EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

Rainfall across western Oregon could oust some of the state's more than two dozen wildfires this week. But trouble still looms in the form of landslides and a possible dry-out.

The Oregon State Fire Marshal’s Office says the Eagle Creek Fire is slowly growing on the southern and western edges of the fire.

As of Saturday, the fire in the Columbia River Gorge was burning more than 45,000 acres and was 32 percent contained. The fire ignited Sept. 2 and was human-caused, according to Oregon State Police.

Thousands of Northwest residents will be getting less electricity from burning coal. That’s because of a new agreement to fast-track the closure of a coal-fired power plant in Montana.

The announcement came Friday as part of a rate settlement from Puget Sound Energy. The investor-owned utility has agreed to be financially ready to close its coal plant in Montana nearly two decades ahead of what they’d originally planned.

To do this, PSE will increase customer’s electric rates by about 1 percent. That increase will be offset by a 4 percent cut in natural gas rates.

The Willamette Valley could get the most rain it's had in at least three months starting this weekend. 

As the region begins to retreat from a summer of unprecedented heat, cooler temperatures and more rain could provide relief for firefighters battling the nearly 42,000-acre Eagle Creek Fire burning in the Columbia River Gorge.

Ana Mendoza grabs her keys and walks out of her apartment at the Hacienda low-income housing complex in Portland’s Cully neighborhood.

She walks across the parking lot and unplugs one of three Honda Fit electric cars that residents and employees here can rent as needed.

It’s a little after 8 a.m., and she’s driving downtown to join a women’s leadership discussion for immigrants from Oaxaca, Mexico, that starts at 9. She doesn’t own a car, so with the car-sharing option at Hacienda she’s already saved herself about an hour of travel time over taking the bus.

Air pollution can contribute to asthma and heart disease. And it puts children at greater risk of developmental and behavioral problems.

But not everyone is equally likely to be exposed to air pollution.

While regulations and cleaner energy have meant the air’s getting a little cleaner for everyone, a new study by University of Washington researchers shows that, at every income level, people of color are still exposed to more air pollution than white people.

Sarah Dudas doesn’t mind shucking an oyster or a clam in the name of science.

But sit down with her and a plate of oysters on the half-shell or a bucket of steamed Manila clams, and she’ll probably point out a bivalve’s gonads or remark on its fertility.

Don’t expect to take in the stellar views from the top of Angel’s Rest anytime soon.

That's just one of popular hiking trails in the Columbia River Gorge that lies inside the perimeter of the Eagle Creek wildfire (see complete list below).

Rachel Pawlitz of the Gorge National Scenic Area says some of the best-known trails in the Gorge – including Multnomah and Wahkeena Falls, Larch Mountain and, of course, Eagle Creek – will be off limits at least until spring.

When wildfires are burning around the state, it’s hard for the Oregon Department of Forestry to focus on anything else.

During a recent meeting of the Oregon Board of Forestry, state forester Peter Daugherty repeatedly explained how the agency has had to put a lot of routine forest management work — including fire prevention — on hold this summer.

"Pretty much all my time over the past month has been focused on the fire season," Daugherty said.

As the smoke settles, people are asking how to heal the Northwest’s forests. What’s to be done with the blackened trees, spread across hillsides?

One sore spot for people is the Columbia River Gorge.

In an effort to help rehabilitate the land, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has introduced a bill that would expedite a controversial logging practice in the National Scenic Area: salvage logging.

The Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge continues to burn, though not nearly as wildly as it did a week ago.

At a Monday night meeting in Troutdale, fire and law enforcement officials briefed members of the public about how firefighters are tackling the roughly 34,000-acre blaze.

"We've developed a strategy that we're just going to have to let it burn," said Rick Miller, operations section chief on the Eagle Creek Fire.

On a clear day, Jocelyn Bentley-Prestwich can see Mount Adams from the vineyard where she works in Hood River. But lately, she’s had difficulty seeing to the end of her property line. 

With the Eagle Creek Fire burning along the Columbia River Gorge, Hood River has been cloaked in heavy smoke for more than a week. 

President Trump continues to learn things about his job and the rest of us continue to learn things about Donald Trump.

Last week, faced with one natural disaster festering in Texas and another impending in Florida, Trump used a storm relief bill to save Congress from a fiscal disaster of its own making.

Moreover, he did it by shunning his own party's leaders in the House and Senate and cutting a deal instead with the leaders of the opposition.

On Sept. 1, the U.S. Forest Service swore in Tony Tooke to lead the agency charged with managing the nation's 154 national forests and 20 grasslands across 43 different states.

Tooke said there are about 80 large fires (defined as those burning more than 100 acres) burning nationwide. Normally at this time of the year, that number looks more like 20. 

Oregon Republican Congressman Greg Walden introduced a bill to Congress Friday to expedite salvage and reforestation projects in the Columbia River Gorge and other National Scenic Areas after catastrophic events like the Eagle Creek Fire. That blaze, which ignited Sept. 2, is now the nation's top priority wildfire and is burning more than 33,000 acres in the Gorge.

As wildfires rage across the Pacific Northwest, more than just people are displaced from their homes. Animals in the wild are also feeling the effects of the flames.

More and more, wildfires are changing conservation strategies for threatened and endangered animals in the region, especially as a warming climate lengthens fire season.

“We essentially assume that we’re going to have earlier fire seasons. They’re going to last longer. And they will typically be more severe,” said Jeff Krupka, field office manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Central Washington.

Before the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge became the nation’s top priority wildfire, it was the Chetco Bar Fire near Brookings.

Lightning sparked the fire more than two months ago, but it's only five percent contained despite the work of 1,500 firefighters.

State Republican Representative David Brock Smith represents District 1, which includes the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area, where the fire is burning. He says the fire has consumed nearly 180,000 acres and continues to grow.

The U.S. Forest Service received a fresh injection of wildfire fighting money in the $15.25 billion hurricane relief package signed by President Donald Trump Friday.

The House earlier in the day gave final approval to the package, which also raises the national debt limit and continues to fund the government through Dec. 8.

Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, both Democrats, helped attach the wildfire aid to the package -- a move frequently made by western lawmakers in recent years as a series of devastating forest and rangeland fires have wrecked the region. 

Of all the resources that hang in the balance as firefighters attempt to slow the growth of the Eagle Creek Fire, one stands out: the Bull Run watershed.

It’s 150 square miles of hemlock, fir and cedar trees just south of the Columbia River Gorge. The forest soaks up rain and fills the lakes and reservoirs that provide drinking water for close to 1 million people in Portland, Gresham, Beaverton and Tigard.

Emergency aid to help victims of Hurricane Harvey now also includes additional money to fight wildfires in Oregon and other western states. 

The U.S. Senate on Thursday added provisions replenishing the U.S. Forest Service's budget for the rest of this fire season. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said it should amount to more than $100 million in additional aid. He said the money will ensure that the agency won't have to cannibalize programs aimed at making fires less likely to burn in the first place — something he said has frequently happened in the past.

It’s September, the month when monarch butterflies are at their peak in the Pacific Northwest.

These are western monarchs, not the eastern monarchs that spend their winters in Mexico. Western monarchs breed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and eight other states and then migrate to their winter home in California.

New research shows these monarchs are disappearing even faster than their eastern cousins. Scientists are trying to figure out why.

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