EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

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Yumei Wang dug one foot into the sand beneath her, and water crept in around it. Like a sandcastle left to the tide, the ground beneath her turned to silty pudding.

But Wang was not at the beach. She was in Northwest Portland’s industrial district, examining the six-mile stretch along the Willamette River that holds more than 90 percent of the state’s fuel supply.

“Is there any worse soil in Portland that we could have built on?” she asked.

Oregon Tsunami Maps Dangerously Out Of Date

Sep 27, 2015

Oregon is unprepared for the tsunami that could follow a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake. The megaquake has a 1-in-3 chance of hitting in the next 50 years.

For years, experts have said that if there’s an earthquake we should "Duck, Cover and Hold." That is, duck under something strong — like a desk — then stay under cover and hold on until the shaking stops.

But Corbett School District superintendent Randi Trani doesn’t think the mantra works for his middle school. Corbett Middle School was built in 1921 without benefit of steel rebar or such modern ideas as tying the walls to the roof.

Warm Springs Tribes Celebrate Huckleberry Season

Sep 26, 2015

A couple hundred members of the Warm Springs Tribes converged on Mount Hood Saturday to celebrate the huckleberry season.

Culture and heritage director Valerie Switzler said they were invited to hold an annual celebration by Mount Hood Ski Bowl a few years ago.

"Not only was it a place for us to pick huckleberries, but it was also like a pilgrimage area," she said. "This is where we took our young girls for ceremonies. And there’s sacred places there where some people say you get like your power.”

The huckleberry season came early this year.

How many Oregon bridges will hold up in a major earthquake?

New data compiled by the Oregon Department of Transportation reveals at least part of the answer. The results aren't pretty for a region facing 1-in-3 odds of a magnitude 8 or larger earthquake in the next 50 years.

ODOT data details the seismic vulnerability of bridges under state control. The data focuses on “lifeline” routes, or routes deemed critical to emergency services and necessary for “rapid economic recovery after a disaster."

Northwest Drought Likely To Extend Into 2016

Sep 24, 2015

Don't be fooled by the recent rain and cooler temperatures. Most of Oregon and Washington are still experiencing severe or extreme drought.

With many of the region's reservoirs and streams still far below normal and a warm winter on tap, experts are predicting this year's drought will likely continue into next year.

The city of Ashland has a deer problem. At least that’s what some residents are saying after being intimidated, chased and occasionally attacked by the city’s resident deer.

After hearing complaints for years, the city held a “Deer Summit” Wednesday night to get feedback from the community. The standing-room-only crowd in the city’s courtroom told local leaders that something needed to be done to reduce conflict between humans and the deer.

If you own a diesel-powered Volkswagen, you're well aware that this week the German car maker was exposed by federal regulators for equipping vehicles with a computerized “defeat device” that gave inaccurate emissions readings.

The cheat caused nearly a half-million of these diesel models since 2009 to emit low emissions during testing, but then turned off those emissions controls in actual driving situations – allowing the vehicles to get better gas mileage and performance while putting out more pollution.

The public is getting its first glimpse of the government’s killing of thousands of sea birds near Astoria.

The hunting is no longer happening under the cover of darkness, as it was when the culling program started. Government teams are now shooting cormorants in broad daylight.

Why Are Humpback Whales In The Columbia River?

Sep 22, 2015

Some unexpected visitors are giving people near Astoria a rare treat.

Humpback whales have been spotted in the Columbia River just downstream of the bridge to Washington.

Biologist Deborah Jacques, who studies pelicans, said she’s never seen humpbacks so far in from the ocean.

US Rejects Protections For Greater Sage Grouse

Sep 22, 2015

The U.S. Interior Department says the greater sage grouse does not need federal protections across its 11-state western range. The long-awaited decision affects millions of acres across the Western states.

“Today I’m proud to mark a milestone for conservation in America, because of an unprecedented effort by dozens of partners in 11 western states, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that the greater sage grouse does not require protection under the Endangered Species Act,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Fire officials are starting to get a handle on the cost of Oregon's most destructive wildfires this year.

To date, the lightning-caused Canyon Creek Complex has cost about $30 million. The bill is shared between the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Oregon Department of Forestry.

"So we split that based on the number of acres across the entire incident," said Tracy Wrolson, who is the assistant district forester ODF's Central Oregon district. "ODF, private grounds had about 18 percent of the total acreage on Canyon Creek."

Gov. Kate Brown has declared a drought emergency in Marion County.

The governor's action on Friday makes Marion the 25th Oregon county to be under a drought declaration. Last year, 10 of Oregon's 36 counties were under drought emergencies.

The governor's drought declaration does not bring any help in the form of aid or loans, but does allow increased flexibility in how water is managed.

Last winter saw a record-low snowpack, leading to low streamflows this summer that have affected irrigators as well as fish.

More Details Emerge On Portland's Bike Rental Program

Sep 16, 2015

The City of Portland unveiled more details Wednesday about its new bike rental proposal.

About 600 bikes will be rented for about $2.50 per half-hour. That’s cheaper than most of the 65 similar programs around the nation.

But the city hopes to make up the difference with annual memberships. Those will likely cost $10 to $15 a month.

Commissioner Nick Fish expects the program to do well.

“The big deciding point for me is family trips to other cities where this has been a huge success," he said.

Walden Holds Fire Meeting In Canyon City

Sep 15, 2015

More than 50 people turned out Monday in Canyon City to discuss the Canyon Creek wildfire and forest policy. The meeting was convened by Republican Congressman Greg Walden.

Canyon City residents who lost homes or property in the fire still face uncertainties. Will the government provide aid for replanting and restoration? How much salvage logging can take place? Can rehabilitation be completed before winter rains begin?

Northwest Tribes Question Federal Firefighting Priorities

Sep 14, 2015

Several inches of ash blanket the ground where a wildfire recently passed through a pine forest on the Colville Reservation. Most of the trees have scorched trunks and dull brown needles … but some could still bounce back.

Cody Desautel, the tribe’s Natural Resources Director, grabed ahold of a scorched bough on a small sapling. “These buds in the end, see, they’ll still look pretty viable,” he said. “So next spring potentially these things could break bud and you could have green needles come out of this.”

Fire officials said Monday the Horsethief Butte Fire in south central Klickitat County has burned more than 8,000 acres and is 50 percent contained.

An undetermined number of outbuildings have burned, but so far no homes have been lost.

On Sunday, officials evacuated more than 300 residents and the town of Wishram, Washington, east of The Dalles.

County officials said evacuation orders have been reduced to level one, meaning residents should be ready to go.

The Red Cross has opened a shelter in in Goldendale.

Earlier this summer, EarthFix reporter Jes Burns took us on a walk in the Southern Oregon woods with Oregon Wild. The conservation group had been chosen by Google to use a backpack-mounted Trekker camera. The plan was to document trails on Bureau of Land Management lands that could be affected by upcoming changes to how the forests are managed.

Washington Residents Evacuated After Wildfire Grows

Sep 14, 2015

Fire officials in Kilckitat County, Washington evacuated 300 residents Sunday after a fast moving wildfire grew to more than 400 acres.

The evacuations include the town of Wishram, Washington, east of The Dalles, according a release from the county.

The Hoursethief Butte Fire was first reported around noon Sunday. State resources were authorized around 3 p-m.

The Red Cross has set up a shelter in Goldendale.