Ashley Ahearn

Environment Reporter

Ashley Ahearn is the environment reporter at KUOW and part of the award-winning regional multimedia collaborative project EarthFix. Before joining KUOW Ashley was a producer and reporter for Living on Earth, a nationally aired environment program from Public Radio International.

She has a master's degree in science journalism from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and has completed reporting fellowships with Vermont Law School, the Metcalf Institute at the University of Rhode Island and the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources. She also serves on the board of the Society of Environmental Journalists. In her spare time Ashley enjoys riding vintage motorcycles, snowboarding and hiking in the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges of the Northwest.

Ways To Connect

Crabber Tom Petersen would rather have his crab pots on the floor of the Pacific, but a toxic algae bloom has prompted health officials to close the south Washington coast to commercial and recreational crabbing.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

TOKELAND, Wash. – Tom Petersen’s 50-foot crab boat sits idly in the Port of Willapa Harbor, a tiny coastal inlet 40 or so miles north of the mouth of the Columbia River.

On a normal day in early summer, Petersen would be selling Dungeness crab to canneries, big-city buyers and even fresh off the back of his boat to locals and tourists.

This is a California sea lion on Long Beach, Washington, apparently experiencing seizures from domoic acid poisoning in May 2015.
DAN AYRES/WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The West Coast is experiencing the largest bloom of toxic algae in more than a decade, prompting wide-ranging closures of commercial crab and shellfish harvesting.

It’s also causing some very weird behavior in marine wildlife.

Dean Smith, who retired from the NSA, now tracks oil trains. He has gotten more information to the state in one week than oil companies have in three years.
EarthFix/KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

EVERETT, Wash. – Dean Smith, 72, sits in his car by the tracks north of Seattle.

It’s a dark, rainy Tuesday night, and Smith waits for an oil train to come through town. These trains are distinctive: A mile long, they haul 100 or so black, pill-shaped cars that each carry 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

This week's federal drought map shows how widespread the trend is across the West.
David Miskus/NOAA/NWS/NCEP/CPC

As the Northwest drought deepens, millions of dollars in emergency federal aid are headed toward stricken states, top Obama administration officials told seven western governors Friday.

The peaks of the Olympic Mountains are a familiar sight on the western horizon for people in the Puget Sound region. Well into summer, those mountains are usually snowy white.

But not this year. The snow is gone and rivers are at flow levels not normally seen until late summer. That has farmers, fish managers and community leaders worried about the season ahead.

If you were to catch a salmon in Puget Sound, chances are you won’t be able to say exactly where that fish came from. That’s because salmon spawn in rivers and streams and then swim hundreds or even thousands of miles to the ocean to mature.

Some new research could help fisheries managers better protect salmon by studying their ear bones - that’s right, ear bones.

Pinto abalone were near extinction by the end of the 1990s in Puget Sound. But with a little help from science, their wild populations are slowly rising.
EarthFix Photo/Katie Campbell

MUKILTEO, Wash. – In a dark fish tank at a government-run lab, a striking sea snail slowly inches from its hiding spot.

It’s a pinto abalone, and its numbers are dangerously low in Washington state after decades of overharvesting and poaching. This little-known animal is a delicacy, still served in U.S. restaurants, and its shell is a source of mother-of-pearl.

Picture yourself at a noisy bar. You realize that you have been shouting at your date all night in order to be heard. Well, orcas in Puget Sound are in kind of the same situation.

Marla Holt, a research biologist with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, has found that loud boat noise forces endangered orcas to raise the volume of their calls.

But the question, Holt says, is "so what? What are the biological consequences of them doing this?”

The volcanic ridges of the Cascades have long been poked and prodded by people who want to know what kind of geothermal energy they'll find beneath the surface.

But many of the Northwest's hot spots are on public lands. And in some cases, federal land managers have prevented access by companies seeking to convert that magmatic force into clean electricity.

If you’re at the Seattle Mariners season opener Monday you might run into some folks with clipboards, gathering signatures for a newly-announced initiative for 2016 that would tax carbon emissions.

The circulation of petitions to put Initiative 732 on the 2016 ballot signals a new strategy that may come into play if Gov. Jay Inslee and fellow Democrats in the Legislature are unable to pass their own carbon cap-and-trade proposal.

In the Northwest, fisheries managers move salmon around dams using trucks and cannons. Why not a tunnel under the city of Seattle?
KUOW Illustration/Kara McDermott, Flickr Photo/Premshee Pillai (CC-BY-NC-SA)

The tunneling machine known as Bertha has been stuck beneath the Seattle waterfront since December  2013, stalling construction and racking up millions in cost overruns. 

One local engineering firm has a fresh idea for the fumbling tunneling project: Instead of moving Subarus through the heart of the city, the tunnel should be used by salmon. 

The tunneling machine known as Bertha has been stuck beneath the Seattle waterfront since December, 2013, stalling construction and racking up millions in cost overruns.

One local engineering firm has a fresh idea for the fumbling tunneling project: Instead of moving Subarus through the heart of the city, the tunnel should be used by salmon.

Washington regulators say the region's biggest oil-train operator should be penalized after failing to comply with reporting requirements following 14 spills of hazardous materials, including crude oil.

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission said Thursday an investigation had found that between Nov. 1 of last year and Feb. 24, BNSF Railway committed 700 violations of the state's reporting requirement for railway spills of hazardous materials. Four of those spills involved trains carrying crude oil through Washington state.

Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, stands on the docks as tribal crabbers unload their catch. The tribe has vowed to fight the oil train-to-ship terminals  proposed for Grays Harbor.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

HOQUIAM, Wash. — Grays Harbor, with its deep-water berths and fast access to Pacific Ocean shipping routes, has all the ingredients to be a world-class port.

Shell Oil wants to build more tracks at its refinery in Anacortes, Washington, to receive oil by rail. At a packed hearing in Skagit County on Thursday, more than 100 people turned up to comment on the proposal.

Shell's refinery in Anacortes is the last of Washington's five oil refineries to apply for permits to receive oil by rail from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

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