EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

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.

A bill that would make big changes to how the federal government pays to fight wildfire passed the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday.

The Oregon Legislature has just adjourned for the year, leaving some unfinished business when it comes to a state forest that’s been the subject of controversy.

Conservation groups expressed dismay last year when state officials decided to sell parts of the Elliott State Forest to timber companies. The Legislature had the opportunity to shape the future of the forest. But with no action on three different bills, its fate is still far from decided.

Juniper is a native Oregon species. But decades of fire suppression and grazing have allowed the tree to spread voraciously over Eastern and Central Oregon. That's a problem because juniper consumes sage grouse habitat and sucks up a lot of water.

The Oregon Legislature passed two bills at the end of the session to help boost juniper harvest, HB 2997 and HB 2998.

The bills provide funding to boost the state's fledgling juniper harvest industry.

Gerard Joseph LaBrecque operates a milling and harvesting company out of Hines that targets juniper.

New Year Brings New Pups To OR-7 Wolf Pack

Jul 7, 2015

Oregon's wandering wolf's lonely days are far behind after biologists found evidence that OR-7's Rogue Pack has expanded by a second set of pups.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife released a video from trail cameras Tuesday that shows the yearling wolves playing in the Cascades east of Medford, which ODFW shared on its Oregon Wildlife Viewing Facebook page.

You know legislators are serious about something when they appoint a czar like a drug czar. Well now, Oregon has the equivalent of its own earthquake czar.

The less sexy title is "Oregon’s earthquake resiliency officer." But Jay Wilson, the chair of the Oregon Seismic Safety Commission, says the job will be to coordinate what state agencies do to prepare.

"We just really felt like this needed to come from an executive level position, rather than it being tied to one agency and the limited authority of a single agency," he says.

You would think that Vancouver, British Columbia, residents would be breathing a little easier following the end of the Women's World Cup, but smoke from nearby fires is making it near impossible.

A Central Washington Water Project Gets Senate Hearing

Jul 7, 2015

A warming climate is making water more scarce in places that rely on runoff from mountain snowpack -- places like the Yakima River basin in Central Washington.

That’s why a group of about 20 stakeholders have come together to develop a plan to help manage water in this agricultural center. Those stakeholders traditionally haven’t gotten along: environmentalists, farmers, the Yakama Nation tribal leaders, and government officials.

Wildfire season in the Northwest started early this year. Crews recently subdued the 5,345-acre Buckskin fire near southern Oregon’s Illinois Valley.

The Buckskin fire is called a “reburn” because it’s on land that was scorched by wildfire in the recent past. These reburns are a positive indication that the forests are recovering from decades of fire suppression.

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.