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Earthfix

The Chetco Bar Fire is now burning more than 175,000 acres in the mountains near the coastal Oregon town of Brookings. The good news is that a break in the weather fueled by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lidia should give fire crews a chance to catch up.

Southwest Oregon has seen months of high temperatures and little-to-no rain, creating ripe conditions for fire starts. One of the ways fire managers determine how fire-prone an area is, is a measure called the energy release component, or ERC. 

When the Eagle Creek Fire blew up over Labor Day weekend, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said officials used every available resource to fight it.

The fire quickly doubled in size, and evacuation orders soon followed. People forced to leave the Columbia River Gorge city of Cascade Locks questioned the speed of the initial fire response.

Gov. Brown disagreed with the suggestion that firefighters were slow to react to the fast-growing blaze in the Gorge.

"Absolutely not," Brown responded. "We put all the resources we had on the fire, as quickly as possible."

Washington state’s guidelines for fish farms include things like where they should be located and how many fish can be farmed in how much water. These guidelines are more than three decades old: they date back to 1986.

“We know that the old recommendations are out of date,” says Department of Ecology spokesperson Curt Hart.

As flames from the Eagle Creek Fire pushed closer to the Columbia River, Oregon officials had a quick decision to make.

The Fish and Wildlife hatcheries in the fire’s path housed six million fish, mostly chinook and coho salmon and steelhead.

And some of those fish were in trouble.

“Their water source, which at the time was Tanner Creek at Bonneville Hatchery, was literally engulfed in flames. The hatchery intake on the creek got clogged up, and we weren’t able to get water to the fish,” said Ken Loffink, a spokesman for ODFW.

A Portland woman says the young hikers suspected of starting a fire now consuming the Columbia River Gorge giggled as one threw a firecracker into Eagle Creek Canyon.

One suspect has been identified as a 15-year-old male from Vancouver, Washington. Oregon State Police spokesman Bill Fugate said if charged, the suspect could face the same state charges as an adult. Fugate said OSP will release the suspect's name if and when charges are filed. It is believed he and others may have been using fireworks which started the forest fire along the Eagle Creek Trail. 

Advocates are worried that Trump administration policy changes will damage the ability of national parks to deal with climate change.

Studies show climate change could have serious impacts on national parks in the Northwest.

A disease that can be deadly to deer has been found for the first time in Washington. Wildlife managers are asking people to not give deer food or water — in hopes of minimizing the spread of the infection.

Adenovirus Hemorrhagic Disease — or AHD — is common in other western states. Washington’s first confirmed case was found in a herd east of Goldendale.

The disease is often fatal for fawns. It’s not a risk to people, pets, or livestock — it’s only transmitted from deer-to-deer.

Is That Mask Really Protecting You From The Smoke?

Aug 31, 2017

The persistent haze of smoke from the wildfires burning around the Northwest has led many people to wear face masks to protect their lungs. But health officials say many of those masks aren’t doing what the wearers think they are.

As the days of thick, smoky air drag on, you’re seeing more people wearing those little paper masks you can get at the hardware store. Dr. Jim Shames has seen them, too. But, he says, while those masks may filter out some of the ash that’s floating around people need more protection than that.

Air quality in the Portland metro area was rated by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality as unhealthy Tuesday. Areas near Grants Pass and Medford also had substantial haze from nearby wildfires.

Smoke from large fires burning in southwestern Oregon and northern California is blowing north and blanketing the Willamette Valley. This includes smoke from megafires such as the Chetco Bar Fire — burning over 100,000 acres near Brookings, Oregon — and the Miller Complex of fires.  

It's been a busy August for the Oregon National Guard.

More than 600 guard members have been called up to fight wildfires burning out of control in the state. They've dropped more than 750,000 gallons of water on the fires by helicopter.

Even as the firefighting continues, two small teams with the Oregon Air National Guard's 125th Special Tactics Squadron are being sent on a very different mission: assisting the relief effort in Texas.

Q&A: So Why Are Atlantic Salmon In The Northwest?

Aug 25, 2017

Last weekend, a net pen broke apart near Washington’s Cypress Island. The pen held 305,000 Atlantic salmon, non-native fish.

The company that owns the pen, Cooke Aquaculture, says it is unsure exactly how many Atlantic salmon escaped. It estimates somewhere between 4,000 and 5,000 fish. Cooke and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are inventorying fish are still inside the pens.

The U.S. Forest Service is moving forward with a plan to allow exploratory mining near Mount St. Helens.

The agency issued a draft decision approving Canadian company Ascot Resources Ltd.’s plans to drill for copper and gold in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Deer graze on tall prairie grass. Bushy-tailed foxes chase rabbits across a windswept landscape. Bald eagles perch along cliffs overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca and snow-capped Olympic Mountains.

The southern tip of Puget Sound’s San Juan Island is a wildlife-viewing wonderland.

The U.S. Secretary of the Interior is recommending reducing southern Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, according to the Washington Post.

The boundary shift comes after a Trump administration review of more than 20 national monuments across the West.

Portland Public School students will still not be able to use campus water fountains when the new academic year starts next week. 

Instead, students returning to school on Wednesday will continue drinking bottled water while PPS begins the process of replacing non-classroom water fixtures to deal with the problem of high lead levels in its water. The replacements will be installed in six waves of 15 schools at a time. 

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.

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