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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John Marshall / U.S. Forest Service

The old saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words." That was the reaction of a U.S. Forest Service researcher when he rediscovered a trove of landscape panoramas called the Osborne Panoramas.

The photos were taken during the Great Depression at hundreds of fire lookouts in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

The Boeing Co.

Managers at Insitu, a military drone maker headquartered in Bingen, Washington say they see great potential for civil and commercial uses for their best-known aircraft.

But realizing that promise requires the federal government to finalize rules for drones in the national airspace.

Amazon.com.

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled plans for aerial drone delivery of packages last year, many observers dismissed the concept as science fiction or pie in the sky.

Not at Amazon though. The Seattle-based company has asked the Federal Aviation Administration for permission to test drones outdoors and is awaiting an answer.

The Boeing Co.

State forestry departments in Washington and Oregon had hoped to try out drones this summer to provide reconnaissance at wildfire scenes. But neither firefighting agency managed to pull it off. Now both plan to try again next year.

Peak3 Inc.

A drone test range in northeastern Oregon launched its first flight Tuesday.

A small quadcopter made two five-minute flights over a fallow wheat field outside Pendleton. Then high winds scrubbed the rest of the day’s planned testing.

Tom Banse

It may be difficult to eat our way out of the invasive species problem, but it can be satisfying to try.

Chefs and adventurous diners converged at Zenith Vineyard in Oregon's Willamette Valley near Salem Sunday as more than 200 people paid handsomely to nibble on course after course of invasive species like nutria, dandelion and carp.

The point of this affair was to highlight the range of edible invasive weeds, birds, fish and mammals around us. These invaders are costly to control. They crowd out native plants and animals and can change entire landscapes.

One slogan heard here: "If you can't beat 'em, eat ‘em."

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

In a manner of speaking, millions of dollars of "drug money" are starting to flow into Washington state coffers.

The state's chief economic forecaster updated budget writers Thursday on how much tax money they can expect from recreational marijuana now that the first state licensed stores have opened.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Washington state’s unemployment rate held steady at 5.6 percent in August — a half-percentage point below the national rate, according to a report released Wednesday by the state’s Employment Security Department.

State labor economist Paul Turek said improving economic conditions bode well for job seekers going into fall.

Jenny Ingram / Flickr

Public health authorities in Washington and Idaho are now investigating at least 79 cases of a serious respiratory illness that affects children.

The widening disease outbreak is suspected — but not confirmed — to be enterovirus D68, a rare strain of the virus.

The Washington Department of Labor and Industries says it can't disclose at this time whose complaint spurred it to open the hockey investigation. The affected teams are the Seattle Thunderbirds, Everett Silvertips, Tri-City Americans and Spokane Chiefs. Their players fall between 16 and 20 years old. Labor and Industries agency spokesman Matthew Erlich says 16 and 17 year olds are covered by child labor laws.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Remotely-monitored video cameras are replacing some human fire lookouts on mountaintops around the Northwest.

A private nonprofit called the Douglas Forest Protective Association was the first in the region to switch to remote camera fire detection. The southwest Oregon-based association deployed its first system in 2007.

King Mountain Tobacco

A federal judge in eastern Washington has ruled a cigarette maker on the Yakama Indian Reservation owes $58 million in unpaid taxes and penalties.

The privately-owned tobacco company has tried, so far unsuccessfully, to assert a treaty right to trade tax free.

The U.S. Treasury Department went after King Mountain Tobacco Company for federal cigarette taxes unpaid since 2009. The cigarette factory is owned by a Yakama tribal member. The company's lawyers and the tribal government insist the reservation-based business is not subject to federal or state taxes.

John Brooks / U.S. Army

The Army Surgeon General Thursday suspended the commander in charge of Army hospitals in 20 western states. 

Brigadier General John Cho led the U.S. Army's Western Regional Medical Command headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma. A brief Army statement said Cho was indefinitely suspended due to an issue with the "command climate" in his organization.

Tom Banse

In an emergency, the last thing you want to hear is, "I can't understand you." The reality is emergency dispatchers in the Northwest generally speak one language, English. But in our increasingly polyglot society, some people in distress inevitably can't communicate in English.

So what happens then?

Andrea Berglin

Three young ospreys and a parent are flying free along the Columbia River today after surviving close calls with litter.

One of these ospreys was rescued by BPA linemen last week as it dangled from its nest in a tangle of plastic baling twine near Kennewick, Washington. The other two were pushed out of a different nest near Burbank, Washington, when their mother thrashed about in a wad of derelict fishing net.

AP Photo/Defenders of Wildlife, Ken Curtis

The wolverine is not going on the threatened species list, after all. On Tuesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced federal protected status for the fierce and rare carnivore is unwarranted at this time.

The wolverine is making a slow comeback from the brink of extinction in the Lower 48 states. But shrinking mountain snow packs caused by global warming could reverse those gains.

Megan Asche

Some scientists are going to great lengths to help the agreeable Western bumblebee make a comeback.

You might not have noticed, but this important pollinator of both flowers and greenhouse crops has nearly disappeared from the landscape. An introduced fungal disease is suspected of decimating populations of the fat and furry Western bumblebee (Bombus occidentalis).

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

It might seem like fire season is as bad as it's ever been. But there's a group of researchers who question that prevailing wisdom.

Michael Dillon / Run For Colin

A 23-year-old Seattle man has smashed the speed record for hiking the full length of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Recent college grad Joe McConaughy crossed into Canada on Sunday — exactly 53 days, six hours and 37 minutes after leaving the Mexican border on the storied trail.

Beth Waterbury / Idaho Fish and Game

Osprey nests are a common sight near rivers, lakes and bays in the Northwest. If you look closely with binoculars, you might notice some of these large raptors like to line their nests with discarded baling twine or fishing line. The problem is it can kill them.

Now wildlife biologists are working with ranchers and at boat ramps to keep the attractive nuisance out of the ospreys' clutches.

Courtney Flatt

Washington State University’s mascot is the cougar, but the university is also home to the nation’s only captive grizzly bear research center. A new study involving those bears yields insights into possible therapies for human obesity and diabetes.

Grizzly bears pile on the fat every autumn. But in their obese state through hibernation, they don’t appear to suffer health consequences like overweight humans do.

A proposed liquefied natural gas terminal near Astoria, Oregon received the U.S. Department of Energy’s blessing Thursday to export to all overseas markets. It's a necessary approval to make the controversial project pencil out, but many hurdles remain.

Anna King

A breakdown in a U.S. State Department computer system that processes foreign worker visas has sowed major worries at some Northwest orchards.

Those farmers are concerned about getting enough pickers for late summer and fall crops.

Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons

A divided county council in Pierce County, Washington Tuesday voted to display the motto "In God We Trust" in its chambers, becoming the first jurisdiction in the Northwest to take part in a national campaign to feature the motto.

But the approval came with a twist.

Horemu / Wikimedia Commons

Research geologists have just finished a field trial to test a less invasive way to complete seismic hazard surveys.

The federal scientists attempted to map an earthquake fault under Seattle simply by listening for underground echoes from all the noise we humans create at the surface.

Deep-Sea Research Journal

It's been more than three years since the Fukushima nuclear plant accident resulted in a spill of millions of gallons of radioactive cooling water into the Pacific. Oceanographers projected that it could take until this year for highly diluted traces of that spill in Japan to reach the West Coast of North America.

Radiation experts don't believe there is cause for alarm on our shores, but some coastal residents are stepping forward to pay for seawater testing just to be sure.

Alaska Airlines

The intensifying competition between Alaska Airlines and rival Delta Air Lines in the Western skies does not seem to be hurting the bottom line of either company.

Seattle-based Alaska Air posted a record second quarter profit Thursday, a day after Delta toasted its own high earnings.

But Alaska executives are still showing concern about a flood of new seats on their home turf.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Gov. Jay Inslee says 1,000 National Guard troops will take a crash course in wildfire fighting so they can be deployed to central Washington fires. A blaze in Okanogan County that the governor calls a “firestorm” has destroyed around 100 homes.

Inslee says the troops are currently in Yakima for annual training.

"We're lucky, because they are on duty and in a place they can be trained. So we are going to bring trainers from the Department of Natural Resources to train them as rapidly as possible to be available — not just now, but for the rest of the summer," he said. 

Bureau of Land Management

The federal Bureau of Land Management plans to capture and remove fewer wild horses from Western rangelands this summer. An agency statement blames budget constraints and already-full holding pens.

Andrew Medichini / AP Photo

Organizers of the next FIFA Women's World Cup hope to leverage the unusually high interest in this year's men's tournament in Brazil to their benefit. Group play and the 2015 World Cup final will take place just across the border in Vancouver, Canada.

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