environment | KUOW News and Information

environment

A thorn in cross-border relations between the northwestern U.S. and Canada is going away. And therefore so too is one of the best protest mascots in recent history.

For more than a decade, a character named Mr. Floatie—a piece of poo wearing a sailor's cap—nagged greater Victoria's politicians and citizens in falsetto voice to stop dumping the capital region's raw sewage in shared border waters.

An Alaska Air 737 arrives at SeaTac as a flock of birds crosses.
Flickr Photo/Michael @ NW Lens (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/2iJ6CS

In a new environmental action by the Jet City, officials in Seattle have committed to protecting the "Pacific Flyway" — the route migratory birds take from Alaska to Mexico, on which Seattle is a stopover.

Volunteers Brian Gregory and Victoria Poage count crab in a trap at a site near Seabeck, June 2016
Washington Sea Grant/Emily Grason

Scientists think they know what brought invasive green crab into Washington's inland waters last year.

In short: "the blob." That was the temporary expanse of abnormally warm water off the West Coast from 2013 to late 2015.

Ecologists and volunteers are busy in Bainbridge making “shell posts:” Oyster shells with holes drilled in them, stacked on each other on a wooden dowel. The Puget Sound Restoration Fund makes the posts and gives them away to be placed in the Sound at the beginning of summer and picked up at the end.

Megafires are the kind of wildland fires that grow beyond 100,000 acres. And they are a growing threat across the American West. That’s why one federal scientist in the Northwest is hitting the road with his research.

The Big Horn Wind Farm in Klickitat County, Washington.
Flickr Photo/Alex Williams (CC BY NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/8c39me

Puget Sound Energy is launching a program that will bring a new wind farm to the state. PSE’s new Green Direct program is set up as an alternative way for major utility customers to buy their energy.

Get ready for a new kind of apple. It's called Cosmic Crisp, and farmers in Washington state, who grow 70 percent of the country's apples, are planting these trees by the millions. The apples themselves, dark red in color with tiny yellow freckles, will start showing up in stores in the fall of 2019.

Scott McDougall is one of the farmers who's making a big bet on Cosmic Crisp.

"It goes back to believing in the apple," he says.

"You believe?" I ask.

"I believe!" he says, and chuckles.

A proposed oil terminal in Vancouver, Washington, gained approval of a key permit Tuesday.

The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, met in executive session before voting to release the draft notice of construction air permit for the controversial project.

Ashley Ahearn, host of terrestrial, a new national podcast housed at KUOW in Seattle.Ashley Ahearn, host of terrestrial, a new national podcast produced out of KUOW in Seattle.
Photo by Melanie Moore

When I first heard the term eco-anxiety — a chronic fear of environmental doom — I brushed it off. It seemed like something for people who sit on yoga mats and worry about how the world is going to end because we’re not recycling enough.

A project that would export 44 million tons of coal a year from Longview, Washington, would raise the cancer risk for people living near rail lines, create traffic jams with its mile-long coal trains and increase global greenhouse gas emissions by 2 million tons.

The Millennium coal export project would be among the largest coal terminals in North America, and it would inevitably impact the environment and the surrounding community in Southwest Washington, according to a new report from state and county regulators.

Kill A Juniper Tree, Save A Sage Grouse

Apr 27, 2017

There’s good news for the West's imperiled greater sage grouse. New research suggests the bird has a better chance of survival when juniper trees are removed from its habitat.

The chicken-sized sage grouse's decline has happened over the same stretch of time that's seen western juniper and pinyon pine trees spread out across the bird's sagebrush ecosystem. Reasons for the trees' expansion include fire suppression, overgrazing and changing climate conditions.

As the stands grow more dense, they outcompete sagebrush. They also serve as perches for birds of prey.

An unusually cold and wet spring has Northwest asparagus growers anxious because the crop isn’t coming up. Large asparagus packing houses say they’re down hundreds-of-thousands of pounds so far this spring from normal.

Paul Savino’s first patient of the day collapsed under the weight of an overgrown child. He's seen these symptoms before.

“What we have here are a couple of dowel joints that have popped and one that has snapped,” he said. “But the patient will survive, I dare say.”

A piece of sandpaper, some wood glue and 20 minutes later, the toddler-sized wooden chair was back on its feet.

Baby humpback whales seem to whisper to their mothers, according to scientists who have captured the infant whales' quiet grunts and squeaks.

The recordings, described in the journal Functional Ecology, are the first ever made with devices attached directly to the calves.

The salmon cannon made a big splash a few years ago on local news stations and even had a cameo on HBO’s "Last Week Tonight" with John Oliver. Soon, it could propel fish into its biggest project yet.

Even with all the hubbub around its name, the salmon cannon isn’t so much an explosion as a flexible plastic tube that sucks fish up and over obstructions — like dams.

People around the world use more than a trillion plastic bags every year. They're made of a notoriously resilient kind of plastic called polyethylene that can take decades to break down.

But the humble wax worm may hold the key to biodegrading them.

It was an accidental discovery. Scientist and beekeeper Federica Bertocchini was frustrated to find that her beehives were infested with the caterpillar larvae of Galleria mellonella, commonly known as a wax worm.

President Trump may not talk much about electric vehicles, but there's another American — with better name recognition in China — who does.

The voice of actor Leonardo DiCaprio, popular in China for his role in the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, graces the showroom of Auto Shanghai, the city's biennial automotive expo, accompanied by images beamed on a circular wall showing Beijing covered in smog and children wearing pollution masks.

The state of Oregon has announced a new round of taxpayer-funded grants to help schools and other public buildings better withstand a major earthquake.

The grant program is funded by state bonds. It was created just over a decade ago when lawmakers became convinced of the need to protect critical infrastructure as well as to protect lives of vulnerable people in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

Most creepy, crawly bugs are pretty much harmless when it comes to infectious diseases.

But there are two classes of little critters that cause big — and we're talking big — problems: ticks and mosquitoes.

To learn how climate change could alter the course of tick- and mosquito-borne diseases, we talked to two scientists who have devoted a major chunk of their careers to answering that question.

Let's start with the bloodsuckers that can stay on your skin for days.

President Donald Trump, accompanied by from left, Vice President Mike Pence, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, speaks at EPA headquarters in Washington, March 28.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The Trump administration has lifted a hiring freeze for federal agencies, but not at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to internal documents obtained by KUOW.

Trump proposed cutting the environmental agency's budget by 31 percent, more than at any major federal agency, and scrapping 56 programs there, including funding for Puget Sound restoration.

Washington’s Department of Ecology wants more information before deciding whether to approve a shoreline permit for a controversial methanol refinery in Kalama.

In its application, NW Innovation Works establishes a self-imposed limit of 976,131 metric tons greenhouse gas emissions annually. But in the letter to the county, the Department of Ecology says its calculations found an additional 232,136 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be emitted per year.

Helping juvenile salmon migrate out to sea has long been difficult and controversial. Barging is a common way to get the fish around dams.

The salmon are hauled around eight dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Idaho Conservation groups say this practice harms fish — and needs to stop now.

Seven groups sent a letter to NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agencies to this spring stop sending salmon along their migration route in barges.

Abigail Swann is a professor and climate scientist at the University of Washington
University of Washington / Quinn Russell Brown


University of Washington professor and climate researcher Abigail Swann tells politics reporter David Hyde about why she signed a protest letter directed at EPA chief Scott Pruitt. She also shares a story about the time a border official told her climate science is a hoax:  

Kevin Butt's job is to find cleaner ways to power Toyota. One of the hardest places to do that is at the automaker's sprawling plant in central Kentucky, a state where nearly 90 percent of electricity still comes from coal.

Butt points out a new engine assembly line, where a conveyor belt moves in a slow circle. He says it was specially designed with a more efficient motor. There are also enormous fans overhead and LED lights, all changes that save millions.

Boardman is best known to thousands of people for its roadside attraction: a sprawling tree farm along Interstate 84. Acres of poplar trees sprouted in orderly rows along the highway running through Eastern Oregon.

Now, most of those plantation trees have been cut down, the land sold. Part of it will soon become Oregon’s second-largest dairy. Lost Valley Farms just received a key permit at the end of March. Its owners say the dairy should be up and running in a few weeks.

From the BelleWood Acres farmhouse in Washington's Whatcom County, you can see piles of apple crates and rows of trees that stretch for acres. This is the biggest apple orchard west of the Cascades.

“Spring time’s magical in the orchard,” says John Belisle, who owns the orchard with his wife, Dorie.

“There’s bees everywhere,” Dorie agrees. “The orchards hum with their working.”

Northwest rivers are running high as all that winter snowpack melts into spring runoff.

And that means the region is producing too much of a good thing: carbon-free, renewable energy in the form of both dam-generated hydropower along with electricity from spinning wind-farm turbines.

That's prompted the federal government to take an action it avoided during the last four years of drought conditions: shutting down wind power.

Opponents Aim To Block State Funding For Methanol Plant

Apr 6, 2017

Opponents of a methanol refinery proposed on the Columbia River say Washington is poised to spend $12 million in public funds to help build the controversial plant.

They sent a letter to Washington lawmakers Thursday asking them to block that spending because it would pay for a dock and a road needed by methanol project developer Northwest Innovation Works.

Using Whale Breath To Find Out What's Ailing Orcas

Apr 5, 2017

Scientists have a new tool to figure out what’s ailing Puget Sound’s resident orcas. They’re studying whale breath, which is no easy feat.

“We had petri dishes that were mounted on an extendable pole,” explains Linda Rhodes, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “We had to position the boat close enough to the whale so that when it surfaced and exhaled we would be able to pass the petri dishes through the plume.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has said they will not ban an insecticide widely used on farms and orchards, including in Washington state.

This comes after recommendations from EPA scientists last year to ban the chemical in question, a pesticide called chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos was banned years ago for use in most household products.

In recent years, environmental groups have been petitioning to have it removed from agricultural use too. They say it can harm children.

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