Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Before taking his current beat, Tom covered state government and the Washington Legislature for 12 years.  He got his start in radio at WCAL–FM, a public station in southern Minnesota. Reared in Seattle, Tom graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota with a degree in American Studies.

When not sifting through press releases, listening to lobbyists, or driving lonely highways, Tom enjoys exploring the Olympic Peninsula backcountry and cooking dinner with his wife and friends. Tom's secret ambition is to take six months off work and travel to a faraway place beyond the reach of email.

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A Twisp, Washington man has changed his plea to guilty in a high-profile federal wolf poaching case. As part of a plea agreement, the 62-year-old man will not go to prison.

The lack of jail time greatly disappoints a conservation group.

There are some 7,000 spoken languages in the world, and linguists project that as many as half may disappear by the end of the century. That works out to one language going extinct about every two weeks. Now, digital technology is coming to the rescue of some of those ancient tongues.

Members of the Native American Siletz tribe in Oregon say their native language, also called "Siletz," "is as old as time itself." But today, you can count the number of fluent speakers on one hand. Siletz Tribal Council Vice Chairman Bud Lane is one of them.

Thousands of homes in Washington and Oregon could be inundated by rising seas caused by global warming over the next century, according to research by the non-profit Climate Central and the University of Arizona.

By calculating how many Americans live less than 1 meter above the high tide line, the researchers found 10,500 homes in Washington and 7000 in Oregon that would be flooded by rising seas.

The biggest concentrations of vulnerable homes are in Seattle, and Warrenton and Seaside, Ore.


The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has increased its Karelian Bear Dog force by fifty percent. This breed of working dog has proven effective against nuisance bears. The idea is to re-instill fear of human neighborhoods.

Nereus Program

In Greek mythology, the original god of the sea was named Nereus. Among other powers, he could prophesy the future. That’s why researchers at the University of British Columbia thought to name a project to predict future ocean conditions after Nereus. Now, the initial computer simulations are out.

Sea Sheperd Conservation Society

A federal judge in Seattle Thursday refused a request for protection made by Japanese whalers. The whalers were hoping to put a stop to almost daily harassment by an aggressive anti-whaling group based in western Washington.

U.S. federal district court judge Richard Jones did not give a reason for denying the request for a preliminary injunction. It would have prevented the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society from interfering with the Japanese whaling fleet.

Dyanna Lambourn / WDFW

The bruised and bloody carcass of an endangered killer whale washed ashore at Long Beach, Wash., this weekend. An initial necropsy did not pinpoint a cause of death.

This week , federal biologists will cast off on a research cruise from NOAA's new homeport in Newport, Oregon. They hope to crack an enduring mystery about some of the most studied killer whales on earth. Namely, where do the Northwest's resident orca whales go in the winter?

Every winter, the three pods of orca whales that call Northwest waters home just disappear into the wild blue yonder. Research biologist Dawn Noren and colleagues from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center are about to embark on a three-week mission to find them.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

ROY, Wash. – Mount Rainier was once known by its many native names. Now, an alliance of tribal members is moving forward with a proposal to restore an original name to this Northwest landmark. But a long bureaucratic process lies ahead.

The United Steelworkers union has reached a tentative deal with oil companies to avert a possible strike at dozens of refineries, including three important ones in the Northwest.

Negotiations over a new labor contract for refinery workers concluded mere hours before a late night deadline. The United Steelworkers and Shell Oil announced a tentative three-year deal that's intended to set the pattern for local agreements at unionized refineries nationwide.

Bargaining is going down to the wire on new labor contracts at three of the five big oil refineries in the Northwest. Union members have been told to prepare to strike as early as Wednesday.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Two credit rating agencies have delivered a warning to the State of Washington to get its financial house in order. The ratings agencies lowered the outlook for Washington state debt, citing the magnitude of the budget shortfall.

TACOMA, Wash. – The final suspect in a 2001 Earth Liberation Front arson attack in Seattle plead guilty Tuesday. Justin Solondz, 32, reached a plea deal with the government. A federal judge in Tacoma has approved a deal that could give Solondz a 7-year prison term.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

With the year-end approaching, your letter carrier likely delivers at least one or two fundraising letters with each day's mail. You're not alone if you toss some of those pitches straight into the recycle bin. It's a tough fundraising environment right now for charities here on the heels of the great recession.

The first of a new breed of car rental companies is expanding into the Northwest. Next month, San Francisco-based Getaround officially launches its web-based rental service in the greater Portland area.

The concept is sometimes called peer-to-peer car rental or personal car sharing. The idea is to let you rent your car to someone else when you're not using it. Several companies have sprung up in California to provide the online marketplaces to link up car owners with pre-screened renters.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

As of this morning, there are fewer than 100 Northwest-based soldiers serving in Iraq. A plane carrying the final large group of returning soldiers touched down at McChord Field near Tacoma at dusk Tuesday. 

The sweetest words for 170 Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers and their families: "Captain, dismissed!"

Northwest News Network

TACOMA, Wash. – The cold nights we've been having are leading people to fire up their wood stoves and fireplaces. This also means we're in the season of the dirtiest air of the year in the Northwest.

Wood stoves are one of the biggest – if not the biggest – contributor to this problem in our area. Clean air agencies are going to greater lengths to pry old, polluting, uncertified wood stoves out of the fingers of homeowners.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - You've probably seen plum parking spots set aside for electric cars, maybe even shaken your fist at an empty space. More than a thousand Northwest drivers have hit the road this year with the first mass market electric cars.

Many of them are letting researchers electronically track their charging and driving behavior. That data shows more than 80% of electric "fill ups" are happening not at those public charging points, but at home.

The judge in a high profile war crimes court martial is expected to send the case to the jury today. Closing arguments are now complete in the case against Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs. He's accused of orchestrating the deaths of unarmed Afghan civilians.

Army prosecutor Major Robert Snow told the military jury their decision should not be difficult. His precise closing words: "Let your verdict speak the truth that Staff Sgt. Gibbs is a murderer."

WHITE SALMON, Wash. – Southwest Washington's White Salmon River is running free this morning for the first time in a century.

demolition contractors executed their plan flawlessly yesterday to blast a hole in the base of an aging hydropower dam. Condit Dam is the third large Northwest dam to meet the wrecking ball this year.

D. Kvamme / PacifiCorp

Update: Watch the explosion and dam breach.

WHITE SALMON, Wash. – Demolition experts are rigging 700 pounds of dynamite today at Condit Dam in southwest Washington. Crews are scheduled to breach the aging hydropower dam on the White Salmon River around noon Wednesday.

Associated Press

Federal archeologists are investigating a very old jawbone that turned up Monday along the Columbia River in Kennewick, Wash. The human remains were found a short distance from where Kennewick Man was discovered in 1996 and sparked a decade-long legal conflict.

The battles over Kennewick Man have scientists being extra cautious with the new discovery.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

SEATTLE – Some seafood sold in the Northwest isn't what it seems.

Mislabeled fish is more common than you might think according to the few cops trying to make sure you get the species you paid for. Now those who are on patrol are looking for higher penalties to deter fish cheaters.

SEATTLE – The Japanese tsunami back in March washed millions of tons of debris out to sea, and winds and currents are pushing it very slowly across the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists tracking the flotsam have new evidence that it does not pose a radiological threat despite the Japanese nuclear disaster that followed the tsunami.


Federal fisheries scientists plan to survey Pacific Northwest and Alaskan waters to determine if a harmful European fish virus has spread here.

And now, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and two senators from Alaska are calling for an investigation into the spread of the virus striking Canadian salmon.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – The U.S. government is considering whether to build short segments of fencing along the northern border with Canada. But the fences won’t stretch very far.

That’s what a U.S. Customs and Border Protection planner told a small audience gathered in Bellingham Tuesday night.

TACOMA, Wash. – A Longshore union says it plans to appeal a federal judge's quarter-million dollar fine for its tactics in a Longview labor dispute.

Friday, lawyers on various sides of the case argued first about that punishment for a clash in early September. Later, the judge took up the heart of the matter. .

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton found the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in contempt of court for blocking a train and storming a grain terminal about three weeks ago. He's now fined the union $250,000.

Associated Press

SEATTLE – Hometown friends and supporters of Amanda Knox kept an early morning vigil at a Seattle hotel while awaiting the verdict from Italy. The group of about a dozen burst into applause and cheers when they got word that the murder charge against Knox was overturned.

DAR56 / Wikimedia commons

Your power bill could be cheaper if the U.S. didn't send so much electricity north of the border every year. Canada lays claim to around $300 million worth of hydropower annually under the terms of a 50-year-old treaty.

In return, the Canadians manage the upper Columbia River to prevent downstream flooding and to optimize power production. The Columbia River Treaty can be renegotiated soon and there are voices on both sides of the border clamoring for a better deal.

U.S. Census Bureau

About 5,500 same-sex couples in the Northwest checked the box to be counted as married in the 2010 Census. Neither Washington, Oregon nor Idaho recognizes same-sex marriages.

A new Census Bureau report says the number of same-sex couples who identify themselves as married greatly exceeds the number of marriage licenses issued by states that legalized such unions.