ramping up resources in anticipation for more blazes.

"I'm sure everyone is aware of the heat wave that is predicted over the next several days," Tom Fields, Oregon's Department of Forestry Fire Prevention Coordinator, said in a statement. "While we're all looking for ways to stay cool, now is not the time to be careless with activities that could lead to a wildfire."

This year’s drought is affecting Washington in all kinds of ways. It’s even threatening to make a potential government shutdown more painful. That would happen on July 1 unless a budget agreement is reached.

Jeff Marti, the Washington Department of Ecology’s drought coordinator, says the state won’t be able to grant emergency permits to access water if your well dries up or if river levels drop so low that your pipes no longer reach the water.

A new scientific study just published in the June issue of the journal Carcinogenesis: Integrative Cancer Research suggests that chemicals found in the environment that could be harmless in low doses, have the capacity to become carcinogenic if combined. The research spanned two years, and 174 scientists in 28 countries.