EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

How Do You Want Your Smoke?

May 7, 2018

There’s broad agreement that fire plays a vital role in forest ecology in the West. Many of our problems with severe wildfires can be traced, at least in part, to a century of putting fires out, rather than letting them clean up excess forest fuels.

Now, there’s a need to deliberately set controlled fires to help re-establish a more natural fire pattern. But after a summer in which residents and tourists alike choked on foul air and many events were canceled due to heavy smoke, are people ready to put up with more smoke from prescribed burns?

It arrived at 3 a.m on July 26, 2013. Dennis Sifford remembers details like this. They marked the beginning of his final shift as an incident commander on a wildfire.

“The lightning storm came in — dry lightning storm,” Sifford said, describing that morning. “It was unexpected.”

The storm touched down in mountainous terrain just north of the town of Glendale, Oregon. More than 80 fires started.

Twelve hours later Sifford got the call. He would lead the 3,000 people needed to fight what would be known as the Douglas Complex.

Earlier this week, several deer were found illegally shot with arrows in the Shady Cove area of southwest Oregon.

The animals were spotted walking around with arrows stuck in their bodies, including one with an arrow through its head.

Officials are pleased to report that the deer have since been found as of Wednesday afternoon. The arrows were removed, the wounds treated and both deer – an adult and yearling doe – have been released in good health.

An extreme and rapid drop in water on the Klamath River this past weekend caused a fish kill in the upper reaches. The water was drawn down as part of an agreement to supply irrigation water to the Basin’s farmers in this drought year.

Fly fishing guide Stuart Warren was fishing a stretch of the Klamath River Monday near the town of Keno, Oregon, when he noticed something along the rocky banks.

The U.S. Forest Service says it will have more money to fight wildfires and more tools to prevent them thanks to the new wildfire funding bill Congress recently approved.

The extra resources may very well be needed in Oregon and California this year, where officials say they are already seeing an elevated risk of wildfire because of low snow pack and dry spring weather. The fire outlook is less concerning for Washington.

A federal judge has denied a request by Klamath Basin farmers to get their irrigation season underway. The farmers had asked for a reversal of an earlier court decision requiring water be held back for salmon until mid-June.

District Court ruled in 2017 that federal managers must keep a block of water in Upper Klamath Lake in case disease rates in Klamath River salmon got too high. The thinking was that a well-timed release downstream could flush out or dilute the responsible parasite enough to spare the struggling fish.

Oregon and Washington are joining a coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia in suing the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator Scott Pruitt over the decision to roll back greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles built between 2022 and 2025.

The states argue those emissions standards for cars and light-duty truck models were put in place to help reduce carbon pollution and oil consumption.

More than a dozen local organizations and environmental groups say they're pressuring the Portland Business Alliance to withdraw its support for a proposed gas terminal and pipeline in Southern Oregon.

Members from organizations that include Stop Fracked Gas/PDX and Columbia Riverkeeper stood outside the Oregon Convention Center Tuesday, May 1 where the Portland Business Alliance was holding its sold out annual meeting. More than 1,200 people were expected to attend.

Outside, protestors handed attendees small pieces of paper that asked: "What are you thinking?"

Gas company NW Natural spent $21 million building a state-of-the art groundwater treatment system that would stop toxic pollution from flowing off its industrial site into the Willamette River.

It's a celebrated example of "early action" taken voluntarily by some of the companies responsible for cleaning up contamination at the Portland Harbor Superfund Site.

Some Trails Closed By Eagle Creek Fire To Reopen This Summer

Apr 29, 2018

The U.S. Forest Service plans soon to reopen some of the trails in the Columbia River Gorge that have been closed since the Eagle Creek Fire last year.

According to Lily Palmer with U.S. Forest Service, the trail to Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls will be the first to reopen early this summer. Trails east of Cascade Locks, including Starvation Creek Ridge Loop and Herman Creek, Mount Defiance and the Pacific Crest Trail should reopen later in the summer.

Last summer's Eagle Creek Fire burned more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge. Conservationists estimate that it may take years for some areas to reopen to the public. But despite the devastation, some areas in the Gorge are seeing their first signs of rebirth. 

Enter, the humble mushroom. The charred wood and decaying organic matter in the wake of a fire create the perfect environment for several types of fungi to thrive. Oregon's mushroom hunters are forecasting a mushroom bonanza this spring — including a bumper crop of the coveted wild morels.

The U.S. House approved a bill Wednesday that would circumvent a federal judge’s order for dams on the lower Snake River to spill more water and protect current dam operations through the next four years.

The additional spilled water is meant to help migrating salmon, meaning it would not be available for generating electricity.

Patricia Marín still remembers the day nine years ago when her daughter Azul started coughing and couldn't stop. Her breathing was ragged.

At the time, Azul was just 18 months old. Marín brought her to the emergency room.

"The hospital got her symptoms under control," Marín says, "but, a week later, she stopped being able to breathe again and I had to take her back."

It was a cycle. By the time her little girl was 5, Marín says, "Azul lived in the emergency room."

The Pacific Northwest could soon become a hub of ocean energy technology. An Oregon State University project to set up a wave energy test site is now applying for the federal permits needed to move ahead.

A federal judge ordered a Germany-based eyeglass manufacturer on Monday to pay $750,000 in criminal fines for repeatedly discharging hazardous waste from its facility in Clackamas, Oregon.

Court documents show Carl Zeiss Vision, Inc. routinely discharged industrial wastewater with very high and low pH levels into the Kellogg Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.

"By failing to disclose its discharges to Clackamas County, the company operated completely outside pretreatment regulations for years," the U.S. Attorney for Oregon's office said in a release.

Homes located near or inside forests are a big complication for managing wildfires. Forest managers find themselves under increasing pressure to suppress natural fires because of the risk of nearby homes igniting.

But experts now say keeping those homes from burning could be cheaper and simpler than previously thought.

Researchers at Oregon State University have worked out a way to detect and identify whales long after they move on — just by sampling the water.

When whales swim they leave behind a plume of genetic material in the environment: skin, poop and bodily fluids. If you know what to look for, you can use that DNA to figure out what kind of whale went by.

While searching for seabirds in July of 2017, biologist Luke Halpin instead saw a sea bubbling with about 200 bottlenose dolphins and 70 false killer whales. It would be an unusual sight anywhere — bottlenose generally travel in much smaller groups — but Halpin’s sighting was made more remarkable by where it happened. These usually tropical animals were off the west coast of Canada.

In a big grass pasture in the shadow of Mount Rainier, hundreds of chickens are crowded around a little house where they can get water and shelter from the bald eagles circling overhead. This is the original location of Wilcox Family Farms, an egg farm that also has locations in Oregon and Montana.

SunPower, a solar manufacturing company headquartered in San Diego, California, has purchased SolarWorld Americas, a solar panel manufacturer based in Hillsboro.

Details of the sale weren't disclosed. In a news release, SunPower announced plans to use the Hillsboro solar panel manufacturing plant to make the solar panels the company currently manufactures overseas, marking the company's "return to U.S. manufacturing."

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