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.

Oysters are a cornerstone of Pacific Northwest cuisine. But there was a time when our region’s oysters were in trouble, all but obliterated by over-harvesting and pollution.

Then a Japanese immigrant helped turn things around.

His name was Masahide Yamashita, and he came to Seattle from Japan in 1902.

“He was only 19 years old,” said Patrick Yamashita, Masahide's grandson. “And I think he came here in part because he didn’t want to get drafted into the army in Japan.”

An environmental group is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to increase protections for a small ground-nesting bird called the streaked horned lark.

The lark once ranged from the grasslands of Southern Oregon north into Canada, but now can only be found in the Willamette Valley and Puget Sound region. It was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2013.

While the orcas of Puget Sound are sliding toward extinction, orcas farther north have been expanding their numbers. Their burgeoning hunger for big fish may be causing the killer whales’ main prey, chinook salmon, to shrink up and down the West Coast.

Chinook salmon are also known as kings: the biggest of all salmon. They used to grow so enormous that it’s hard to believe the old photos now. Fishermen stand next to chinooks almost as tall as they are, sometimes weighing 100 pounds or more.

Lani Estill's family ranches on thousands of acres in Modoc County on the border of Nevada and California. Her operation, Bare Ranch, sits in a place called Surprise Valley. It's a beautiful, almost forgotten place "Where the West still lives" — that's the county's motto.

"We have things going on here that you just don't see going on everywhere in the nation," Estill says. "Cattle are still gathered on horseback. We have cattle drives down the main country road."

It’s been nearly a month since a barrage of hikers overwhelmed the Mount St. Helens online permit system. But starting Monday, those hoping to nab a coveted climbing permit have a second chance.

When permit sales first opened on Feb. 1, it took just 20 minutes for the Mount St. Helens Institute server to malfunction. That’s because nearly 15,000 people — more than three times as many as last year — overloaded the system. 

An industrial mining explosives manufacturing company pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court Friday for failing to notify authorities of the release of 13,000 pounds (6.6 tons) of ammonia into the air at its St. Helens plant.

UPDATE (Feb. 22, 2:31 p.m.

Over the next century, sea level rise is expected to wreak havoc on the U.S. coastlines – and a new analysis shows that the Northwest is not immune. Nearly all coastal wetlands in Oregon, Washington and California will be swamped at the highest predicted sea level change.

Sea level rise is a byproduct of climate change. It happens as the world’s oceans warm and physically expand.  Melting glaciers and ice sheets are also contributing.

New research from the U.S. Geological Survey gives the first ever insight to how specific bays, marshes and harbors will fare.

Oregon wildlife managers are trapping sea lions at Willamette Falls and trucking them out to the coast in an effort to protect a very fragile run of steelhead.

Biologists estimate the sea lions at Willamette Falls are eating at least a quarter of the winter steelhead run. At that rate, they say, there’s about a 90 percent chance at least one population of the fish will go extinct.

New Timeline Proposed For Oregon’s Cap And Trade Bill

Feb 20, 2018

Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek is proposing an amendment to a controversial cap and trade bill that would allow the Legislature to delay voting on key details until next year.

The amendment, developed in coordination with co-sponsors of the bill, would allow the lawmakers to vote on the “cap” for greenhouse gas emissions this session while delaying a vote on the “trade” portion of the bill until next year.

The Pacific Northwest once held a magnetic pull on fur trappers. It started with the beaver-hat craze and continued with all sorts of  animals that could be exploited for their pelts.

Of course, the fur-trapping trade has all but vanished from Washington and Oregon. But even today, there are still people out in the woods, trying to track down a sleek, furry creature called a fisher.

UPDATE (Sunday, Feb. 19, 2018 at 6:30 a.m. PST) — Just when you thought winter was heading for an early retirement this year, Mother Nature is reminding Oregon it's still February. 

A cold front moved southward through the Willamette Valley Sunday, dropping 9 inches in Boring and as much as 3 inches in Portland's Southwest Hills.

The snow may be over, but the cold is still here.

Oral arguments in a federal lawsuit filed against 30 private companies and government entities for cleanup costs associated with pollution at the Portland Harbor Superfund site are expected to start in April.

The lawsuit, filed in January 2017, asks for a reimbursement of $283,471 in cleanup response costs incurred by the Washington-based tribe as of Sept. 30, 2016. Defendants include Calbag Metals Co., ExxonMobil Corp., Union Pacific Railroad Co., the Port of Portland and the city of Portland.

Rep. Joan McBride worries about what she's helping her children put in their bodies whenever she takes them to get a hamburger and fries.

And it's not the fatty meat or processed carbs that has her so concerned.

"Potentially those little pieces of paper wrapping up the hamburger had chemicals that potentially migrate into our bodies," said McBride, a lawmaker whose Washington House district includes the city of Kirkland.

The Washington House has voted to phase out farming of non-native fish in state waters, drawing the end of Atlantic salmon farming in Puget Sound one step closer.

The move comes one week after a similar vote by the state Senate.

Both bills let existing salmon farms keep operating only until their current leases run out, in the next four to seven years.

The House vote also comes six months after a poorly maintained fish farm collapsed near Anacortes, letting an estimated 250,000 Atlantic salmon escape into Puget Sound.

Scientists in the Northwest have detected a species of shrimp much farther north than it’s ever been found before.  Researchers at Oregon State University haven’t actually seen the snapping shrimp, instead, they heard them off the Oregon Coast.

Oregon State University scientist Joe Haxel recorded hours of underwater sound, tracking whales and boat noise.

Early this year, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said no to a massive oil-by-rail terminal proposed in Vancouver, Washington.

The $210 million Vancouver Energy project, a joint venture from Tesoro and Savage, would have brought up to 360,000 gallons of crude oil a day on trains traveling along the Columbia River. The proposal would have been the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country.

Polluted Stormwater Damages Fish's Ability to Survive

Feb 13, 2018

Each time it rained during an eight-week period in the winter of 2015, someone from Jenifer McIntyre’s team drove up to Seattle and collected stormwater near the Highway 520 bridge across Lake Washington.

It was a rainy stretch, so that meant 25 trips.

After each trip, McIntyre says, "we would bring the dirty runoff to the fish" — the larval fish the team was rearing in Indianola on the eastern side of Puget Sound  — "and expose them to that for 24 or 48 hours."

The Interior Department plans to expand energy development on public lands and offshore to pay for the National Park Service's maintenance backlog.

In the Pacific Northwest, the needs range from washed-out roads and trails at Mount Rainier National Park to repairing bridges and parking lots at the Olympic National Park.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says the parks’ maintenance backlog is $11.7 billion. The entire Interior Department’s backlog is $16 billion.

After a deadlocked 3-3 vote, Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission voted 4-2 Friday to elevate the marbled murrelet from a "threatened" species to "endangered."

The marbled murrelet is a seabird that nests in older coastal forests, and its population has been in a long-term decline in large part because of the loss of old growth trees to logging.

The Forest Service has given its consent for exploratory mining on public land near Mount St. Helens.  

The Canadian mining company Ascot USA wants to take 63 rock-core samples in Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest, which involves creating 2-3 inch boreholes down into the earth. The company is testing for valuable mineral deposits – including copper and gold.

The earth is squishy. The wind is mosquito-y. And there’s a flower the color of fire on the Southern Oregon coast.

It’s called the Western Lily.

“If the habitat’s right and the water is right and the sunlight’s right, they're going to thrive,” said Sherri Laier, a natural resource specialist for Oregon State Parks.

Western lilies grow in peat bogs. They need open areas without much tree cover. And they need a high water table that stays wet even during the hottest, driest summers.

'OPB Politics Now': Addressing Climate Change In The Northwest

Feb 9, 2018

We keep hearing about how the federal government is rolling back climate policies. To counteract that, more and more Democratic governors are pushing proposals at the state level to address climate change.

This week on "OPB Politics Now," we’ll discuss the policies both Oregon and Washington are considering to tackle climate change at the state level.

  Last year’s intense fire season led to calls for more “treatment” of federal forests to remove excess fuel that can make for bigger, hotter wildfires.

In November, House Republicans — including Oregon’s Greg Walden – passed a bill to grease the skids for more work in the woods. The bill now awaits action in the Republican-controlled Senate.

But while there’s broad bipartisan agreement that more needs to be done to promote forest health,  the opposing sides can have very different pictures of what that looks like on the ground.

It’s 8 o'clock on a rainy, windy Saturday morning, and John Hoac and Brandon Teeny just got to school —  Cleveland High in south Seattle. They’re here to measure air and noise pollution on campus.

Oregon Lawmakers Hear Opposing Views On Cap And Trade Bill

Feb 5, 2018

Oregon lawmakers held a joint committee hearing Monday on a bill that would create a cap and trade program to reduce the state’s carbon emissions.

Senate Bill 1507 would set a cap on carbon emissions and require about a hundred companies to buy permits. It would create a market where businesses could buy and sell carbon permits and offsets.

The Trump administration has reversed a key policy for protecting migrating birds. Officials say a century-old federal law is outdated and poses a burden for utilities and energy companies.

Editor's note: An unedited Web version of this story that had been inadvertently published has been removed.

Portland City Council closed a major loophole in regulations protecting children from exposure to lead in paint.

In a unanimous decision Thursday, the council voted to require crews to limit the spread of lead dust and asbestos when they demolish homes built before 1978.

Lead-based paint in homes is the leading cause of lead poising in the nation.

Remodeling an old home can trigger federal requirements to prevent exposure to lead paint. 

The whales off the West Coast depend on sound to communicate, navigate and find food. So, what happens to their health when we fill their habitat with noisy ship traffic?

Brian Allen is up to his elbows in cold, black water. He’s hanging over the side of a small boat, trying to pull in a tangle of ropes.

They’re heavy and being dragged sideways by the current. He strains against them.

Allen is a researcher with the Puget Sound Restoration Fund. He’s working within a 2.5 acre plot of open water near the mouth of Hood Canal, west of Seattle.  The area is roped off on two ends, and inside dozens of buoys bob in the low chop.

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