environment | KUOW News and Information

environment

How Do You Want Your Smoke?

May 7, 2018

There’s broad agreement that fire plays a vital role in forest ecology in the West. Many of our problems with severe wildfires can be traced, at least in part, to a century of putting fires out, rather than letting them clean up excess forest fuels.

Now, there’s a need to deliberately set controlled fires to help re-establish a more natural fire pattern. But after a summer in which residents and tourists alike choked on foul air and many events were canceled due to heavy smoke, are people ready to put up with more smoke from prescribed burns?

It arrived at 3 a.m on July 26, 2013. Dennis Sifford remembers details like this. They marked the beginning of his final shift as an incident commander on a wildfire.

“The lightning storm came in — dry lightning storm,” Sifford said, describing that morning. “It was unexpected.”

The storm touched down in mountainous terrain just north of the town of Glendale, Oregon. More than 80 fires started.

Twelve hours later Sifford got the call. He would lead the 3,000 people needed to fight what would be known as the Douglas Complex.

As tick season reaches its peak in the Northwest, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control says diseases spread by tiny creatures like mosquitoes and ticks have tripled in the U.S. over the last 14 years.

The U.S. Forest Service says it will have more money to fight wildfires and more tools to prevent them thanks to the new wildfire funding bill Congress recently approved.

The extra resources may very well be needed in Oregon and California this year, where officials say they are already seeing an elevated risk of wildfire because of low snow pack and dry spring weather. The fire outlook is less concerning for Washington.

Larches, a staple of the North Cascades, are shown on the Pacifc Crest Trail near Cutthroat Pass.
KUOW Photo/Kara McDermott

The North Cascades National Park turns 50 years old this year.

It's a popular place to camp and hike now, but a new book about the park's history says it got off to a rocky start. 


The Lower Duwamish River Superfund site in South Seattle
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Decades after they were banned, the toxic chemicals known as PCBs keep oozing into Seattle's Duwamish River. Environmental groups say one Boeing facility in Tukwila is sending polychlorinated biphenyls into the river at levels thousands of times beyond the legal limit.

Oregon and Washington are joining a coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia in suing the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator Scott Pruitt over the decision to roll back greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles built between 2022 and 2025.

The states argue those emissions standards for cars and light-duty truck models were put in place to help reduce carbon pollution and oil consumption.

A disease that affects wild elk populations has been spreading in Western Washington for a decade. Now, wildlife managers say they have found evidence of elk hoof disease east of the Cascades.

3 reasons we're farming Atlantic salmon in Puget Sound

Apr 30, 2018
Nathan Cultee dumps 16 farm-raised Atlantic salmon into a container on Tuesday, August 22, 2017, at Home Port Seafood in Bellingham.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Every time I report on the Great Atlantic Salmon Escape of 2017, someone asks me the same question: Why don’t we just farm Pacific salmon species in Puget Sound?

Listener Michael Hrankowski wrote in recently with that exact question. Well, here’s why not.

Some Trails Closed By Eagle Creek Fire To Reopen This Summer

Apr 29, 2018

The U.S. Forest Service plans soon to reopen some of the trails in the Columbia River Gorge that have been closed since the Eagle Creek Fire last year.

According to Lily Palmer with U.S. Forest Service, the trail to Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls will be the first to reopen early this summer. Trails east of Cascade Locks, including Starvation Creek Ridge Loop and Herman Creek, Mount Defiance and the Pacific Crest Trail should reopen later in the summer.

Last summer's Eagle Creek Fire burned more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge. Conservationists estimate that it may take years for some areas to reopen to the public. But despite the devastation, some areas in the Gorge are seeing their first signs of rebirth. 

Enter, the humble mushroom. The charred wood and decaying organic matter in the wake of a fire create the perfect environment for several types of fungi to thrive. Oregon's mushroom hunters are forecasting a mushroom bonanza this spring — including a bumper crop of the coveted wild morels.

Homes in Queen Anne are shown from the Space Needle in November in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Many cities require permits to cut down trees on private property. Currently Seattle isn’t one of them.

But a new proposal would create that system, to track and put a price on tree loss.

Two  projects launched in April aim to help bees in the Pacific Northwest, at a time when pesticides, parasites and loss of habitat make survival harder for both wild bumble bees and domesticated honeybees. 

The U.S. House approved a bill Wednesday that would circumvent a federal judge’s order for dams on the lower Snake River to spill more water and protect current dam operations through the next four years.

The additional spilled water is meant to help migrating salmon, meaning it would not be available for generating electricity.

Senator Maria Cantwell questioned the acting head of the U.S. Forest Service, Vicki Christiansen, this week. Among the senator's top concerns: there may not be enough air support for fires in the West this year.

Patricia Marin says her daughter Azul has been suffering from asthma since she was just a baby.
EarthFix, NWPB Photo/Courtney Flatt

Patricia Marín still remembers the day nine years ago when her daughter Azul started coughing and couldn't stop. Her breathing was ragged.

At the time, Azul was just 18 months old. Marín brought her to the emergency room.


The Pacific Northwest could soon become a hub of ocean energy technology. An Oregon State University project to set up a wave energy test site is now applying for the federal permits needed to move ahead.

In Seattle, there’s a national fire research lab where scientists have been working on a new computer model to better aid land managers as they predict how fires will behave and where smoke will go. But now that federal work’s been halted.

We’ve seen more wildfires burning into urban communities  lately. But there’s  a lot homeowners can do to protect themselves,  according to top scientists at the Missoula Fire Sciences Lab.

Homes located near or inside forests are a big complication for managing wildfires. Forest managers find themselves under increasing pressure to suppress natural fires because of the risk of nearby homes igniting.

But experts now say keeping those homes from burning could be cheaper and simpler than previously thought.

Researchers at Oregon State University have worked out a way to detect and identify whales long after they move on — just by sampling the water.

When whales swim they leave behind a plume of genetic material in the environment: skin, poop and bodily fluids. If you know what to look for, you can use that DNA to figure out what kind of whale went by.

While searching for seabirds in July of 2017, biologist Luke Halpin instead saw a sea bubbling with about 200 bottlenose dolphins and 70 false killer whales. It would be an unusual sight anywhere — bottlenose generally travel in much smaller groups — but Halpin’s sighting was made more remarkable by where it happened. These usually tropical animals were off the west coast of Canada.

Students from Oregon State University, Granite Falls High School in Washington and the University of British Columbia are among 99 teams pushing the boundaries of automotive fuel efficiency. The Northwest students are driving in an international competition in California through this weekend.

In a big grass pasture in the shadow of Mount Rainier, hundreds of chickens are crowded around a little house where they can get water and shelter from the bald eagles circling overhead. This is the original location of Wilcox Family Farms, an egg farm that also has locations in Oregon and Montana.

Growing up, Gary Kempler remembers watching flocks of bighorn sheep near his hometown of Clarkston, Washington.

“Good size herds along the river,” Kempler said — he could see up to eight flocks in one day.

Slowly, after the wildlife faced battles with a virulent form of pneumonia, Kempler saw fewer and fewer bighorns. Maybe one or two sheep at a time.

The owner of a seafood processing company in Pierce County, Washington, has pleaded guilty in a case involving the illegal sale of sea cucumbers, leathery creatures that are considered a delicacy to eat in some cultures.

FILE: Anti-pipeline activists build a so-called 'Watch House' near Kinder Morgan's tank farm in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, Saturday, March 10, 2018.
AP Photo/Phoung Lee

Environmentalists are keeping pressure on Kinder Morgan, following its suspension of Canada's controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline project.

A news release from the company Sunday blamed concerns about escalating costs for the decision.

A wild Pacific salmon, left, next to an escaped farm-raised Atlantic salmon, right, on Aug. 22 at Home Port Seafoods in Bellingham.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Kim Malcolm talks with Seattle Times reporter Lynda Mapes about a new study that looks at the impact of drugs picked up by juvenile Chinook salmon in Puget Sound.

Recology employee Zakarya Sales works at the final quality control station, removing any visibly obvious contaminants from sorted bales, at the Recology Materials Recovery Facility on Tuesday, October 31, 2017, on S. Idaho St., in Seattle.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Have you wondered where your recycling goes once it's picked up? A KUOW listener was curious about that, so we asked Hans Van Dusen, the solid waste contracts manager at Seattle Public Utilities.

He tells Kim Malcolm about the journey our cans and paper takes. 


Protesters dressed as construction workers and a mini-longhouse they erected to block Puget Sound Energy's doors
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

Protesters erected a miniature longhouse — just five feet tall and 12 feet long — in front of Puget Sound Energy's front doors and blocked the entrance to the company's headquarters in Bellevue for about three hours Monday morning.

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