environment | KUOW News and Information

environment

We’ve seen more wildfires burning into urban communities  lately. But there’s  a lot homeowners can do to protect themselves,  according to top scientists at the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab.

Homes located near or inside forests are a big complication for managing wildfires. Forest managers find themselves under increasing pressure to suppress natural fires because of the risk of nearby homes igniting.

But experts now say keeping those homes from burning could be cheaper and simpler than previously thought.

Researchers at Oregon State University have worked out a way to detect and identify whales long after they move on — just by sampling the water.

When whales swim they leave behind a plume of genetic material in the environment: skin, poop and bodily fluids. If you know what to look for, you can use that DNA to figure out what kind of whale went by.

While searching for seabirds in July of 2017, biologist Luke Halpin instead saw a sea bubbling with about 200 bottlenose dolphins and 70 false killer whales. It would be an unusual sight anywhere — bottlenose generally travel in much smaller groups — but Halpin’s sighting was made more remarkable by where it happened. These usually tropical animals were off the west coast of Canada.

Students from Oregon State University, Granite Falls High School in Washington and the University of British Columbia are among 99 teams pushing the boundaries of automotive fuel efficiency. The Northwest students are driving in an international competition in California through this weekend.

In a big grass pasture in the shadow of Mount Rainier, hundreds of chickens are crowded around a little house where they can get water and shelter from the bald eagles circling overhead. This is the original location of Wilcox Family Farms, an egg farm that also has locations in Oregon and Montana.

Growing up, Gary Kempler remembers watching flocks of bighorn sheep near his hometown of Clarkston, Washington.

“Good size herds along the river,” Kempler said — he could see up to eight flocks in one day.

Slowly, after the wildlife faced battles with a virulent form of pneumonia, Kempler saw fewer and fewer bighorns. Maybe one or two sheep at a time.

The owner of a seafood processing company in Pierce County, Washington, has pleaded guilty in a case involving the illegal sale of sea cucumbers, leathery creatures that are considered a delicacy to eat in some cultures.

FILE: Anti-pipeline activists build a so-called 'Watch House' near Kinder Morgan's tank farm in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, Saturday, March 10, 2018.
AP Photo/Phoung Lee

Environmentalists are keeping pressure on Kinder Morgan, following its suspension of Canada's controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline project.

A news release from the company Sunday blamed concerns about escalating costs for the decision.

A wild Pacific salmon, left, next to an escaped farm-raised Atlantic salmon, right, on Aug. 22 at Home Port Seafoods in Bellingham.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Kim Malcolm talks with Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes about a new study that looks at the impact of drugs picked up by juvenile Chinook salmon in Puget Sound.

Recology employee Zakarya Sales works at the final quality control station, removing any visibly obvious contaminants from sorted bales, at the Recology Materials Recovery Facility on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, on S. Idaho St., in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Have you wondered where your recycling goes once it's picked up? A KUOW listener was curious about that, so we asked Hans Van Dusen, the solid waste contracts manager at Seattle Public Utilities.

He tells Kim Malcolm about the journey our cans and paper takes. 


Protesters dressed as construction workers and a mini-longhouse they erected to block Puget Sound Energy's doors
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Protesters erected a miniature longhouse — just five feet tall and 12 feet long — in front of Puget Sound Energy's front doors and blocked the entrance to the company's headquarters in Bellevue for about three hours Monday morning.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is gearing up for its biggest-ever planned spill of water over dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

It’s a controversial move that was ordered by a federal court to help endangered fish avoid extinction. To make sure it’s done right, dam managers tested their options first, using miniature models of Northwest dams way down in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Brian Cladoosby and his fellow fishermen stood on the dock of a channel that empties into Puget Sound. They talked about getting their boats ready in time for summer salmon runs.

Cladoosby is the chairman of the Swinomish Tribe. He said those summer salmon runs aren’t what they used to be.

"A lot of the fishermen — Indian and non-Indian — are stuck on the banks now,” he said.

File photo: Mount Baker
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

Washington's volcanoes could one day join solar and wind as producers of renewable energy. The state Department of Natural Resources plans to tap into the idea this summer.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke came to Washington's North Cascades Friday to make one thing clear: He wants his agency to get back to work deciding by year's end whether to reintroduce grizzlies to the North Cascades.

"I’m in support of the Great Bear,” Zinke told a small audience at the North Cascades National Park Headquarters in Sedro-Woolley, Washington.

Will private rockets destroy the ozone layer?

Mar 23, 2018
Space-X's Falcon 9 rocket with 10 satellites launches at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017.
AP Photo/Matt Hartman

Private space companies like Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's Space-X are sending rockets into the upper atmosphere.

Does more activity in space mean more pollution for Earth? That's a concern of listener Laurie McQuaig of Seattle.

She asked us to investigate the issue, so reporter Katherine Banwell took the question to local science and tech expert. Alan Boyle. He says there's no need for concern at the moment — yet.

Cranes at the Port of Seattle
KUOW photo/Gil Aegerter

The ships, trains and trucks that haul cargo around Puget Sound are pumping out less of the soot, sulfur dioxide and other things you don’t want to breathe.

Air pollution from the ports of Seattle and Tacoma has dropped over the past decade, according to long-term monitoring released by the ports Thursday.

Between California and Hawaii, there's a teeming patch of garbage that's stretched over an area more than double the size of Texas.

We already knew it was huge. There's a reason it's called the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch." But new research has found that there is many times more garbage in this patch than previously thought – 4 to 16 times more than past estimates, according to a paper published today in Nature Scientific Reports.

A wild Pacific salmon, left, next to an escaped farm-raised Atlantic salmon, right, on Aug. 22 at Home Port Seafoods in Bellingham.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Atlantic salmon farming has been banned from Washington state waters. 

Gov. Jay Inslee signed the ban on non-native fish farms into law Thursday morning in Olympia. 

Gray whale sightings are up on the Oregon and Washington coast in recent weeks.

Counts at Oregon’s Whale Watching Center at Depoe Bay have been between five and 10 per day, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, although many more pass the along the coast undetected.

Park ranger Luke Parsons says the actual number of whales passing by on their way from Baja to feeding grounds in the Arctic is relatively typical for this time of year.

Federal officials hit a milestone Tuesday for a new program designed to stabilize and grow the populations of two endangered species of sucker fish in the Klamath Basin.

At a calm cove on Upper Klamath Lake, Alan Mikkelsen, senior advisor to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, ceremonially released the first small group of suckers from a new rearing program.

"We got a lake full of food, little guy," he told them.

Mikkelsen upturned a net with three fish and watched the 8-inch juveniles disappear into the murky water.

Canadian oil has found a new route to Asia: It’s moving by rail through Washington to a shipping terminal in Portland.

In the long run, Canada wants to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline to move oil from the Alberta tar sands west to British Columbia — and from there onto ships that would travel through the Salish Sea and then onto Asia.

But that expansion has yet to begin. And oil producers have instead begun shipping that oil by rail to Portland and loading it onto vessels for export.

If all goes according to plan, there could soon be salmon above the Grand Coulee Dam again. That’s according to Cody Desautel, director of Natural Resources for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville. 

Ocean conditions off the Pacific Northwest seem to be returning to normal after a three-year spike in water temperature.

It’s promising long-term news for fishermen who are looking ahead in the short term to yet another year of low salmon returns.

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington addresses a gathering of park supporters and the news media at the South Interior Building in downtown Washington, D.C., on November 10, 2015.
Flickr Photo/National Park Service (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/AVXYRv

The Trump administration said Tuesday it would not push for oil and gas drilling off the Northwest coast.

Local protesters and politicians have been speaking out against the proposed drilling.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told a Washington lawmaker that his proposal for offshore oil and gas drilling will reflect the "interests of Washington."

"You should know off the coast of Oregon, Washington, most of California, there are no known resources of any weight," Zinke told Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing Tuesday.

KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

When it comes to climate change, a small number of us have disproportionate impact. That’s especially true when it comes to air travel, since most humans have never set foot on a plane. 


Amazon employee Andrea Neri stacks boxes in the back of a delivery truck on the ship dock at an Amazon fulfillment center on Friday, November 3, 2017, in Kent.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Seattle's impact on the climate in recent years could be a lot worse than the city acknowledges.

A new report from C40, a global coalition of large cities including Seattle, says the cities' greenhouse gas emissions are 60 percent higher than previously reported.

Is there anything more Floridian than a flamingo?

Flamingo iconography is everywhere in the state: decorating front lawns, swizzling cocktails, lighting up motel signs.

The long-legged pink birds were once common in Florida. But their striking feathers were prized decorations for ladies' hats, and they were hunted out of existence for the plume trade in the 1800s.

At least, scientists thought the flamingos had been wiped out.

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