Ashley Ahearn | KUOW News and Information

Ashley Ahearn

Environment Reporter

Year started with KUOW: 2011

Ashley Ahearn is KUOW’s award-winning environment reporter and the host of a new  national podcast on the environment, terrestrial. Each episode explores the choices we make in a world we have changed. 

Ashley has been covering the environment for NPR and member stations for more than a decade and you've probably heard her stories on Morning Edition, Marketplace, All Things Considered, The World and other national shows, as well as right here on KUOW in Seattle. 

She has a masters in science journalism from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California. In her spare time she rides motorcycles and snowboards and hikes in the Olympic and Cascade mountains with her husband and her ridiculously spoiled labradoodle. 

Ways to Connect

Crows fly from all over the Seattle region to reach their nighttime destination, where thousands upon thousands of them spend the night together.
KCTS9 Photo/Ken Christensen

Listener Lauren Linscheid of Seattle sees crows flying every day toward Lake City Way. “I want to know where they’re going and why,” Lauren told KUOW’s Local Wonder team. We sent reporter Ashley Ahearn to investigate.

William Ruckelshaus in a 2012 file photo. Ruckelshaus was named a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient in 2015.
KCTS9/EarthFix Photo/Katie Campbell

Environmental elder statesman William Ruckelshaus may not have decided where to display the Presidential Medal of Freedom he will be receiving at a White House ceremony Tuesday, but he has decided how to have a little fun with it.

“Well I’ve threatened my wife to wear it outside my suit coat in the daytime and inside my pajamas at night so it wouldn’t hit her in the face when I turned over,” joked the 83-year-old Ruckelshaus before admitting he really doesn’t know what he’ll do with the medal, one of 17 being awarded.

Washington forestry officials have updated state guidelines for evaluating unstable slopes that, if logged, could contribute to landslides.

Yakama Nation and Lummi Nation tribal members protest in May 2014 against the proposed coal export facility in Boardman, Ore. A Pacific Rim trade agreement raises questions about whether investors could challenge state decisions to stop such facilities.
COURTNEY FLATT, NWPR/EARTHFIX

After more than five years of negotiations and much secrecy, the Obama Administration released the full text of a controversial Pacific Rim trade deal Thursday. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement streamlines business between 12 Asia-Pacific countries, including the United States.

After more than five years of negotiations and much secrecy, the Obama Administration released the full text of a controversial Pacific Rim trade deal Thursday. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement streamlines business between 12 Asia-Pacific countries, including the United States.

It’s a 6,000-page document that stakeholders on a number of fronts — including agriculture, manufacturing, the environment and labor — are just starting to dissect as they prepare to lobby Congress, which will likely decide next spring whether or not to ratify the deal.

Carlo Voli quit his corporate job a few years ago to become a full time Community Supported Activist. He's been fighting fossil fuels and climate change ever since.
Ashley Ahearn, KUOW/EarthFix

LYNNWOOD, Wash. – Carlo Voli moves through the crowd of protesters outside a recent public hearing in Washington.

He pauses to talk to a woman holding a cardboard cutout of an oil train and directs her over to where a group holding similar train car posters is lining up to complete the phrase “No More Exploding Oil Trains.”

Lynnwood, Wash. -- Carlo Voli moves through the crowd of protesters outside a recent public hearing in Washington. He pauses to talk to a woman holding a cardboard cutout of an oil train and directs her over to where a group holding similar train car posters is lining up to complete the phrase “No More Exploding Oil Trains.” One by one, as the crowd grows, local politicians, tribal members and activists take the microphone to urge opposition to a proposal to bring oil by rail to Shell’s refinery in northern Puget Sound.

Reporter Ashley Ahearn dug into the Northwest history of the B-17 bomber with her father, Joe Ahearn, Jr.
EarthFix Photo/Katie Campbell

There’s an old photograph in my father’s office that I’ve always wondered about. In it my grandfather and nine other young airmen stand in front of their B-17 plane, shoulders squared, staring proudly at the camera. They were probably in England at the time, getting ready to fly bombing raids over Germany in 1943.

Crabs, shrimp and fish lie dead in shallow water near Potlatch State Park along Hood Canal on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015.
Skokomish Tribe Department of Natural Resources/Seth Book

HOODSPORT, Washington -- Marine life is struggling to survive in the oxygen-starved waters of Hood Canal.

Hundreds of rockfish hovered in shallow water near shore this weekend, listlessly crowded together to access the limited oxygen closest to the surface. Wolf eels, normally reclusive creatures, came out of their dens, “panting” so as to move water over their gills and avoid suffocating.

Amanda Cronin stands near the Dungeness River downstream from where water could be diverted during higher flows to fill a reservoir.
EarthFix/KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

This is the first story in a two-part series on how drought and climate change are changing how the Northwest relies on reservoirs to meet water needs.

SEQUIM, Wash. – For more than a century, the snowmelt that fed the Dungeness River here has provided water for farmers’ crops as well as salmon journeying to the ocean and back.

 The Goodell fire burns near a power line that transmits electricity from Seattle City Light’s three dams on the Skagit River to customers in Seattle and beyond.
Seattle City Light photo/Cody Watson

Eight fires have burned more than 4,000 acres in Washington’s North Cascades. The largest of the fires has damaged transmission lines, leading Seattle City Light to shut down power generation at three dams on the Skagit River.

The utility is losing $100,000 in revenue each day that the lines are down. Conditions have remained unsafe for repair crews to work on the power lines.

Q: Have the fires damaged the dams?

Chris Burns, natural resources technician with Washington’s Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, stands in the Dungeness River. Flows are roughly one-third of normal, prompting fears that salmon won’t be able to make it upstream to spawn.
EarthFix-KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

PORT ANGELES, Wash. – The fishing aisle at Swain’s General Store is stocked with tackle for catching salmon and trout on nearby rivers.

But something is missing among the rows of lures, floats and ornately tied flies: customers.

Mark Huff was a young post-graduate student back in 1978 when the Hoh Fire burned 1,250 acres not too far from the site of the current Paradise Fire. He’s been studying Olympic rainforest fires ever since. Historically, these fires occur every 500-1,000 y
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

PORT ANGELES, Wash. -- It’s 6 a.m. and a special team of fire response coordinators is gathered at Port Angeles High School.

This incident command center is more than 100 miles from the wildfire they’re dealing with: the Paradise Fire, which is burning on the western edge of Olympic National Park.

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.

Gov. Jay Inslee has been pushing for a “polluters pay” carbon reduction plan for the majority of his time in office. Tuesday marked the first time that plan went before the state legislature, when the House Environment Committee held a hearing of HB 1314. The bill, which was drafted by the governor’s office, has 37 sponsors, all Democrats.

Sens. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, left, and Kevin Ranker. On Christmas Day, Ashley Ahearn asked them to join her at the Spar Cafe, a bar in Olympia.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

Earlier this winter, Ashley Ahearn was growing tired of polarized political debate.

She wondered: Did politicians actually believe what came out of their mouths? So she invited Sens. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, and Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, leaders, to drinks at Spar Cafe in Olympia.  

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