Earthfix Northwest Environmental News

It’s a double-whammy kind of year for the Pacific.

An unusually warm winter in Alaska failed to chill ocean waters. Then this winter’s El Nino is keeping tropical ocean temperatures high. Combine these and scientists are recording ocean temperatures up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average off the coasts of Oregon and Washington.

“This is a situation with how the climate is going, or the weather is going, that we just haven’t really seen before and don’t know where it’s headed,” says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries biologist Chris Harvey.

Much of the Northwest has very low snowpack right now. But Mt. Bachelor near Bend is faring better than most western ski resorts.

After a bit of snow over the weekend, Mt. Bachelor now has the third deepest snowpack of any U.S. resort. That's according to On The Snow, a website that tracks resort conditions across the country.

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Mountain Bikers Protest At City Park

Mar 16, 2015

Portland’s mountain bikers are unhappy over the city’s recent decision to ban them from riding at the River View Natural Area in Southwest Portland. The Park is home to some of the city’s only natural trails for mountain biking. Portland City Commissioners Amanda Fritz and Nick Fish stated in a letter that they’re trying to “protect the city’s investment in the area,” by allowing only “passive, nature-based recreational uses.”

They may be our state animal, but many people think beavers are a nuisance. They can cause flooding to parks, backyards, and farmland, and it was long believed that salmon couldn't pass through beaver dams. But now some scientists have found that beaver dams actually create a good habitat for young salmon.

Scott Pattee stands well over 6 feet, but he’s dwarfed by the tall white tube set up near the Stevens Pass Ski Area to measure snow depth.

Little black numbers marking inches of snow ascend the side of the tube. The top number reads 250 inches, an amount of snow that’s hard to imagine right now.

Most of the mountains around Pattee are green and brown, not white - even though it’s officially still winter until March 19 arrives.

And the snow depth, according to the tower?

Timber interests and environmental groups are gearing up for a multi-year fight over how federal forests are managed in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.

The Northwest Forest Plan is now 20 years old and due for an update, according to the US Forest Service.

Low snowpack this winter could lead to an earlier, and more extreme fire season in the Northwest.

In many parts of Oregon and Washington, the snowpack is just ten to twenty percent of the average. It's not that precipitation is low, it's just that it has fallen as rain rather than snow.

John Saltenberger is with the Interagency Coordination center in Portland. He says the low snowpack means fire season could come early. Normally, firefighters are brought on in June, in anticipation of fires starting in July or August.

SEATTLE -- Port officials are standing behind their controversial decision to host Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet, despite protests, legal action and a city-led investigation.

The Port of Seattle signed a lease earlier this month that has caused a stir among some citizens and elected officials. At a public meeting Tuesday the port's commissioners got an earful when they opened the floor to testimony about their decision to lease Terminal 5 to Foss Maritime, which will then host Shell Oil's Arctic drilling fleet.

Action Taken To Protect Fish At Bottom Of Ocean Food Chain

Mar 10, 2015

West Coast fishery managers adopted a new rule Tuesday that protects many species of forage fish at the bottom of the ocean food chain.

The rule prohibits commercial fishing of herring, smelt, squid and other small fish that aren't currently targeted by fishermen. It sets up new, more protective regulations for anyone who might want to start fishing for those species in the future.

Arsenic in drinking water is a worldwide problem. Now a discovery by scientists at the University of Oregon could lead to a new way to remove the toxic chemical, making groundwater supplies safer for communities.

In the environment, arsenic is continuously cycling through different forms and combinations. Sometimes it’s dissolved in water, embedded in rocks, or in gas form in the air. Sometimes the chemical has organic molecules attached to it. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Okanogan is a small town nestled in the foothills of Washington’s northern Cascade mountains, where nearby ranches and homesteads butt up to public forestland.

One of those homes is a cabin in the woods where Bill Bruton and his wife have lived for the past 15 years. He's not too keen to have grizzly bears as neighbors -- a proposition that's drawn dozens of people to meetings hosted by federal agencies in Okanogan, Winthrop and Wenatchee, Washington.

Washington's Makah Indian tribe wants to resume its traditional practice of whale hunting.

The first step in winning federal approval came Friday, when NOAA Fisheries issued a draft environmental impact statement analyzing the tribe's request.

The orcas commonly spotted in the waters of Puget Sound during the summer lead a much more mysterious life in the winter time.

But a team of researchers has just returned from a three-week cruise following orcas along the coast of the Northwest and British Columbia. And they brought back some clues to help demystify the orcas' winter activities.

The Portland City Council today approved a plan to send 13 firefighters to Texas for a special training course on flammable liquid fires.

Portland Fire and Rescue said they are seeking the training in response to the increased rail shipments of crude oil from the Bakken oil fields by rail and barge through the Portland area. Federal agencies have said the crude from the Bakken fields in North Dakota is more flammable than oil from other regions.

It’s truffle season in Oregon’s forests. On a recent weekend, forager Eric Lyon leads a big black Labrador into a stand of Douglas fir trees near the town of Banks.

"Where's the truffle?" he says to the lab named Leroy.

Leroy keeps his nose close to the ground. He's on the scent of a truffle.

"There’s maybe six, 10 inches of the soil that has truffle aroma," explains Lyon, "but they can isolate the exact spot and I just use my little spoon and pop it out."

Leroy stops and digs gently with one paw. "Great aroma! Oh, that's a good one Leroy," Lyon says.

After five hours of debate Wednesday, the Oregon House of Representatives approved a controversial bill that would extend a state effort to reduce carbon emissions from transportation fuels.

The bill passed 31-29 after several failed Republican motions to replace the bill, send it back to committee and postpone it indefinitely.

Tom Kitchar has a theory of mining. It goes something like this:

Way, way back, when humans first came down from the trees, someone picked up a certain rock and realized it was useful.

It was heavy or sharp or easy to grip and use. It was a weapon. It was some sort of tool.

Soon everyone wanted one of these rocks. And those who went out to find and collect them were the first miners.

You might call it the forester's version of Google Earth: new satellite mapping that's giving scientists a clearer view of insect outbreaks in Northwest forests.

A study published this week describes how scientists with Oregon State University have combined new satellite imagery with older data from airplane and ground surveys to show in unprecedented detail where insects are damaging trees in the region.

One of Mt. Hood's glacier caves, Snow Dragon, has partially collapsed, according to Glacier Caves Explorers. Sometime between November 2014 and the end of January, the roof caved in near the entrance.

Brent McGregor of Glacier Cave Explorers said two skylights opened in the cave in November, and last month about hundred feet collapsed, possibly due to warm air entering through the skylights. This has also been a historically low snow year for Mt. Hood.

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