environment | KUOW News and Information

environment

It’s September, the month when monarch butterflies are at their peak in the Pacific Northwest.

These are western monarchs, not the eastern monarchs that spend their winters in Mexico. Western monarchs breed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and eight other states and then migrate to their winter home in California.

New research shows these monarchs are disappearing even faster than their eastern cousins. Scientists are trying to figure out why.

Climate Change Is Making Smoky, Unhealthy Air More Common

Sep 7, 2017

On Wednesday, as smoke blotted out the sun across the city of Portland, about a dozen people were hiding out from the smoky heat in the air conditioned Hollywood Senior Center – one of the county's designated cooling centers for those needing relief on the hottest days of the year.

Wearing an electronic air filter around her neck, Jennifer Young, who works at the center, flipped on the larger, high-efficiency particulate  filter she brought from home to purify her work-space air.

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.

Washington National Guard soldiers and airmen are being called up to help with the rash of Northwest wildfires. Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency on Saturday because of wildfires, which cleared the way for the activation of the Guard. 

The forest fires raging in the Columbia River Gorge are unlikely to disturb adult coho salmon right now. But Northwest tribal fishers are worried about what will happen in the fall.

Ashley Ahearn and Sally Jewell at The Mountaineers Program Center
KUOW Photo/Lisa Wang

Chances are you’ve heard the name Sally Jewell in engineering, business, recreational, environmental or political news. Her career has touched on all of those areas, from her early days in the oil fields of Oklahoma to a long stretch in the banking industry; from a successful run as CEO of REI to becoming only the second woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of the Interior. 

Hunters, fishermen and other sportsmen had high expectations when Ryan Zinke was tapped to be President Trump's interior secretary, in part because of his promise to bring a balanced, Teddy Roosevelt-style vision to managing public lands.

But the former Republican congressman from Montana is now the target of a critical ad campaign by one of those groups, a symptom of eroding support among a deep-pocketed faction that has become increasingly influential.

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. 

Wildfires burning in the Western U.S. are threatening some of America's most treasured national parks – and in some areas, the damage has already been done.

Last week in Montana, a 20-square-mile blaze burned the historic Sperry Chalet, a hotel and dining room built in 1914 and only reachable by trail.

A smoky Seattle skyline is shown from N. Northlake Way on Tuesday, September 5, 2017.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

With smoke from wildfires filling Seattle’s skies, Dr. Jeff Duchin has some advice for people with respiratory conditions, pregnant women, diabetics, old people, infants and children: Don’t go out.

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.

Smoke billows over the Jolly Mountain Fire near Roslyn, Washington, on Friday, Sept. 1, in this aerial image.
Great Basin Incident Management Team 4

Updated 6:45 p.m., 9/4/2017: A wildfire burning east of Seattle is threatening two historic mining towns.

On Saturday, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a statewide state of emergency and authorized the use of National Guard troops to fight wildfires.

Fireflies are found in Washington but they aren't like these pictured here. The fireflies in Washington don't flash.
Flickr Photo/tsaiian/(CC BY-NC 2.0)https://flic.kr/p/rnQeE7

"Where are all the mosquitos and fireflies?" 

KUOW listener Tom Miller, originally from Minnesota, had that question for our Local Wonder team. 

University of Washington entomology professor Patrick Tobin came into the studio to answer that question. He spoke with host Bill Radke on The Record.

While Labor Day marks the end of the summer to many people, conditions remain hot and very dry. That means wildfire season is far from over. 

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.

The state of Washington is calling all fishermen to catch unlimited farmed Atlantic salmon with no size or weight limits after a net pen broke last week, allowing thousands of the non-native fish to escape into the open ocean.

The pen, in the state's northwestern San Juan Islands, contained about 305,000 Atlantic salmon, and is owned by Cooke Aquaculture.

A majority of large ship operators are cooperating with a request to temporarily slow down in the shared border waters between Victoria and San Juan Island. The Port of Vancouver in British Columbia is running an experiment there to reduce underwater noise that bothers whales.

The colors the National Weather Service uses to show rainfall on its weather map couldn't represent the deluge in southeastern Texas, so the NWS added two more purple shades to its map. The old scale topped out at more than 15 inches; the new limit tops 30 inches.

Updated 5:30 p.m. ET

In Houston, reservoirs swollen by rain from Hurricane Harvey were opened early Monday, a move that was expected to flood more homes — but one that the Army Corps of Engineers says is needed to limit the scope of the disaster that's threatening lives and property 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.

Crews demolish a concrete skate bowl on 'Duck Island' in the middle of Green Lake, Seattle, Washington, August, 2017.
Courtesy Seattle Parks and Recreation

Crews with Seattle Parks and Recreation are dismantling an unauthorized skate park on Duck Island in Green Lake this week.

The large concrete bowl was built by a group of skateboard fans in response to a do-it-yourself contest from Nike and TransWorld Skateboarding.

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

Jeannie Yandel talks to Renee Erickson, Seattle chef, author and owner of The Walrus and The Carpenter, and Barton Seaver, author, chef and the director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at Harvard University, about farming seafood and the future of salmon consumption. 

There’s no way to know for sure how many fishers lived in the Cascades historically, because the small brown mammal was almost entirely eradicated by trappers by 1930.

But this week, there’s evidence that they are reproducing.

Highway sign on a road entering the Hanford Site
Wikipedia Photo/Ellery (CC BY SA 3.0)/http://bit.ly/1LnhFqH

Jeannie Yandel speaks with Northwest News Network reporter Anna King about the continued problem of cleaning up the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Eastern Washington. The topic was in the news because John Oliver talked about the contaminated site on his satirical HBO show. 

Aboard fishing vessel Marathon, Nathan Cultee, right, and Nicholas Cooke, left, unload 16 farm-raised Atlantic salmon into a container after a day of fishing on Tuesday, August 22, 2017, at Home Port Seafood in Bellingham.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

It was a convenient explanation.


Jeannie Yandel talks to Ron Warren, head of the fish program for the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Department, about non-native salmon swimming in Washington water after they escaped from pens at a fish farm off the coast of Cypress Island near Anacortes.  

Brent Deppe is taking me on a tour of the farm supply business, called Key Cooperative, that he helps to manage in Grinnell, Iowa. We step though the back door of one warehouse, and our view of the sky is blocked by a gigantic round storage tank, painted white.

"This is the liquid nitrogen tank," Deppe explains. "It's a million-and-a-half gallon tank."

Nitrogen is the essential ingredient for growing corn and most other crops. Farmers around here spread it on their fields by the truckload.

Washington Department of Natural Resources

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has made a name for himself this year by battling the Trump administration in court. Now he wants to take on tribal governments at the U.S. Supreme Court over salmon.

Spectators around the country are gearing up, eclipse glasses at the ready, for the solar eclipse on Monday. But another group — perhaps more anxious than eager — is preparing as well: the people who run California's electric grid.

California is home to almost half of all the solar power in the country. So even a partial loss of the sun will mean a major dip in the energy supply.

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