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.

Ways To Connect

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

An Indian tribe on the Washington Coast on Thursday renewed its plea to Congress to expand its tiny reservation onto higher ground. Quileute tribal leaders previously traveled to the nation's capital after the devastating Japanese tsunami in March.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The unemployment rate held steady at 9-point-3 percent in Washington state in August. The state Employment Department released fresh jobs numbers Wednesday, a day after Oregon reported a slight uptick in its unemployment rate. Now it's at 9-point-6 percent.

In Washington, Employment Department chief economist Dave Wallace says the private sector statewide has added jobs for twelve months in a row now. But he says jobs need to be added at a faster pace to chip away at the unemployment rate.

Nearly one in six Americans lives in poverty, but the numbers are a little better in Northwest states. That's the headline from the latest population survey by the U.S. Census Bureau.

This spring there was a big volcanic eruption in the Pacific Northwest. If you missed it, you're not alone. It happened under the ocean off the northern Oregon coast.

However, all this week a University of Washington research ship has been streaming live video via satellite of lava flows in the undersea crater. In a couple years, 24/7 video coverage of the ocean floor will be made possible by a new underwater fiber optic cable.

Courtesy of University of Washington

A University of Washington research ship is sending amazing live video of the aftermath of an undersea volcanic eruption. The large volcano is about 300 miles due west of Astoria, Oregon.

Some scientists theorize life on our planet started at a place like this.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

PORT ANGELES, Wash. – Seattle's Kingdome collapsed with a bang. Explosive demolition experts also brought down the cooling tower at the former Trojan nuclear plant. But if you're hoping for the same excitement from the upcoming destruction of two big hydropower dams on Washington's Elwha River, you'll be disappointed.

The history-making dam removal that begins in September will happen slowly and methodically.

Aleph1 / Flickr

WARRENTON, Ore. – Perhaps you've had salmon, tuna or swordfish for dinner recently. Or maybe it's on the menu tonight. Every big fish that lands on your plate got that big by eating lots and lots of little fish.

If you don't have abundant small fish in the ocean, you won't have the big fish. That's why some scientists, fishery managers and advocacy groups are paying more attention to the small prey in the sea.

Some environmental group now also want tighter regulation, and that's making fishermen nervous.

A short-line railroad is taking a hard look at opening a coal shipping terminal at the Port of Grays Harbor. This is the third location proposed by different developers in western Washington. It would export Rocky Mountain coal to Asia.

The corporate parent of the Puget Sound and Pacific Railroad proposes to redevelop a public port terminal in Hoquiam. The railroad anticipates coal exports would be its main business.

Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has named Democrat Patty Murray of Washington to co-chair a powerful "super committee" charged with finding more than $1 trillion in deficit cuts this fall.

The choice immediately drew cries of disbelief from conservatives.

Governor Chris Gregoire is telling state agencies to prepare for further budget cuts because of the faltering economy. Her budget office today asked agencies for ideas to reduce planned spending by 5 or 10 percent. 

Meanwhile, the Standard & Poor's downgrade of federal debt is unlikely to have much near term effect on the borrowing costs for the state. Although, S&P did deal the city of Tacoma a blow by downgrading it's credit rating on debt backed by the federal government.

A DNA test has failed to connect a deceased central Oregon man to the unsolved 1971 hijacking of a Northwest Orient jet. This according to the man's niece. She came forward this week to finger her uncle as the legendary fugitive D.B. Cooper.

The woman who claims her uncle was the legendary hijacker D.B. Cooper believes he lost all the money from his heist.

At SeaTac Airport in 1971, a hijacker exchanged a planeload of passengers for 200,000 dollars in ransom and four parachutes. Transplanted Oklahoman Marla Cooper now says the fugitive and a previously unknown accomplice were her uncles.

Idaho Fish and Game

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington ranchers would get full compensation for confirmed wolf kills of their livestock under a new state wolf management plan. That proposal got its first public airing in Olympia Thursday.

Just as in neighboring Oregon, ranchers are uneasy about how the payments will work in reality.

An expert on the infamous airplane hijacker D.B. Cooper is dubious about the latest suspect to emerge in the 40-year-old case. An Oklahoma woman went public this week with the claim her late uncle was the mysterious hijacker.

In the last ten years, the federal government and rural landowners have spent increasing sums of money thinning spindly trees and removing underbrush. The aim is to reduce risk from wildfire.

A new study by the Forest Service finds that tree stands need to be "intensively" thinned for that strategy to be effective.

Study co-author David Peterson of the Pacific Northwest Research Station in Seattle says a dense tinderbox forest before thinning could have more than a 1,000 trees per acre.

Adrian Wolf

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Wildlife biologists are employing a little trickery to stop the downward spiral of a rare grassland bird in Western Washington. On Friday, biologists took eggs from healthier larks in Oregon and swapping them into western Washington nests, hoping the lark mothers don't notice.

Liesl Matthies

The Congressional stalemate over the debt ceiling isn't the only Washington standoff in the news this week. A separate showdown over spending by the Federal Aviation Administration is having an immediate effect on jobs and airport construction in our region.

Since last week, this little noticed budget battle has shut down non-essential divisions of the FAA. Airline ticket taxes are going uncollected and the federal workers who drive that money back out for airport improvement projects are furloughed.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

PORTLAND – According to government statistics, American Indians are 70 percent more likely to die by suicide than the general population. The high suicide rate has been called a "silent epidemic." But it's silent no more.

Prevention workers at a health workshop in Portland are hoping teen-generated web videos, music and even a comic book can save lives.

The National Park Service Wednesday gave its support to turning part of the Hanford nuclear site into a new national park.

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says Hanford's historic B Reactor deserves park status in order to tell the story of the race to build the atomic bomb. 

Courtesy of Robert Waddell

NEWPORT, Ore. – Climate change may push fish native to the Northwest coast further northward and bring fish from southern waters up here.

That's according to a forthcoming study by American and Canadian fisheries biologists. They suggest West Coast fishermen will need to adapt to different prey if the Pacific Ocean warms as projected over the next fifty years.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Animal welfare groups in Oregon and Washington are shelving initiative petition drives that could have required egg producers to give hens more spacious cages.

The Humane Society of the United States says it's hatched a surprise national agreement with the egg industry for the treatment of chickens on farms. This comes as a ballot measure drive in Oregon for the 2012 election was getting started.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

THE DALLES, Ore. – A fixer-upper is paying unexpected dividends for a couple in The Dalles, Oregon.

The back parking lot of the old building they bought as an investment is yielding artifacts that give rare insight into the lives of pioneer Chinese immigrants in the Northwest.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Are more people hunting and fishing for food during these tough economic times? Possibly. However, the recent upturn in the number of people buying a hunting and fishing license is probably due to unemployed construction workers with more time on their hands, one department official said.

Dr. Kim Patten / WSU Extension

WILLAPA BAY, Wash. – The usual story of invasive species goes something like this: An exotic plant or critter hitches a ride on an incoming cargo ship. Alarm bells go off. An eradication campaign starts. But now there's a non-native seaweed on the West Coast that breaks the mold. Japanese eelgrass has defenders along with its critics.

Colin Fogarty / Northwest News Network

Your car may be your most-prized personal possession, but the vast majority of the time it's parked not doing anything. Now, several startup companies propose to help you capitalize on your car's downtime by renting it to perfect strangers.

Following the example set by California last year, the Oregon Legislature is set to tweak its insurance rules to smooth the road for person-to-person car rentals. One company already has hundreds of registered users across the Pacific Northwest, even though the service has not officially launched in that region. And, another company plans to include Washington state this summer.

Courtesy The Tidy Street Project.

Starting this weekend, residents of two neighborhoods on Bainbridge Island will get an in-your-face reminder of how much energy they’re using. Bainbridge is one of three Northwest cities to receive a federal grant to do aggressive energy efficiency outreach.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Nearly 100 years of hydropower production comes to a close today (Wednesday) on the Elwha River on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. The turbines at the two dams on the river are going off line for good in preparation for the biggest dam removal in North American history.

U.S. Census Bureau

The American West is home to more young people than any other region of the country according to new data from the U.S. Census. Still there are differences in the age demographics within our region.

Meals on Wheels Association of America / Lindsay Garrett

Gas prices in Washington and across the Northwest are inching downward again after peaking above $4 a gallon earlier this month. The trend comes too late to erase the blow delivered to Meals on Wheels programs around the region.

Ken Balcomb / Center for Whale Research

Ferries, freighters and whale-watching boats are part of the tableau that makes the Pacific Northwest postcard pretty and tourist friendly. But all that marine activity creates cacophony underwater.

This month in Victoria and Seattle, separate groups of scientists are sharing their observations that the ocean is getting noisier. And now, conservationists and shippers are also talking about how to dial down the volume.

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