environment | KUOW News and Information

environment

Bill and Cindy Wheeler have lived on Lake Sawyer for 30 years, but they don't know the weir master.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Our region’s rapid growth is straining our lakes, especially little lakes on the fringes of urban areas. When growth approaches, the communities around them aren’t always prepared to protect them from pollution. 


The latest Washington state water supply forecast is out and managers said Monday there’s no reason to believe the state might face drought this year.

Nisqually tribe biologist Chris Ellings holds up a sample of plankton from Puget Sound.
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

The Trump administration has proposed cutting federal funding for restoring Puget Sound by 93 percent.


The U.S. is producing less air pollution, but smog levels are still rising in the western U.S. because of pollutants released in Asian countries that then drift over the Pacific Ocean. Researchers say their findings show the importance of a global approach to preserving air quality.

"Scientists found Asian air pollution contributed as much as 65 percent of an increase in Western ozone in recent years," NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Shanghai. "China and India, where many consumer products are manufactured, are the worst offenders."

A tiny brown bat wriggles about John Huckabee’s gloved hands, voicing its displeasure with a high-pitched series of screeches and squawks.

The wildlife biologist expertly grasps one of the bat's wings and unfolds it. Bending close, he searches for telltale signs of infection.

“There are a few small deep pigmented areas of scarring,” Huckabee said, turning the bat over in his hands. “But overall looks like he’s in very good shape.”

Three top elected officials in Oregon are now embroiled in a messy political struggle over whether to privatize an 82,500-acre state forest near Coos Bay.

The infighting among Gov. Kate Brown, Treasurer Tobias Read and Secretary of State Dennis Richardson — the three members of the State Land Board — is highly unusual in a state dominated by Democratic officials who tend to prize cooperation over confrontation.

Washington's Department of Ecology has a robust response plan for oil spills. They have to, because there's an oil spill of some kind every day in Washington.

Ecology spokesperson Larry Altose said sometimes it's the result of a traffic accident and sometimes they find an area of sheen but can't identify the source, especially in high traffic areas.

State fishery managers on the West Coast are releasing ocean salmon forecasts this week. And things aren’t looking good – especially for fishermen off the coasts of Oregon and Northern California.

“I would generally characterize it as a very poor season for both coho and chinook," said Eric Schindler of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

He said things are looking especially bad for salmon returning to the Klamath River and its tributaries. The Klamath is the most important river for Oregon’s ocean chinook fishery.

President Trump on Tuesday issued an executive order that will start to rollback clean water rules. In the Northwest, environmentalists say that could be bad news for threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead. Farm and industry groups are lauding the order.

Advocates say the rule protects countless headwater streams and wetlands in the Pacific Northwest; if ununprotected they could eventually be developed with roads, housing, or more logging operations.

Updated 5:35 p.m. ET

The Trump administration is moving to roll back an environmental rule intended to define which small bodies of water are subject to federal authority under the Clean Water Act.

Cowlitz County has approved a key permit for a controversial methanol plant proposed on the Columbia River in the port city of Kalama.

The county’s hearing examiner Mark Scheibmeir concluded on Monday that the $1.8 billion project may proceed – provided developer NW Innovation Works complies with a long list of shoreline development permit conditions that require environmental and safety protections.

Scientists have new cautionary predictions based on the low Northwest snowpack levels of the last two winters.

When it comes to climate change, we often think of the cars we drive and the energy we use in our homes and offices. They are, after all, some of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. But what about the toast you ate for breakfast this morning?

A new study published Monday in Nature Plants breaks down the environmental cost of producing a loaf of bread, from wheat field to bakery. It finds that the bulk of the associated greenhouse gas emissions come from just one of the many steps that go into making that loaf: farming.

A sow with two two-year old cubs.
FLICKR PHOTO/Gregory 'Slobirdr' Smith (CC BY-SA 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/ozF67K

There are fewer than 10 grizzly bears in the North Cascades, according to government estimates. U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the National Parks Service has a plan to bring them back. There are four possible options with choices range from do nothing at all to capturing bears from surrounding areas and placing them here in Washington.

Wildfires can start when lightning strikes or when someone fails to put out a campfire. New research shows that people start a lot more fires than lightning does — so much so that people are drastically altering wildfire in America.

Fire ecologist Melissa Forder says about 60 percent of fires in national parks are caused by humans: "intentionally set fires, buildings burning and spreading into the forest, smoking, equipment malfunctions and campfires."

National Geographic contributing photographer Joel Sartore is 11 years into a 25-year endeavor to document every captive animal species in the world using studio lighting and black-and-white backgrounds. So far, he's photographed 6,500 different species, which leaves approximately 6,000 to go.

The video of about a dozen hefty Siberian tigers chasing and batting a flying drone from the sky seemed a lighthearted reprieve from the more serious news of the day. But since sharing the footage, we've become aware that it may conceal a darker story.

President Trump signed an executive action on Friday aimed at reducing red tape. It directs each federal agency to set up a task force to identify costly regulations that could be scaled back.

"Every regulation should have to pass a simple test," Trump said. "Does it make life better or safer for American workers or consumers? If the answer is no, we will be getting rid of it — and getting rid of it quickly."

A track for vehicles was recently discovered illegally crossing the boundary into Oregon's Eagle Cap Wilderness, despite the Wilderness Act's prohibition against motorized access to such protected areas.

America’s energy future is often cast as a battle that pits fossil fuels such as coal and gas against wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. But in the Pacific Northwest, we've already slashed greenhouse gas emissions — and saved big bucks — with a clean energy source that often doesn't even get mentioned in policy debates.

Dan Cunningham is installing an adjustable metal frame, covered in red fabric, in the open front door at a house in Ashland, Oregon.

A lawsuit filed Thursday by salmon advocates aims to reverse a trend of high summer water temperatures on the Snake and Columbia Rivers.

The groups are asking the U.S. District Court in Seattle to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to issue a warm water pollution standard for the rivers. The standard, called the “Total Maximum Daily Load” (TMDL), sets limits on how high the water temperature can rise and still meet water quality requirements.

The EPA released a draft plan in 2003, but it was never finalized.

Steve Hinton has a pretty unusual mindset when it comes to his job.

“I try to think like a fish,” he says.

That’s a crucial part of Hinton’s job as the director of habitat restoration for the Swinomish Tribal Community and the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe. He spends a lot of his time trying to figure out how salmon will respond to obstacles in their way as they return from the Puget Sound, up the Skagit River, into little creeks and streams to spawn. One of the problems they encounter are road culverts.

Washington Grizzly Bear Public Meetings Kick Off

Feb 21, 2017

More than 100 people turned out Monday during a public meeting in Cle Elum to voice their opinions on reintroducing grizzly bears to the North Cascades. It was the first of eight meetings to be held across Washington.

What Happened To Mount Hood's Glacier Caves?

Feb 21, 2017

Beginning in 2011, a team of explorers led by Brent McGregor, Eduardo “Eddy” Cartaya and Scott Linn began exploring a system of spectacular glacier caves on Mount Hood. Over the next few years they photographed and surveyed more than 7,000 feet of sub-glacial passages, earning the caves the distinction of being the largest glacier cave system in the lower 48 states.

By 2016, the caves were gone.

Honey Bees May Be Harmed By Crop-Protecting Fungicides

Feb 21, 2017

You know those nasty brown spots that can ruin an otherwise perfectly delicious apple? Those spots--and other problems, like blossom blight and yellow leaves — are often caused by fungi. Apple growers usually fight back with fungicides — but, it turns out, those fungicides could be hurting honey bees.

“The long-standing assumption is that fungicides won’t be toxic to insects,” says May Berenbaum, an entomologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

A Blob In The Ocean Means More Ozone In The Air

Feb 21, 2017

Remember the warm weather we had in 2014 and 2015? University of Washington professor Dan Jaffe says that was caused by a meteorological phenomenon known as "The Blob."

“The Blob was a region of really unusual warm water that was sitting off the coast of Washington and Oregon,” he explains.

That blob had a surprising effect: it increased air pollution across the West.

KUOW Photo / John Ryan

The U.S. Senate confirmed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt to be the head of the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday, a decision that dismayed many current and former staff of the agency.

Pruitt has a long record of suing to overturn the regulations of the agency he now leads. He also disputes the science that humans are the main cause of climate change. Last year, he called climate change "a religious belief" on an Oklahoma talk-radio show.

Former Washington state Sen. Don Benton said he’s “very excited” about the confirmation of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Benton is a senior adviser to the White House at EPA.

On Jan. 25, President Trump signed an executive order instructing construction to begin on a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Environmentalists and civil rights activists say the proposed wall on the southern border with Mexico is a threat to the environmental rights of the people who live on both sides of the border.

In the world of electric cars, there's a chicken-and-egg problem: More people might buy electric vehicles, or EVs, if they were confident there would always be a charger nearby. And businesses might install more chargers if there were more EVs on the road.

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