Earthfix | KUOW News and Information


About 16 pregnant ewes lounge beneath a lone tree on a ranch in north-central Washington's Methow Valley. They stand up, shaking snow from their heavy wool as Kate Haven and I walk closer.

Her two sheepdogs notice us from about a football field away. They recognize Haven, but not me — prompting them to start barking out of a sense of duty to protect their flock.

In a ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge William Orrick ordered more water releases from dams on the Klamath River to flush out parasites causing deadly disease outbreaks in salmon.

In recent drought years, scientists have found extremely high rates of a disease caused by an intestinal parasite known as Ceratanova shasta in salmon populations protected under the Endangered Species Act.

This is the first part in our series on wildlife and lead ammunition. Read part two here.

California condors can nest in cliff-side caves or large burnt-out trees. That’s exactly what the coastal bluffs and forests around Redwood National Park offer.

The massive birds once lived around the park just south of the Oregon-California border. They held a place of high esteem for the Yurok Tribe.

In a new report, the Oregon Global Warming Commission says the state isn't expected to come within striking distance of its 2020 or 2050 goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The commission says the latest numbers show "a perilous reversal" in the downward trend of emissions from cars and trucks over the past few years. In short, people are driving more – and in bigger vehicles.

Irrigators from Southern Oregon and Northern California are in federal court this week. They’re arguing the U.S. government owes them millions of dollars in compensation for water shut-offs 16 years ago.

A major drought in 2001 made water in the Klamath Basin scarce. Federal regulators cut off irrigation to hundreds of farms to ensure there was enough water in the rivers for endangered salmon and other fish.

The farmers say the irrigation water is property that was taken without compensation. This is prohibited by Constitution’s 5th Amendment.

Video: This Is What Trump's EPA Looks Like So Far

Jan 30, 2017

Since taking office, on Jan. 20 President Donald Trump's administration has done a lot to shake things up at the Environmental Protection Agency. His nominee to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, could be up for a confirmation vote as soon as Wednesday.

Get caught up on the big picture in 100 seconds with this explainer video by OPB's John Rosman and KCTS/EarthFix's Ken Christensen.

Colin Curwen-McAdams opens the door to his greenhouse in Mt. Vernon, Washington, and a rush of warm air hits our faces.

“Basically, it’s summer all year long here,” he jokes.

This is the greenhouse where Curwen-McAdams, a PhD student at Washington State University, and WSU professor Steven Jones developed a new species, which they call Salish Blue. It’s a cross between wheat and its wild cousin, wheat grass. Their goal was to make something that’s like wheat but grows back year after year.

Democrats in the Washington Legislature are looking to bolster the state’s oil spill prevention efforts.

An expansion of a Kinder Morgan oil pipeline through British Columbia is expected to increase oil tanker traffic in Washington’s Salish Sea sevenfold. Meanwhile, Washington’s Department of Ecology estimates a shortfall of $4 million in its oil spill prevention program.

White House advisor and former Washington state Sen. Don Benton is part of the team implementing the president’s agenda at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Benton was sworn in as senior advisor Saturday, he said. The job is a temporary position, but could be extended. During the campaign, Benton served as Trump’s campaign chairman in Washington.

Biologist Shaun Clements stands in the winter mist in a coastal Oregon forest. He’s holding a small vial of clear liquid.

“We should be safe mixing it now, right?” he asks his colleague Kevin Weitemier above the sound of a rushing stream a few feet away.

Weitemier brings a second vial, full of stream water. In deliberate, seeming choreographed movements, usually associated with ritual, they pour the liquid back and forth between the small containers to mix -- two, then three times — never spilling a drop.

Clements looks down at the clock. It’s 12:29 pm.

Operators of the biggest dam in the Northwest will now have to reduce oil spills that pollute the Columbia River. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation settled a lawsuit Thursday with the environmental group Columbia Riverkeeper.

Three Oregon conservation groups say a new plan to manage National Wildlife Refuges in the Klamath Basin doesn’t do enough to protect habitat. The groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Medford to force the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider additional options.

The perfect day for an outdoor wedding or a baseball game? That’s a “mild day,” says Sarah Kapnick, a climate scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“I like to call mild weather days the ‘Goldilocks days,’” she says. “They’re not too hot. They’re not too cold. They’re just right.”

Kapnick is one of the co-authors of a study published Wednesday that has good news for picnickers and hikers in the Pacific Northwest: As climate change advances, we’ll have more mild weather.

Invasive Species Add Up To Big Losses For Washington

Jan 17, 2017

Invasive species could cost the state of Washington $1.3 billion a year if left unchecked, a new study found.

In mid-November, thousands of people took to the streets in cities across the nation, including Portland and Seattle, to express their unhappiness with Donald Trump's election.

Protesters gathered in the central Oregon city of Bend, too. But their numbers were much smaller.

Bend TV station KTVZ reported that a couple of hundred marchers sang and carried signs.

The timber industry thinks it may able to reverse President Barack Obama's expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Southern Oregon.

The president's decision to add 48,000 acres to the 65,000-acre national monument was praised by environmentalists and Oregon's two senators, Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley.

But a timber industry trade group argued that Obama misused his power under the 1906 Antiquities Act.

New research shows Dungeness crab fisheries could suffer as the Pacific Ocean grows more acidic.

Increasing acidification from carbon pollution will drive down food supplies for crab, according to new scientific modeling from the University of Washington and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In a tiny island laboratory in the Northwesternmost corner of Washington, one marine biologist is on a mission: scan every known fish species in the world.

It’s a painstaking and smelly task, but one that promises to fundamentally change the way scientists and educators look at marine anatomy.

President Obama on Thursday announced an anticipated expansion of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon.

The monument is currently about 65,000 acres in Jackson County, east of Ashland. The expansion adds 48,000 acres to the monument.

The president issued a statement announcing the expansion, saying his administration has tried "to protect the most important public lands for the benefit of future generations."

The Washington Supreme Court has ruled that two proposed fossil fuel terminal projects in Grays Harbor cannot go forward without further environmental review.

The court Thursday sided with the Quinault Indian tribe and four environmental groups in overturning a 2015 appeals court decision that the two projects were not subject to review under the state’s Ocean Resources Management Act.

Clam shells and pebbles crunch underfoot on the shore of the Lummi Nation’s Portage Bay in northwest Washington. At the lowest tides, Lummi fishermen can walk out to harvest clams.

“Usually, it’s during the nighttime,” says 25-year-old Lummi tribal fisherman Lonnie James Jr, who’s been digging clams since he was six. “We go out there with headlights and a rake and a bag and have to dress warm and inch down in the ground, flip flop it over,” he explains. “You’re bent over for five or six hours.”

Union Pacific Railroad is suing Oregon's Wasco County and Columbia River Gorge commissioners in an effort to push through a proposed track expansion.

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, the company asked a federal court to preempt a Wasco County ordinance that is blocking the company from expanding its track through the Columbia River Gorge.

It was a historic evening for Portland and surrounding areas Tuesday night as record snowfall led to one of the snowiest days ever recorded at the Portland International Airport.

By 5 a.m. Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said it recorded 6.5 inches at their offices near the airport.

“That makes this the ninth snowiest calendar day at PDX since 1940,” said Colby Neuman, a meteorologist with the NWS in Portland. The agency also described it as the snowiest day in the Portland and Vancouver area since Jan. 20, 2008.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit over dams in the Columbia River Basin are asking the court to order federal agencies to spill more water over the dams this spring to help threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead

Conservation groups together with the state of Oregon and the Nez Perce Tribe filed a motion in U.S. District Court on Monday.

Todd True, an EarthJustice attorney representing the conservation groups, said new science shows spilling more water over the dams in the spring will improve the survival rate of imperiled fish by helping them reach the ocean.

The Navy is scraping the hull of a decommissioned aircraft carrier docked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard just outside of Bremerton. The goal is to prevent potentially invasive species from traveling with the ship when it’s towed to Texas to be dismantled.

Predicting Toxic Algae Blooms Just Got Easier

Jan 9, 2017

Scientists at Oregon State University have figured out a way to predict outbreaks of a dangerous neurotoxin called domoic acid in the Pacific Ocean. The toxin is produced during algae blooms and can make crab and shellfish unsafe to eat.

A few years back, Oregon State University researcher Morgaine McKibben noticed that the ocean off Oregon had warmed considerably. It was part of a natural climate cycle called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is raising the price of cleaning up the Portland Harbor Superfund Site from $746 million to $1.05 billion in a final plan that calls for more dredging and capping of contaminated soil along a 10-mile stretch of the Willamette River.

West Coast lawmakers are seeking a permanent ban on offshore drilling along the coast of Washington, Oregon and California. Democrat-sponsored bills have been introduced into both the Senate and House of Representatives.

There have been no oil and gas lease sales off the West Coast since 1984. But as the Trump administration prepares to take office, concerns are growing that could change.

A northwest Washington tribe's shellfish beds are a step closer to getting cleaned up after years of contamination.

On Thursday, the Lummi Nation signed an agreement with dairy farmers to keep cow manure out of streams that drain into Portage Bay, where the tribe's shellfish operations have been closed because of contamination by fecal coliform. Over the past two years, Lummi clam diggers have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Port of Portland is suing agriculture giant Monsanto Corp. for widespread PCB contamination on port property, the Port announced Thursday.

The lawsuit doesn’t state a dollar amount, but wants the company to pay for its portion of the clean up in the Columbia and Willamette rivers.

“The damages for the Port of Portland range anywhere between tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in total PCB clean-up costs,” said John Fiske, a California-based attorney representing the Port of Portland.