EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

The Port of Astoria attempted to scare hundreds of sea lions off its docks Thursday using a motorized orca made of fiberglass. But after a series of mishaps, the experiment went belly up.

Port leaders had high hopes for the fake orca as it pulled into town on a trailer from Bellingham, Washington. A fake baby orca tagged along, lashed onto the roof of an SUV.

She was a year and a half old, whimpering under the shade of a horse trailer when rescuers found her.

A wildfire in North-Central Washington had been burning for a month. The young bear's paws were so badly charred that she'd been crawling on her knees and elbows. They were burned, too.

That was in 2014. The bear was a casualty of what would be known as the Carlton Complex fire. It was the biggest wildfire in Washington history.

Matt Madsen watches as a commercial kitchen mixer churns in the center of his lab. Inside the stainless steel bowl is a thick, chunky brown mixture. This is no ordinary dough.

“Diatomaceous earth, bentonite clay, compost, worm castings,” said Madsen, an ecologist at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center, ticking the ingredients off on his fingers.

In the latest attempt to shoo away the hundreds of hungry sea lions lying around Port of Astoria docks, the city is bringing in a fake baby orca to swim alongside the adult-sized model Thursday. Reporter Cassandra Profita reports that the models will be dropped into the water after noon.

Poach Fish, Get Caught, Keep Your License

Jun 2, 2015

Get caught poaching fish one too many times in Northwest waters and you’re likely to lose your sport fishing license.

Do the same under a commercial license, on a much larger scale, and you’ll likely avoid the same fate.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has suspended thousands of recreational fishing licenses since 2003 because of rule violations, according to agency data. It has revoked zero licenses for commercial fishing violations since then. They're almost as uncommon in Oregon.

Following the untimely death of the widely photographed and loved mule deer known as "Buck Norris," a group is hoping to raise enough money to build a memorial in honor of Central Oregon's unofficial mascot.

"He fearlessly roamed the roads and yards around town and made friends across the region," wrote the campaign's creator Cari Lampshire on the GoFundMe page. "Let's give Buck the memorial he deserves for bringing so many of us so much joy and awe over the years."

There's no good reason for a live, 8-foot sturgeon to be tied by the tail and tethered to the shore of the Columbia River, in the Pacific Northwest.

But this is how poachers steal the giant fish: They keep the sturgeon alive and hidden underwater while they look for black-market buyers.

There's no good reason for a live, 8-foot sturgeon to be tied by the tail and tethered to the shore of the Columbia River, in the Pacific Northwest.

But this is how poachers steal the giant fish: They keep the sturgeon alive and hidden underwater while they look for black-market buyers.

Wildlife officers say the high value of caviar is driving poachers to these inventive tactics. They've also found sturgeon carcasses floating in the river — their bellies slit open after poachers harvested their eggs.

5th Earthquake Strikes Off Oregon Coast

Jun 1, 2015

A 5.9 magnitude earthquake struck off the Oregon Coast at 1:11 p.m., the fifth quake to hit the area since early Monday morning.

The earthquakes shook about 300 miles off the coast. More could still follow.

The Bureau of Land Management released new plans Thursday for managing sage grouse habitat across public lands in Oregon, Idaho and eight other Western states.

Sage grouse populations have been hit hard east of the Cascades: from habitat loss, invasive species, grazing, and wildfires. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has called these threats “a death of one-thousand cuts.”

The agency will decide by this September whether to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

As the sun rises over a remote rye field in northwestern Colorado, about 170 greater sage grouse dance in a distinctive mating display. Males make popping and whooshing sounds and fight to attract the female’s attention.

“All these males that you see out here, less than 10 percent will actually get to breed,” whispers Brian Rutledge, the director of the Audubon Society’s Wyoming office.

Obama Administration Finalizes Clean Water Rule

May 27, 2015

The Obama Administration Wednesday announced a new clean water rule. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will help limit pollution in streams and wetlands.

The rule is meant to clarify uncertainty about who can regulate these smaller waterways and water bodies.

Environmentalists say the new rule will keep drinking water clean. Lauren Goldberg is the staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. She says this new rule will provide critical protection for clean drinking water and fish habitat.

A man and woman drive a blue pickup to the back of a Chinese restaurant.

A man approaches them with a scale as the woman pulls a bag heavy with clams from the back of the truck.

The transaction is quick and casual, as though they’ve done this before. And they have. But this time, a hidden camera has captured their transaction.

“The whole thing happens in less than four minutes,” says Detective Wendy Willette as she watches the tape.

The push for cleaner fuels in Oregon and Washington has led to proposals that would bring the region more crude oil and a new refinery along the Columbia River.

Riverside Energy, a subsidiary of Houston-based company Waterside Energy Inc., intends to build a refinery to process mostly crude oil and some biofuels that can meet a growing demand for low-carbon fuels in the Portland metro area, according to interviews and documents.

Officials Start Killing Columbia River Cormorants

May 26, 2015

Crews with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services have started killing cormorants on an island in the Columbia River, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Can Carbon Markets Help Oregon's Small Forests?

May 26, 2015

When cancer comes calling, what if owners of small forest plots had another choice but to sell or to cut.

That’s the premise of a pilot program being launched in Washington and Columbia counties of northwest Oregon.

Anchored by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and an $820,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Forest Health/Human Health Initiative envisions what planners call an “A-Tree-M” card for forest owners who are threatened by medical bills but don’t want to cut or sell.

The Future is Now for Three Small Forests In Oregon

May 26, 2015

Some of Oregon’s forest owners are seeking innovative ways to make a living off their land without logging it hard. Oregon’s small forest landowners, those with 10 to 5,000 acres, are responsible for just 15 percent of the timber harvest on average even though they lay claim to 44 percent of the state’s privately owned timberland.

Here is a look at three forests where owners are purposely going light on the land:

Acres: About 1,000 acres in the northern Oregon Coast Range, Hyla Woods is about an hour’s drive west from Portland.

The federal government has been telling Oregon for over a decade that its rules to protect threatened coastal salmon are not up to snuff. Now, the state is faced with a loss of federal dollars unless it gets with the program.

In response, the Oregon Board of Forestry is weighing whether to require timberland owners to leave more trees standing along streams to better protect fish habitat. And that’s got owners of small timber lands especially worried.

The marina at Howard Prairie Lake is high and dry. The docks tilt awkwardly this way and that, stranded on the uneven lake bottom.

“Normally, on a year when the lake is full, we’d most likely have 15 to 16 feet of water above our heads. So, yeah, it’s a little pasture right now,” says Steve Lambert, Program Manager of Jackson County Parks.

Kelly Welker knew Seattle’s Georgetown area was an industrial neighborhood when she moved here nine years ago. The air quality isn’t great. But lately, she says, it’s been getting worse.

“I had never experienced going outside of my house and having my eyes burn within a couple of minutes,” Welker said. “Having my sinuses burn within a couple of minutes.”