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.

This year’s drought is affecting Washington in all kinds of ways. It’s even threatening to make a potential government shutdown more painful. That would happen on July 1 unless a budget agreement is reached.

Jeff Marti, the Washington Department of Ecology’s drought coordinator, says the state won’t be able to grant emergency permits to access water if your well dries up or if river levels drop so low that your pipes no longer reach the water.

The longstanding legal battle over maintaining dams and salmon in the Columbia River is back in court this week. On Tuesday, a new judge will hear arguments on the Obama administration's latest salmon plan.

When you flip on a light switch, odds are, you're burning coal. But as the fracking boom continues to unleash huge quantities of natural gas, the nation's electric grid is changing. Power plants are increasingly turning to this low-cost, cleaner-burning fossil fuel.

Bill Pentak stands in the middle of a construction site, looking up at his company's latest project towering overhead — a new natural gas power plant.

Kim Malcolm speaks with Jessie Dye, outreach director for Earth Ministry, about what the Pope's message on climate change means to environmental activists of all faiths, including the "nones."

Scientists and crew prepping the Healy for a voyage to the North Pole
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

The Shell Oil rig that left Elliott Bay last week isn't the only big vessel heading to the Arctic from Seattle. A Coast Guard icebreaker heads to Alaska on Wednesday. The Seattle-based ship will help a multinational team of scientists explore pollution at the North Pole.

Climate change has fueled competition at the top of the world, where shipping and resource extraction are becoming feasible for the first time. With a tiny fleet of icebreakers (the Coast Guard has just two in operation), the U.S. lags behind other nations. At last count, Russia has 41 icebreakers.

KUOW's John Ryan reports.

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Members with the U.S. Forest Service's Lassen Interagency Hotshot crew stationed at Susanville, Calif., observe an Alaska Army National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter approach a landing zone June 30, 2013, over Palmer, Alaska.
Flickr Photo/U.S. Department of Defense (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Marcie Sillman talks with Alaska Public Radio reporter Alexandra Guttierez about the challenges of fighting fires in Alaska.

The federal government's new rules aimed at preventing explosive oil train derailments are sparking a backlash from all sides.

The railroads, oil producers and shippers say some of the new safety requirements are unproven and too costly, yet some safety advocates and environmental groups say the regulations aren't strict enough and still leave too many people at risk.

Chandra LeGue and David Calahan are facing a bit of a problem. They’re at the Sundown Trailhead near Southern Oregon's Applegate Valley. And they’re standing in the middle of a cloud.

Normally hiking in foggy weather isn’t a big deal. But on this day LeGue wanted it to be clear so the Google Trekker apparatus she’s carrying on her back can photograph the trail.

Pope Francis today issued a sweeping 184-page papal letter, writing that climate change is a global problem with far reaching environmental and social consequences — especially for the poor. He blamed apathy and greed and called on developing countries to limit the use of nonrenewable energy and to assist poorer nations.

A crow dives on a researcher during a trial. Crows recognize people who have scared them or wronged them for years.
Courtesy Keith Brust

Professor John Marzluff’s phone is ringing more than usual, which means it’s crow dive-bombing season in Seattle.

“Every time I go out into my backyard there's a crow out there that's squawking at me and chasing me down,” said a man who called in about his experience to KUOW.

This is a California sea lion on Long Beach, Washington, apparently experiencing seizures from domoic acid poisoning in May 2015.
DAN AYRES/WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

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.

West Coast Fish Species Recovers Decades Ahead Of Schedule

Jun 16, 2015

Fishery managers say two valuable West Coast groundfish have recovered ahead of schedule: canary rockfish and petrale sole.

That's good news for the fishing industry. The fleet has been restricted from catching healthy stocks of fish that swim alongside these protected species at the bottom of the ocean.

For more than a decade, canary rockfish have been what's considered a "choke" species. That is, protecting them choked off fishing access to other valuable species like Dover sole and black cod.

A virus is being blamed for killing millions of West Coast sea stars, but it's unclear why the disease is hitting so hard.
Katie Campbell

A couple of years ago, divers in Puget Sound began to notice something odd: Starfish were disappearing.

The sea creatures would get sores and then melt into piles of mush. Sea star wasting syndrome is a gruesome disease and it spread to starfish all along the West Coast. Scientists still don't know a lot about it.

More than half of Oregon’s counties are now officially in a state of drought – 19 of them, at last count, compared to nine last year.

To get a sense of how drought is affecting agriculture in the state, OPB’s "All Things Considered" host Kate Davidson spoke with Jim Johnson, land use and water planning coordinator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Johnson said the effects of drought are already visible, ranging from an earlier start to the irrigation season to farmers moving high value crops closer to water sources.

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