EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

The longstanding legal battle over maintaining dams and salmon in the Columbia River is back in court this week. On Tuesday, a new judge will hear arguments on the Obama administration's latest salmon plan.

Chandra LeGue and David Calahan are facing a bit of a problem. They’re at the Sundown Trailhead near Southern Oregon's Applegate Valley. And they’re standing in the middle of a cloud.

Normally hiking in foggy weather isn’t a big deal. But on this day LeGue wanted it to be clear so the Google Trekker apparatus she’s carrying on her back can photograph the trail.

A couple of years ago, divers in Puget Sound began to notice something odd: Starfish were disappearing.

The sea creatures would get sores and then melt into piles of mush. Sea star wasting syndrome is a gruesome disease and it spread to starfish all along the West Coast. Scientists still don't know a lot about it.

Katie Campbell, a reporter for EarthFix and KCTS, says that although scientists have isolated the cause, the creatures continue to die.

Toxic Algal Bloom Hits West Coast

Jun 17, 2015

A huge toxic algal bloom is forcing many shellfish fisheries to shut down along the West Coast. The health effects from eating shellfish contaminated by the toxin associated with the blooms can result in memory loss, seizures and even death.

The West Coast is experiencing the largest bloom of toxic algae in more than a decade, prompting wide-ranging closures of commercial crab and shellfish harvesting.

It’s also causing some very weird behavior in marine wildlife.

Wildlife managers spotted a sea lion on the southern Washington coast that was arching its back and having seizures. They had to euthanize it.

West Coast Fish Species Recovers Decades Ahead Of Schedule

Jun 16, 2015

Fishery managers say two valuable West Coast groundfish have recovered ahead of schedule: canary rockfish and petrale sole.

That's good news for the fishing industry. The fleet has been restricted from catching healthy stocks of fish that swim alongside these protected species at the bottom of the ocean.

For more than a decade, canary rockfish have been what's considered a "choke" species. That is, protecting them choked off fishing access to other valuable species like Dover sole and black cod.

The Vatican has invited Portland Mayor Charlie Hales to discuss climate change and human trafficking with Pope Francis. The city says Hales is one of 16 mayors from around the world chosen to attend a papal summit on July 21.

Pope Francis is issuing a decree this week on climate change. In a draft leaked by an Italian magazine, he backed the scientific explanation of climate change, and linked the issue to global inequality and poverty.

As the Northwest drought deepens, millions of dollars in emergency federal aid are headed toward stricken states, top Obama administration officials told seven western governors Friday.

The White House says it will make $110 million available to help those suffering from the effects of drought.

A variety of federal agencies will disperse the money. Some will be used to help farmers find ways to conserve water, change grazing practices and improve irrigation.

Rob Manning/OPB

Northwest  forest policy is once again heating up.  Last week, federal officials presented their latest assessment of the Northwest Forest Plan, which covers more than 2 million acres of federal land in Washington, Oregon and California.  Jes Burns from our EarthFix team gets together with JPR’s Liam Moriarty to break it all down.

On a former landfill site in Northeast Portland, a white rot fungus has taken hold – and that's a good thing. It's a mushroom known for its ability to clean up water pollution.

Dean Smith, 72, sits in his car by the tracks north of Seattle.

It’s a dark, rainy Tuesday night, and Smith waits for an oil train to come through town. These trains are distinctive: A mile long, they haul 100 or so black, pill-shaped cars that each carry 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

Smith has been monitoring oil trains in his community for about a year, noting each one on a website he built. He does it because the railroads share little information about oil train traffic with Washington state. They don’t have to because they’re federally regulated.

Julie Weikel has just returned from a trek in the high desert of Eastern Oregon. Her goal was to confirm the migration pattern of Pronghorn Antelope between the Hart Mountain and Sheldon National Wildlife refuges. Weikel is 68 years old and a retired large animal veterinarian. She's been involved with wildlife and conservation efforts for decades.

Marine Toxin Closes Washington Crab Season

Jun 12, 2015

Washington fishery managers say they are in “uncharted territory” following the closure of a major ocean fishery off the state’s southern coast.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it was closing the recreational and commercial Dungeness crab fisheries after samples of crab revealed unsafe levels of a harmful, naturally occurring marine toxin called domoic acid that has already shut down razor clam fisheries in both Oregon and Washington.

Jordan Cove LNG's Federal Environmental Review Pushed To September

Jun 12, 2015

Jordan Cove LNG's federal environmental review has been pushed back to September.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission released a revised Notice of Schedule on Thursday, a day before the proposed liquefied natural gas export terminal was expected to receive its final environmental impact statement.

The final EIS is now expected to be released Sept. 30, with a 90-day federal authorization decision deadline moved to Dec. 29.

On a hillside in southeastern Washington, bunch grasses ripple in the wind. A storm is forming off in the distance, and crickets chirp nearby.

It’s here where botanist Mark Darrach has found three rare flowers previously unknown to science. That’s a lot. He said many botanists are lucky to find one in their career.

“It’s a unique plant community that hasn’t been recognized until just a couple years ago when we stumbled across these and started scratching our heads, like ‘Where did this come from? We’ve never seen this before,” Darrach said.

The issue of forest policy is once again heating up in the Northwest. On Tuesday federal officials presented their latest assessment of the Northwest Forest Plan, which covers more than 2 million acres of federal land in Washington, Oregon and California.

Q: Can you remind us what the Northwest Forest Plan is?

Two technicians balance on a floating fish trap about the size of a double bed. They dip nets into the water and scoop out small fish and mats of vegetation. The fish are carefully placed in five-gallon buckets and the weed is casually tossed back into to river.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife techs are recording their catch from shallow side channel of the middle Klamath River. They're observing variety, inspecting the fish for signs of trouble, and packing up hatchery for disease testing at a lab.

A new federal recovery plan for Snake River sockeye salmon recognizes progress in rebuilding a species that nearly vanished in the 1990s.

It calls for moving into a new phase of recovery for Idaho's iconic fish – beyond preventing extinction.

A new oil refinery is the last thing you might expect Washington Gov. Jay Inslee's administration to be courting. After all, Inslee has developed a national reputation as a champion of curbing the use of fossil fuels.

Mercury Cleanup Begins In Central Oregon

Jun 5, 2015

Cleanup of a mercury-contaminated site began Monday on a Bureau of Land Management area in Central Oregon.

The Barnes Butte Area near Prineville will close for two weeks while crews work to remove mercury contamination from a 1940s mine site. The BLM area is a popular destination for hikers, dog walkers and and horse riders.

BLM field manager Susie Manezes said no one has ever complained to the BLM of health problems associated with the contaminated area. But the high mercury levels aren't safe.