Ashley Ahearn

Environment Reporter

Year started with KUOW: 2011

Ashley is the environment reporter at KUOW and part of the award-winning regional multimedia collaborative project EarthFix. Before joining KUOW Ashley was a producer and reporter for Living on Earth, a nationally aired environment program from Public Radio International.

She has a master's degree in science journalism from the Annenberg School at the University of Southern California and has completed reporting fellowships with Vermont Law School, the Metcalf Institute at the University of Rhode Island and the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources. She also serves on the board of the Society of Environmental Journalists. In her spare time Ashley enjoys riding vintage motorcycles, snowboarding and hiking in the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges of the Northwest.

Ashley has completed reporting fellowships MIT with Vermont Law School, the Metcalf Institute at the University of Rhode Island, and the Institutes for Journalism and Natural Resources. Her work has received national and regional awards from the Online News Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Society of Environmental Journalists and others. 

Ways To Connect

Reporter Ashley Ahearn dug into the Northwest history of the B-17 bomber with her father, Joe Ahearn, Jr.
EarthFix Photo/Katie Campbell

There’s an old photograph in my father’s office that I’ve always wondered about. In it my grandfather and nine other young airmen stand in front of their B-17 plane, shoulders squared, staring proudly at the camera. They were probably in England at the time, getting ready to fly bombing raids over Germany in 1943.

Crabs, shrimp and fish lie dead in shallow water near Potlatch State Park along Hood Canal on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015.
Skokomish Tribe Department of Natural Resources/Seth Book

HOODSPORT, Washington -- Marine life is struggling to survive in the oxygen-starved waters of Hood Canal.

Hundreds of rockfish hovered in shallow water near shore this weekend, listlessly crowded together to access the limited oxygen closest to the surface. Wolf eels, normally reclusive creatures, came out of their dens, “panting” so as to move water over their gills and avoid suffocating.

Amanda Cronin stands near the Dungeness River downstream from where water could be diverted during higher flows to fill a reservoir.
EarthFix/KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

This is the first story in a two-part series on how drought and climate change are changing how the Northwest relies on reservoirs to meet water needs.

SEQUIM, Wash. – For more than a century, the snowmelt that fed the Dungeness River here has provided water for farmers’ crops as well as salmon journeying to the ocean and back.

 The Goodell fire burns near a power line that transmits electricity from Seattle City Light’s three dams on the Skagit River to customers in Seattle and beyond.
Seattle City Light photo/Cody Watson

Eight fires have burned more than 4,000 acres in Washington’s North Cascades. The largest of the fires has damaged transmission lines, leading Seattle City Light to shut down power generation at three dams on the Skagit River.

The utility is losing $100,000 in revenue each day that the lines are down. Conditions have remained unsafe for repair crews to work on the power lines.

Q: Have the fires damaged the dams?

Chris Burns, natural resources technician with Washington’s Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, stands in the Dungeness River. Flows are roughly one-third of normal, prompting fears that salmon won’t be able to make it upstream to spawn.
EarthFix-KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

PORT ANGELES, Wash. – The fishing aisle at Swain’s General Store is stocked with tackle for catching salmon and trout on nearby rivers.

But something is missing among the rows of lures, floats and ornately tied flies: customers.

Mark Huff was a young post-graduate student back in 1978 when the Hoh Fire burned 1,250 acres not too far from the site of the current Paradise Fire. He’s been studying Olympic rainforest fires ever since. Historically, these fires occur every 500-1,000 y
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

PORT ANGELES, Wash. -- It’s 6 a.m. and a special team of fire response coordinators is gathered at Port Angeles High School.

This incident command center is more than 100 miles from the wildfire they’re dealing with: the Paradise Fire, which is burning on the western edge of Olympic National Park.

Crabber Tom Petersen would rather have his crab pots on the floor of the Pacific, but a toxic algae bloom has prompted health officials to close the south Washington coast to commercial and recreational crabbing.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

TOKELAND, Wash. – Tom Petersen’s 50-foot crab boat sits idly in the Port of Willapa Harbor, a tiny coastal inlet 40 or so miles north of the mouth of the Columbia River.

On a normal day in early summer, Petersen would be selling Dungeness crab to canneries, big-city buyers and even fresh off the back of his boat to locals and tourists.

This is a California sea lion on Long Beach, Washington, apparently experiencing seizures from domoic acid poisoning in May 2015.

The West Coast is experiencing the largest bloom of toxic algae in more than a decade, prompting wide-ranging closures of commercial crab and shellfish harvesting.

It’s also causing some very weird behavior in marine wildlife.

Dean Smith, who retired from the NSA, now tracks oil trains. He has gotten more information to the state in one week than oil companies have in three years.
EarthFix/KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

EVERETT, Wash. – Dean Smith, 72, sits in his car by the tracks north of Seattle.

It’s a dark, rainy Tuesday night, and Smith waits for an oil train to come through town. These trains are distinctive: A mile long, they haul 100 or so black, pill-shaped cars that each carry 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

This week's federal drought map shows how widespread the trend is across the West.

As the Northwest drought deepens, millions of dollars in emergency federal aid are headed toward stricken states, top Obama administration officials told seven western governors Friday.

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.

If you were to catch a salmon in Puget Sound, chances are you won’t be able to say exactly where that fish came from. That’s because salmon spawn in rivers and streams and then swim hundreds or even thousands of miles to the ocean to mature.

Some new research could help fisheries managers better protect salmon by studying their ear bones - that’s right, ear bones.

Pinto abalone were near extinction by the end of the 1990s in Puget Sound. But with a little help from science, their wild populations are slowly rising.
EarthFix Photo/Katie Campbell

MUKILTEO, Wash. – In a dark fish tank at a government-run lab, a striking sea snail slowly inches from its hiding spot.

It’s a pinto abalone, and its numbers are dangerously low in Washington state after decades of overharvesting and poaching. This little-known animal is a delicacy, still served in U.S. restaurants, and its shell is a source of mother-of-pearl.

Picture yourself at a noisy bar. You realize that you have been shouting at your date all night in order to be heard. Well, orcas in Puget Sound are in kind of the same situation.

Marla Holt, a research biologist with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, has found that loud boat noise forces endangered orcas to raise the volume of their calls.

But the question, Holt says, is "so what? What are the biological consequences of them doing this?”

The volcanic ridges of the Cascades have long been poked and prodded by people who want to know what kind of geothermal energy they'll find beneath the surface.

But many of the Northwest's hot spots are on public lands. And in some cases, federal land managers have prevented access by companies seeking to convert that magmatic force into clean electricity.