EarthFix

News Fixed on the Environment.

EarthFix is a public media partnership of KLCC, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Idaho Public Television, KCTS9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Jefferson Public Radio, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

This is the first part in a series on the future of fish farming in the Pacific Northwest. Read the second part here.

The Hope Island Fish Farm floats in the middle of Puget Sound, about a 15-minute boat ride from Whidbey Island’s Deception Pass. Narrow metal walkways surround giant nets anchored to the bottom of the sound. Those nets hold thousands of Atlantic salmon--though it’s difficult to see them till they jump.

UPDATED (Wednesday, Nov. 29, 8:55 a.m.): Washington state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council voted unanimously Tuesday to turn down a controversial oil terminal planned for Vancouver, Washington.

The council’s decision to not recommend the project is another major blow against the massive oil-by-rail facility proposed by Vancouver Energy.

It’s also one of the last steps in a years-long permitting process to develop the oil terminal. The ultimate decision on whether the project goes forward will be up to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Autumn rains have washed away the smoke of the summer wildfires. But Congress remains embroiled in a high-stakes environmental debate over how to reduce the growing threat of catastrophic blazes in Western forests and rangelands.

Lawmakers are under more pressure to act after a wildfire season that was particularly harrowing. Nearly 9 million acres – an area about the size of New Jersey and Connecticut combined – burned. Intense smoke hit many of the West’s major cities, including Denver, the San Francisco Bay Area and Portland.

The long hunt finally paid off on the night of Aug. 6 for two employees of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. They’d spent a combined 85 hours and driven 752 miles in pursuit of the Harl Butte wolf pack in the northeast corner of the state.

They had already come close, spotting wolves twice but never firing a shot.

But finally, on a Saturday evening, they killed a young male. Two days later, an Oregon Fish and Wildlife employee fired a kill shot from a helicopter while patrolling the rolling forests and pastures. This time it was a young female.

A Washington energy council has released a massive environmental report that could decide the fate of a controversial $210 million oil terminal in Vancouver.

The state’s Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, discussed findings from the Final Environmental Impact Statement Tuesday afternoon at a special meeting in Olympia.

Satish and Arlene Palshikar live in a house in Southeast Portland that's coated with recycled bluish-white paint. Their boxy silver television is a 1990s vintage model they plucked from the curb.

"It said, 'Works fine,' so we said 'OK, we’ll take it,'" said Arlene Palshikar. "No packaging. Just load it in the car.”

They collect and reuse rainwater, compost their own food waste and avoid plastic whenever possible. It takes two months to fill their trash can enough to put it out on the curb for pickup.

Last year, five activists from the Pacific Northwest shut off pipelines bringing oil into the US from Canada. All five were arrested and charged with various felonies and misdemeanors. Now, a development in one of their trials could set a new precedent for cases in which climate change activists have been arrested for acts of civil disobedience.

What happened that day in October of 2016?

What if you looked around, saw where things are headed on this planet, and said to yourself, I want to start fresh. A group of scientists did just that. But things didn’t go as planned.

It’s been a long haul, but West Coast seal and sea lion populations have recovered over the past 40 years. All those extra predators may be eating more chinook salmon than people are catching, according to a new study.

Increasing numbers of marine predators could be bad news for chinook salmon — and for critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales.

Carbon emissions are making the oceans more acidic. That’s long been known to harm shellfish, but new research shows more acidic water could take a toll on salmon, as well.

  Everyone poops. Even climbers on the world’s tallest mountain.

All that human waste has caused a lot of problems for local villagers near Mount Everest’s base camp. But a group of Northwest volunteers thinks they've found a fix.

Right now, Sherpas carry barrels of human excrement down from base camp on the backs of yaks. The barrels used to be dumped into large pits above a glacier that flows into the valley below. After those pits filled up, the waste has been carried to excavated sites alongside water banks.

This story was updated on Monday, Nov. 20 with new information about opposition to the decision.

The federal government has approved plans for a controversial transmission line that would cross public lands in eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho. The Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that Idaho Power will get right-of-way on federal lands for the 300-mile project.

Burn scars left after major wildfires can look pretty bleak.  But take a couple million steps back and you’ll find those fires aren’t keeping up with the natural filling-in of forest vegetation.

New research out of Oregon State University makes the case that considering the big picture is important to our understanding of fire in our region.

The wildfires are largely out in places like the Columbia River Gorge and the southern Oregon coast, but the economic fallout continues in many nearby communities. That was the message Tuesday during a meeting of the Oregon House Committee on Economic Development.

The Chetco Bar fire in southwestern Oregon was the state’s biggest wildfire of 2017, burning just over 191,000 acres, mostly in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Seven homes were lost and hundreds of people had to evacuate from Brookings and nearby communities.

Now, specialists have assessed the damage to the landscape and repair work is getting underway. But the full impact will largely depend on this winter’s weather, and on management decisions that have yet to be made.

Turning to face the water behind her, Roxanne White recalled her ancestors’ memories of the Columbia River.

“At one point, if you can imagine, they would say you could walk off the backs of the salmon across the river,” said White, a Yakama Nation descendant. “Now they’re so minimal, and they’re sick. Just like our mother earth; just like our water.” 

 Wildlife advocates want Oregon Gov. Kate Brown to reopen an investigation into an elk hunter’s shooting of a wolf in Eastern Oregon, which was initially ruled self-defense.

In the weeks since, potential discrepancies in the evidence and the account from Oregon State Police have been raised by wolf advocates, a prominent wolf biologist and former Fish and Wildlife Service trapper, as well as a former district attorney in Oregon.

It’s a windy, snowy day in early November, and my boots keep slipping on the asphalt-paved Alta Vista trail that leads up away from the visitor center at Mount Rainier’s Paradise.

In the summer, this trail winds through wildflower meadows — but, even so, it’s the least used of any of the trails that start at Paradise. Jim Ziolkowski, my reluctant guide to Alta Vista, says that’s because it’s in such bad repair.

The Interior Department is set on changing up an Obama-era plan to protect greater sage grouse. That’s given stakeholders in the high-desert Northwest a lot to reconsider.

For more than 10 years, ranchers, conservationists and government agencies worked on a plan to keep the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list. That hard-fought compromise led to what many hoped would be a new way to protect species on the brink.

Later this week, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will discuss how the West Coast can push a progressive agenda to curb carbon emissions.

For years, Inslee — who has been called the green governor — has pushed to tax his state’s biggest polluters. But with a Republican-controlled state Senate, the ambitious plan languished.

On Tuesday, Republicans lost their one-vote majority in the Washington state Senate, giving Democrats control of the “great blue wall": full control over the legislatures across the West Coast in Oregon, Washington and California.

This is a guest post by Claire Schoen, a producer, documentary filmmaker, and the creator of  the Stepping Up podcast.

“Laughter is the best medicine.” Like every cliché, this old adage springs from a kernel of truth. And in these distressing political times, a good dose of laughter may be just what the doctor ordered.

Don Orange will be the next Port of Vancouver commissioner. Initial results Tuesday night show Orange won 64.58 percent, beating candidate Kris Greene.

Orange's victory is likely a death knell for a massive oil terminal that's been proposed at the port for years. 

In 2015, University of Washington biologist Elli Theobald and her fellow researchers caught a glimpse of the future.

"The climate conditions in that year happened to mimic what we expect the climate conditions to be in the 2080s under unabated climate change," Theobald says.

Different flower species responded differently to the hot, dry weather. Some flowered a little earlier. Others flowered a lot earlier. Some flowered for a shorter time. And others flowered for a longer time.

UPDATE: Crook County leaders voted unanimously in favor of adopting the Natural Resource Policy Wednesday. 

A plan aimed at giving locals more say in federal lands management is once again before Crook County leaders.

Commissioners held a meeting Monday night in Prineville, Oregon, to gather public input on the proposed plan. They plan to vote on it Wednesday.

Ty Stubblefield self-identifies as a “red blooded conservative,” but he’s also an avid hunter who is frustrated with the Republican party’s efforts to transfer public lands out of federal control. So, he’s fighting back.

John Huffman, a Republican from the Dalles, has received one of the plum political appointments from the federal government.

Huffman left the Oregon House in October after 10 years to become Oregon's director of rural development for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The position has frequently been filled by legislators. Huffman's predecessor, Vicki Walker, is a former Democratic state senator from Eugene who filled the job during the Obama administration.  Former House Speaker Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, was appointed to the job in 2005 during the Bush administration.

Solving The Northwest's Energy Storage Puzzle

Nov 3, 2017

As the Northwest moves toward using more renewable energy like wind and solar, one big issue keeps popping up. What to do when there’s too much power on the grid?

When there's not enough demand to run air-conditioners, heaters, or other appliances, all that clean energy just goes to waste.

But several utilities in Oregon are starting to figure out how to store that extra energy.

Partly in response to a legislative requirement, Portland General Electric Company is proposing to develop several projects.

The beaver may be Oregon's official state animal but that status is not shielding it from being killed by the hundreds by a federal agency. 

The killing could end, though, if two environmental groups prevail with their new lawsuit challenging the practice. They contend that it's harming more than just the state’s marquee mammal.

The Department of the Interior is outlining steps aimed at increasing energy production on federal lands. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says boosting production of resources like oil and gas creates jobs and enhances the nation’s energy security.

Hillsboro, Oregon – At the SolarWorld Americas plant outside Portland, John Clason loads a stack of solar cells into a machine that builds them into panels.

He used to be a cabinet maker, but he switched industries after the 2008 recession.

"The job I had dried up," he said. "So, I looked around and I thought solar panels would be great – the wave of the future, you know?"

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