Earthfix | KUOW News and Information

Earthfix

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.

Steve and Sandy Swanson were in a festive mood. It was an early December day and their house was ready for Christmas.

“We already had our Christmas tree up,” Swanson remembers. “The house looked beautiful.”

But, then, a representative of the Navy knocked on the door of their home on top of a ridge on Whidbey Island,

“She walked in, and she seemed genuinely moved by the bad news she was going to have to tell us,” Swanson says.

A federal judge will allow the Trump administration to complete its review of national monuments before deciding how to move forward with a lawsuit involving the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.

Two timber companies in southern Oregon have filed a lawsuit against the expansion, arguing the enlarged Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument is a violation of presidential authority and could hamper their logging operations.

Millions of tubular sea creatures called pyrosomes have taken over the Pacific Ocean in an unprecedented bloom that has scientists baffled.

These bumpy, translucent organisms look like sea cucumbers that range in size from six inches to more than two feet long. But they’re actually made up of hundreds of tiny animals knit together with tissue into a filter-feeding cylinder.

Wildfire Smoke Pollution Is Worse Than We Thought

Jun 16, 2017

All that black smoke you see floating up from a wildfire — it’s full of small particles that are bad for your lungs and heart.

It turns out, the small particles are a lot worse than researchers previously thought. A new study found there are three times as much pollution in wildfire smoke plumes than predicted from earlier estimates.

In two weeks, thousands of peace-loving, free-spirited campers will descend on Oregon for the 2017 Rainbow Gathering in the Malheur National Forest.

The annual summer event attracts hippie types and wanderers from across the nation.

Rainbow members announced Thursday on social media that the July 1–7 gathering will be in a large field at Flagtail Creek, about 20 miles northwest of the tiny town of Seneca, Oregon, off Highway 395.

Seabirds Disappear In The Midst Of Plans To Shoot Them

Jun 15, 2017

For the second year in a row, thousands of cormorants have vacated their nesting grounds at the mouth of the Columbia River, derailing a plan to shoot and kill the seabirds to protect fish.

East Sand Island is usually packed with around 15,000 nesting cormorants this time of year; but right now there are none – just a handful of abandoned nests and broken eggs.

The Columbia River Gorge Commission hears an appeal Tuesday from Union Pacific Railroad on a proposed track expansion near Mosier, Oregon.

The proposed five-mile stretch would pass through the site of last year’s oil train derailment that spilled 40,000 gallons of crude oil and contaminated the town’s groundwater.

Washington's Largest Solar Project Coming To Tri-Cities

Jun 12, 2017

The Tri-Cities could soon be home to the largest utility-scale solar power project in Washington. A French company will develop the project on land that used to be part of the Hanford nuclear reservation.

The company, Neoen, is hoping to build a 20-megawatt solar project in the desert just north of Richland.

Washington state regulators approved two permits Thursday for a proposed plant that would make and export methanol along the Columbia River in Kalama.

More than 100 people testified before the Washington state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council in Vancouver Wednesday. It was one of the last opportunities for the public to sound off on a proposed oil terminal there.

The council heard more than seven hours of testimony from both critics and supporters of a controversial plan to build the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver.

The Washington Supreme Court reversed a lower court decision Thursday in a ruling that suggests the Port of Vancouver violated public meetings law while negotiating a lease for an oil terminal.

The court largely sided with environmental groups who argued the port commissioners violated the public meetings law by excluding the public from deliberations about the controversial Tesoro-Savage oil terminal lease.

A years-in-the-making plan to protect sage grouse from extinction is being reconsidered. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is bringing the plan, which took years to devise, back to the drawing table.

Zinke announced Wednesday the creation of a review team to reevaluate the state and federal sage grouse plans. He wants future efforts to highlight innovative conservation strategies and give more control to the 11 Western states that make up sage grouse habitat.

A Skagit County, Washington, jury found climate activist Ken Ward guilty Wednesday of second degree burglary for turning off an oil pipeline.

Ward, a Corbett, Oregon resident, was one of five activists who took part in the pipeline protest, turning off valves on Oct. 11 to stop the flow of oil from Canada into the U.S. in October. His case was the first to reach a jury verdict.

The Oregon Department of Forestry says wildfire season has officially begun in four regions of the state. 

Mike Shaw is the district forester for ODF’s Central Oregon district. He said this year’s heavy snowpack made for a slightly later-than-usual start to the season. 

“As the snowpack melts and recedes to higher elevation, the lower- and mid-elevation ground becomes available to burn, provided we don’t get much spring rain,” Shaw said.

In the wake of last week’s Trump administration announcement that the United States will pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, states are stepping up to fill the void. Washington announced a partnership with California and New York to form the U.S. Climate Alliance. Within days, Oregon and several other states signed on.

What is this U.S. Climate Alliance?

The United States is stepping away from the Paris Climate Agreement, but the consequences of climate change will be more difficult to leave behind. Take ocean acidification, a major emerging threat to West Coast fisheries.

Researchers at Oregon State University have recorded some of the highest levels of ocean acidification in the world – and they exist right off the coast of the Pacific Northwest.

Portland's Bike-Powered Mill Delivers A Low-Carbon Beer

May 26, 2017

Portland's Baerlic Brewing has teamed up with the Oregon Environmental Council to brew a low-carbon beer using a bike mill to grind the malt for its “Bike Crush Saison.”

The beer, scheduled to be released June 15, will be made with locally grown hops from Crosby Hop Farm in Woodburn. It will only be distributed within a mile of the brewery by bike or hybrid vehicle.

Washington Senator's Temporary Job Ends At EPA

May 25, 2017

Washington state Sen. Doug Ericksen has finished his temporary job for the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

The Bellingham Herald reports that his 120-day position ended May 20.

Ericksen, a Republican from Ferndale, was hired shortly after the inauguration and during the 120-day period worked as both a state senator and a federal employee.

Culvert Case Decision A 'Win For Salmon' In Washington

May 22, 2017

A big court decision could open up new habitat for salmon in Washington and end up costing the state billions of dollars. The case stemmed from poor maintenance and design of road culverts, which can block fish passage upstream.

A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Friday denied the state’s request to rehear the case. A lower court had ordered the state in 2013 to fix hundreds of road culverts.

Road culverts are those metal pipes or concrete boxes you see carrying streams underneath roads. There are thousands across the Northwest.

Thousands of tourists migrate to Seattle’s waterfront each year to experience the ferry rides, kitschy stores and sweeping views of Elliott Bay.

Jeff Cordell says they’re overlooking something that makes the waterfront even more special: filamentous microalgae.

“Brown scum,” he said on a recent visit at low tide, running a gloved finger through a carpet of slimey growth. “We love to see that. This is really good stuff.”

New research shows some of the orca populations that visit the Salish Sea are booming while the orcas who spend most of their time there are suffering. It comes down to what the different orcas eat.

President Donald Trump's administration has signaled it wants local residents to have more say in decisions about public lands in their backyard.

But earlier this month the Interior Department canceled upcoming meetings of local citizen groups that give input to the Bureau of Land Management on how to manage public lands.

Most people have never heard of these groups because much of their work is done behind the scenes. They’re called Regional Advisory Councils — or RACS.

Washington AG Pledges To Defend National Monuments

May 11, 2017

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is pledging to defend the state’s national monuments. Ferguson sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke defending the Hanford Reach National Monument, which is up for review under an executive order.

Can a state environmental-protection regulation be considered a “tax”?

That’s a central question in a lawsuit by business interests against Washington’s regulatory cap on carbon-pollution emissions that went into effect on Jan. 1.

The answer could determine whether Gov. Jay Inslee can make progress on reducing global warming emissions in the state, long one of his top priorities.

Two toddlers run around Sally Garcia Acosta’s house. They squeal as they take their toy cars for a spin — to the living room, through the den, and around the kitchen corner.

Garcia Acosta sits on the couch beside a small butterfly-adorned box. It holds some of her most sacred belongings: memories of her deceased daughter, Maria Rosario Perez.

“This is her little blanket that she had in her little bassinet at that they have at the hospital,” Garcia Acosta said as she smooths out a soft purple blanket.

Smith Rock State Park naturalist Dave Vick peered through his spotting scope perched on a red rock cliff. He pointed the scope toward a tall ponderosa pine, spotting a downy mass in the middle of a 6-foot-wide nest. Inside was a 2-week-old bald eagle, or eaglet, named Solo because he was the only hatchling in this year's brood.

The floppy little bird was guarded by a stately adult bald eagle — one of the two in a nesting pair that lives here year-round. Solo then stared expectantly at the parent bird, opening his beak slightly.

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