Environment

KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

It's May in Rocky Mountain National Park, but on a mountainside 10,829 feet above sea level, snow is falling. It's pelting Jim Cheatham, a biologist with the National Park Service. Shrugging off the cold, Cheatham seizes a teachable moment. This snow, he says, holds more than just water.

"Chances are it's carrying the excess nitrogen we're talking about," says Cheatham.

Melting ice in the Arctic is creating opportunities for access to oil and gas, and shipping lanes. But the area is still mostly frozen and navigating the inhospitable region on top of the world still requires an icebreaker, the heavy duty ships that are able to crash through massive layers of ice.

The U.S. Coast Guard is responsible for search-and-rescue missions, as well as protecting the environment and defending U.S. sovereignty. The U.S. is one of five countries with territorial claims to the land and waters of the Arctic (The others are Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark.).

The peaks of the Olympic Mountains are a familiar sight on the western horizon for people in the Puget Sound region. Well into summer, those mountains are usually snowy white.

But not this year. The snow is gone and rivers are at flow levels not normally seen until late summer. That has farmers, fish managers and community leaders worried about the season ahead.

The Bureau of Land Management released new plans Thursday for managing sage grouse habitat across public lands in Oregon, Idaho and eight other Western states.

Sage grouse populations have been hit hard east of the Cascades: from habitat loss, invasive species, grazing, and wildfires. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service has called these threats “a death of one-thousand cuts.”

The agency will decide by this September whether to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

U.S. Coast Guard

A new report from The National Transportation Safety Board says poor planning and risk assessment by Shell Oil led to the wreck of the Kulluk oil rig off the coast of Alaska in December 2012.

As the sun rises over a remote rye field in northwestern Colorado, about 170 greater sage grouse dance in a distinctive mating display. Males make popping and whooshing sounds and fight to attract the female’s attention.

“All these males that you see out here, less than 10 percent will actually get to breed,” whispers Brian Rutledge, the director of the Audubon Society’s Wyoming office.

Obama Administration Finalizes Clean Water Rule

May 27, 2015

The Obama Administration Wednesday announced a new clean water rule. The Environmental Protection Agency says it will help limit pollution in streams and wetlands.

The rule is meant to clarify uncertainty about who can regulate these smaller waterways and water bodies.

Environmentalists say the new rule will keep drinking water clean. Lauren Goldberg is the staff attorney with Columbia Riverkeeper. She says this new rule will provide critical protection for clean drinking water and fish habitat.

In the last couple of years, we've detected a faint buzz about crispy crickets and crunchy mealworms. Companies pedaling scorpion lollipops and peanut butter-and-jelly protein bars made with cricket flour have thrust their wares into our hands and mailboxes.

Two branches of the federal government struck a deal Tuesday on when to clean up radioactive sludge near the Columbia River.

The push for cleaner fuels in Oregon and Washington has led to proposals that would bring the region more crude oil and a new refinery along the Columbia River.

Riverside Energy, a subsidiary of Houston-based company Waterside Energy Inc., intends to build a refinery to process mostly crude oil and some biofuels that can meet a growing demand for low-carbon fuels in the Portland metro area, according to interviews and documents.

Officials Start Killing Columbia River Cormorants

May 27, 2015

Crews with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services have started killing cormorants on an island in the Columbia River, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The federal government has been telling Oregon for over a decade that its rules to protect threatened coastal salmon are not up to snuff. Now, the state is faced with a loss of federal dollars unless it gets with the program.

In response, the Oregon Board of Forestry is weighing whether to require timberland owners to leave more trees standing along streams to better protect fish habitat. And that’s got owners of small timber lands especially worried.

The Future is Now for Three Small Forests In Oregon

May 26, 2015

Some of Oregon’s forest owners are seeking innovative ways to make a living off their land without logging it hard. Oregon’s small forest landowners, those with 10 to 5,000 acres, are responsible for just 15 percent of the timber harvest on average even though they lay claim to 44 percent of the state’s privately owned timberland.

Here is a look at three forests where owners are purposely going light on the land:

Acres: About 1,000 acres in the northern Oregon Coast Range, Hyla Woods is about an hour’s drive west from Portland.

Can Carbon Markets Help Oregon's Small Forests?

May 26, 2015

When cancer comes calling, what if owners of small forest plots had another choice but to sell or to cut.

That’s the premise of a pilot program being launched in Washington and Columbia counties of northwest Oregon.

Anchored by the Pinchot Institute for Conservation and an $820,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Forest Health/Human Health Initiative envisions what planners call an “A-Tree-M” card for forest owners who are threatened by medical bills but don’t want to cut or sell.

Kim Malcolm talks to EarthFix reporter Katie Campbell about the underground shellfish poaching industry in the Northwest. 

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