Earthfix | KUOW News and Information

Earthfix

The benefits of an above-average snowpack measured in most locations statewide earlier this year have yet to be fully realized due to extreme heat and little precipitation.

While water reservoirs have reaped rewards from winter snow, people who rely on small tributaries for farming or irrigation are looking at potential shortages.

The Interior Department has released new recommendations for a plan to protect greater sage grouse. The guidelines will give more leeway to mining, ranching and industry groups. They’ll also change a conservation plan that took years to devise.

Sage grouse are iconic birds in the West — including in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. But their numbers in 11 states have dramatically declined with their loss of habitat.

The time is almost here. On the morning of Monday, Aug. 21, many in America will collectively raise their heads to the sky to witness the first total solar eclipse in the region in 38 years. This time around, Oregon is ground zero and the state is preparing for a phenomenon that has been embraced by people from all over the world. Here are some key things to know before the solar eclipse completely covers our lives.

Oregon officials say Willamette River steelhead are on the verge of extinction because they’re getting eaten by sea lions at Willamette Falls.

They're asking Congress for permission to kill some of the sea lions this year to protect the fish.

Native winter steelhead are already on the Endangered Species List because they’re threatened by the impacts of dams and habitat loss.

But with more and more sea lions feasting on fish below Willamette Falls, new data show the steelhead now face about a 90 percent chance of being wiped out altogether.

Lawmakers in Congress passed a major win for West Coast crab fishermen that now goes to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature.

The bill permanently extends a tri-state fishery management agreement in Washington, Oregon and California.

Oregon To Kill Wolves That Preyed On Livestock

Aug 3, 2017

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has decided to kill members of the Harl Butte wolf pack in Eastern Oregon in an attempt to disrupt the pack’s behavior and prevent future livestock losses.

The decision comes after Wallowa County ranchers requested lethal control because the pack has attacked cattle seven times in the past 13 months. It marks the eighth time state officials in Oregon or Washington have taken lethal action on wolves that preyed on livestock.

Two fish ladders at the spillway weren’t built properly, and so they’re useless for giving fish passage to the waters above the dam.

“It’s just really, really violent high hydraulics, and they can’t make it up it — under any conditions,” Thomas said.

New Bus Gives Hikers a New Way to Get Outside

Aug 2, 2017

It’s hard to go hiking if you don’t have a car, says Ben Hughey, with the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

And that means “the people we see out on the trails aren’t the people that we see in the city,” he adds. “This isn’t a representative sample. Not everyone who lives in the city is getting outdoors.”

Starting in August it will be easier for Seattle-area hikers to get to the woods on public transportation. King County Metro is working with King County Parks to ease traffic and competition for parking at trailheads — and to help people who don’t have cars get outside.

Oregon State University researcher John Chapman is knee-deep in mud and sinking deeper by the minute. The mudflat surrounding him in Newport’s Yaquina Bay is pocked with holes – some snaking down more than 6 feet underground.

These are the burrows of the burrowing mud shrimp.

“This is the last, biggest population in the world," he said. "In San Francisco Bay, they’re extinct. In most of California, they’re extinct."

A new study from the U.S. Geological Survey finds that the fungus that causes white-nose syndrome in bats can be spread much more readily than previously thought.

Ellie and Emma are toddlers. They spend a lot of time with their dad Tim Billo in Seward Park, a fragment of old-growth forest on the edge of Lake Washington. Billo’s a lecturer at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment.

The grove Billo and his daughters are exploring today used to have sword ferns that had grown taller than Ellie and Emma. But, now, the ground is bare and dusty. There are no plants growing beneath the towering trees.

This is the final story in a three-part series on the wildlife refuges of the Klamath Basin and water in the arid West. Read part one and part two.

This is the second story in a three-part series on the wildlife refuges of the Klamath Basin and water in the arid West. Read part one here.

A line of binoculars point upwards at a ridge on the edge of Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge. There’s an owl’s nest in a small cave about 150 feet up, and Charlotte Kisling has her scope trained.

This is the first story in a three-part series on the wildlife refuges of the Klamath Basin and water in the arid West. Read Part two here.

Driving around Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge is like being on bird safari. Guides today are refuge manager Greg Austin and biologist John Vradenburg.

Washington Lawmakers Leave Enviros Feeling Shorted

Jul 21, 2017

Washington’s legislative session, the longest in state history, did not deliver the money environmentalists wanted for toxic cleanup, oil transportation safety, or natural resources.

Going into the session, the Environmental Priorities Coalition — made up of more than twenty Washington environmental groups — had placed a priority on getting the state to spend more on environmental protection.

Chris Wolf and his colleagues at Oregon State University had a question. They wanted to figure out which is worse: chopping down an acre of woods in a forest that’s already been disturbed or chopping down an acre of woods in a forest previously untouched by humans.

Going into the study, he said, “we were more concerned about forest loss in areas that had already experienced a great deal of forest loss.”

Wolf and his team hypothesized that cutting down a last little patch of remaining forest would have disastrous effects for biodiversity.

What's the best way to ensure the return of salmon and steelhead to something like their historic numbers in the Columbia and Snake rivers? It’s been a hotly debated question for more than 20 years. And it's getting a renewed look with a controversial option on the table:

Removing the four lower Snake River dams.

Editor’s note: Research, tenacious advocates and $16 billion have lifted Columbia salmon from the brink of extinction. But the Northwest has yet to figure out a sustainable long-term plan to save the fish that provide spiritual sustenance for tribes, food for the table, and hundreds of millions of dollars in business and ecological benefits. This is part of a special series of reports exploring whether salmon can ultimately survive.

This is a guest post by Claire Schoen, a producer, documentary filmmaker, and the creator of a new podcast called Stepping Up.

Grannies and kids, evangelicals and clowns, they are figuring out new ways to act – and act out – about the biggest crisis of our times.

On a research boat on the Columbia River, Laurie Weitkamp with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grabs two buckets filled with water and about a dozen young salmon and steelhead.

“Ooh, we got some steelies!” she says.

By stretching a net across the river below Bonneville Dam, researchers are intercepting the fish swimming toward the ocean to see what they’ve been eating.

A new bill in Congress would make sure Washington's four lower Snake River dams stay standing. It’s push back against a recent court order to find “a new approach” to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.

That approach could include removing or altering the dams.

That's not something Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, thinks would be good for the Northwest. Newhouse introduced the legislation, along with four other Northwest representatives.

The deadline to reach a decision on a controversial oil terminal planned for Vancouver has been pushed back again. The Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, filed an extension that will give it until Aug. 31 to make a recommendation to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The extension is the sixth time the state energy board has pushed the deadline for a recommendation.

A lot can happen in seven years. Just ask Jim Thayer, who spent nearly that long searching for the perfect hiking route from Portland to the Oregon Coast. Thayer, an avid hiker, wanted an accessible trail through the Coastal Range that avoided highways and stayed on public land. After years of trekking through forests and creeks, he’s finally found it.

The secret to Thayer’s coastal trail? What he calls the “Blue Gate Rule.” Many logging roads along the route have blue gates, meaning they’re open to the public for recreational use.

PacifiCorp Looks To Expand Wind Energy As Coal Plants Retire

Jun 29, 2017

PacifiCorp is moving forward with a 20-year plan that reduces its use of coal-fired power while expanding investments in wind energy.

The utility, which serves customers in six Western states, has proposed spending $3.5 billion on a plan to add 1,100 megawatts of new wind energy — mostly in Wyoming — as well as a new transmission line.

The plan will also re-power wind turbines in the Columbia River Gorge by adding bigger turbine blades and upgrading equipment inside the turbines to increase their energy output by an average of 20 percent.

Study: Orcas Lose Two-Thirds Of Their Pregnancies

Jun 29, 2017

Two-thirds of all detectable orca pregnancies have ended in miscarriages over the past seven years, a new study shows.

To figure out if orcas were pregnant, the researchers trained dogs to find orca scat and then tested the scat’s hormone levels. What they found was sobering.

“Of those that we confirmed were pregnant, 31 percent of the pregnancies are successful. So 69 percent were lost,” said Sam Wasser, a University of Washington professor and study author.

Fourteen states — including Oregon and Washington — are threatening to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act.

In a letter to the EPA sent Thursday, the group argues Director Scott Pruitt broke the law when he ordered his agency to halt part of the rule-making process for regulating methane and other air pollution from oil and gas facilities.

When a bark beetle outbreak started killing off decades-old pine trees in a research forest in western Montana, Forest Service researcher Sharon Hood made the best of the situation. She and other researchers started studying which trees were dying, hoping that information would help land managers.

As many as 20,000 people are converging on a meadow in the Malheur National Forest in Oregon’s Grant County this week for the Rainbow Gathering.

The annual event attracts hippies and travelers from around the country. But a small team of federal prosecutors and judges will also be there.

The U.S. Forest Service is working with federal judges from the District of Oregon and assistant prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to set up a temporary court in Grant County that can handle federal citations during the gathering.

A climate activist from Oregon will not serve jail time for his part in an oil pipeline protest last fall. A Washington judge instead sentenced the so-called “valve turner” to a month of community service and six months of probation.

Ken Ward of Corbett was one of five activists who turned valves off on several pipelines bringing oil from Canada to the United States. A Skagit, Washington, jury convicted him of second-degree burglary earlier this month.

Challenging The Idea That Electric Vehicles Are For The Rich

Jun 20, 2017

Poor people spend more of their income on gas and transportation and their neighborhoods often are more exposed to air pollution.

At the EV Roadmap Conference in Portland Tuesday, experts discussed how electric cars could help on both fronts.

The national conference drew more than 600 people to Portland to discuss all kinds of issues related to expanding the use of electric vehicles, from financing more charging stations to the possibility of self-charging autonomous electric cars.

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