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Battle Ready

Biologist Adrian Wolf searches the ground for something camouflaged in the dry prairie grass. Then he spots it: a baby streaked horned lark.

Wolf’s hands tremble as he puts a tiny silver identification band on its leg.

“I have an endangered species little life in my hand,” he says, and then places the bird back in its nest.

Only about 2,000 streaked horned larks are left on the planet. Wolf is trying to prevent the native Northwest songbirds from going extinct. But that’s not an easy task considering the dangers nearby.

The Waste That Remains From Arming Nuclear Weapons

Dec 10, 2016

Hanford is the nation’s largest nuclear cleanup site, with 56 million gallons of radioactive waste sitting in old, leaky underground tanks just a few hours upriver from Portland. After more than 20 years and $19 billion dollars, not a drop of waste has been treated.

WATCH: Battle Ready - The Digital Documentary

The Olympic Peninsula was Charles Nelson’s best medicine.

The Army veteran had served during 1990s conflicts in Somalia and Kuwait before returning home to Seattle. Nelson couldn’t cope with daily life as a civilian. Something as common as an unexpected car-door slam gave him a shiver of fear. Doctors diagnosed him with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

He joined a group of veterans who took weekly hikes deep into the rainforest.

“It was better therapy for me than anything else I’ve really been through,” Nelson said.

Life At A Post-War Nuclear Weapons Factory

Dec 1, 2016

Seth Ellingsworth figured he was set for life. He was 22 and had just landed a coveted factory job in the company town he’d grown up in.

“I thought it was the greatest thing ever,” he said. “The place where people in the area worked that did well, I got a job there. I was really proud that I was a part of it.”

Now, at 35, Ellingsworth spends most days beset by tremors, struggling for oxygen, frequently confined to the ground floor of his home in Richland, Washington. It’s just outside his former place of work: the Hanford Nuclear Site.

The Plane That Won A War And Polluted A River

Dec 1, 2016

This is a condensed version of a story originally published Sept. 29, 2015. Read the complete story here.

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, smiling for the camera. They were probably in England at the time, getting ready to fly bombing raids over Germany in 1943.

Paul Fishman spots a rusty chunk of metal jutting out of the riverbank on Portland’s South Waterfront.

“Ah-ha!" he said. “Here’s a piece of ship’s hull."

The piece came from a World War II ship – one of the few signs of the post-war industry that used to be here.

During World War II, the site was one of several Willamette River shipyards devoted to building military vessels. But when victory made all those warships obsolete, this stretch of the waterfront became the scrapyard where many of those ships were torn apart.

Growing up, Paul Skirvin milked a lot of cows.

“Dad went and borrowed the money,” he says. “And before we was through milking cows, we was milking about 60 head.”

This was outside of Portland in the 1930s and '40s. Skirvin was too young to fight in World War II. Soon after it ended he received a quick lesson in economics when he and his brother were hired to log off their neighbor’s land.

“We milked those cows all month and about the same as we’d make in a week logging.” he says.

The timber industry labor shortage during WWII was very real. Many able-bodied men left the woods to fight in the war and still others felt the pull of wartime manufacturing jobs in cities like Seattle, Tacoma and Portland.

Loggers were exempted from the draft because the United States needed lumber for the war effort. But that didn’t solve the labor shortage.

Like in other war-time industries across the country, women joined the workforce.

“Women do start working the timber industry in the 1940s, particularly in plywood mills,” said UO historian Steven Beda.