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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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.

Courtesy of Chelan County Emergency Management

Crews battling wildfires in eastern Washington and southeastern Oregon are dealing with sizzling hot temperatures of a heat wave.

Firefighters are gaining ground this weekend despite the wilting heat. Four of the five largest fires are nearly 100 percent contained.

Photo provided by Weyerhaeuser.

A coastal Northwest county is the first to strike back against pricey recreation permits now being required by some large timber companies. The Grays Harbor County commission voted unanimously Monday to take a tax deferral away from private timberland owners that charge for public access.

Washington State Department of Transportation

Washington and Oregon may follow Idaho’s lead in temporarily suspending advertising for bids for some highway projects.

Idaho’s decision is the result of a standoff in Congress over how to replenish the money in the pot for highway construction.  

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs wants to rewrite the rules that determine how a tribe becomes officially recognized in the eyes of the feds. The proposal raises hopes for status and federal benefits among some unrecognized tribes in the West.

The bid to streamline and simplify the process of tribal recognition encourages leaders of native groups and bands currently frozen out of federal programs. But they have to contend with existing tribes who fear having to share territory, resources or casino customers.

AeroVironment / AP Photo

Imagine looking out your window to see a drone hovering outside. That happened earlier this month to a partially-dressed Seattle women who was startled and outraged.

That incident came up Monday as a Washington state task force convened for the first time to develop privacy rules for drones — something Oregon and Idaho have already done. The task force quickly narrowed its focus to use of drones by government agencies.

Kevin Mooney

In what Northwest city is your car most likely to be stolen? According to a new insurance industry report, the answer is Spokane, Washington.

UpstateNYer / Flickr

In a noteworthy decision issued Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowed the president's power to make recess appointments when the Senate is not in session. 

The unanimous decision held that three appointments President Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board in 2012 were invalid because the Senate was not technically in recess. The ruling stemmed from a labor dispute in Yakima, Washington.

Rick Bowmer / AP Photo

A federal judge in Portland on Tuesday ordered the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to come up with new rules for the government's no-fly list. The court found travelers labeled as potential terrorists had been deprived of their constitutional rights to due process.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The unemployment rate in Washington state is holding steady at 6.1 percent, according to the latest numbers released Wednesday by the state Employment Department.

State labor economist Paul Turek says the pace of job gains slowed down in the month of May, but Washington is still on course to record the strongest year of employment growth since the Great Recession.

Courtesy of Port of Seattle

Can two airlines be partners and rivals at the same time? Seattle-based Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines are long-term contractual allies. But now the relationship is being tested.

Photo provided by Weyerhaeuser.

Timber giant Weyerhaeuser is joining the pay-to-play and pay-to-hunt trend. This week, the largest private forestland owner in Washington and Oregon will begin selling seasonal access permits to hunters, horse riders, hikers and other recreators.

The Washington state-based company is not the first to charge access fees. But the breadth and high prices it will charge are generating more push back than before.

Rick Bowmer / AP Photo

Bellevue, Washington-based Expedia just announced it will start accepting bitcoin for hotel bookings. The online travel site is embracing the volatile, virtual currency on what it calls a "test-and-learn" basis.

Effective as of Wednesday, the digital currency will be a payment option, but only for hotel bookings on the company's U.S. site. 

"The Blob" was the title of a 1958 sci-fi horor movie. It's also the nickname Washington state climatologist Nick Bond has given to a large patch of warmer-than-normal seawater off the Pacific Northwest coast.

This blob is unlikely to become the subject of another movie, but it will influence our summer weather.

The FBI is offering rewards up to $10,000 for information that leads to the arrest of people who have aimed laser pointers at aircraft. Deliberate targeting of aircraft in flight has increased significantly in the last couple of years in the Northwest. 

The $10,000 reward offer is good for the next 90 days. The FBI wants to protect pilots from being temporarily blinded at night by laser pointers aimed playfully or maliciously from the ground. 

NOAA Climate Prediction Center

This summer in the Pacific Northwest will be warmer than average, according to the National Weather Service.

The supercomputers at the Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center have crunched long-term trends to produce an outlook for June, July and August. For most of the Northwest, the forecast gives a strong probability of above-normal temperatures.

Tom Banse

A 70-year-old woman has been criminally charged for allegedly feeding bears at her house on Washington's Long Beach peninsula.

This is believed to be the first time someone has been prosecuted under a relatively new law against feeding large wild carnivores.  

Toby Talbot / AP Photo

This week, the four biggest mobile carriers met a voluntary deadline to be ready to allow consumers to send text messages to 911. But don't try that in an emergency just yet. Dispatchers in the Northwest don't yet have the capability to receive texts for help.

The Federal Communications Commission has been pressing cellular companies and emergency communication centers to accelerate text-to-911 rollout. Recently departed agency chairman Julius Genachowski argued, “Access to 911 must catch up with how consumers communicate in the 21st century."

But even when the technology arrives, voice will still be the best choice, according to Washington state E911 coordinator Ziggy Dahl.

Dam421 / Wikimedia Commons

Washington Fish and Wildlife officials are recommending that an Ilwaco woman face charges for allegedly feeding wild bears.

Wildlife agents have removed seven problematic black bears from the woman’s neighborhood and had to euthanize five of them since last fall.

The 70-year-old retiree could be the first person charged under a new law that bans the feeding of large wild carnivores. The Washington Legislature made that a misdemeanor in 2012.

Steady job gains are chipping away at the unemployment rate in Washington state. New numbers released by the Employment Department Wednesday show the statewide jobless rate dropped to 6.1 percent in April, down from 6.3 percent in March. 

The vast majority of new jobs are being created in the Seattle metro area. In the last reporting month, the jobless rate in 87 percent of Washington counties was higher than the national average.

The Seattle Times, Ellen M. Banner, Pool

Washington State Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark repeated Monday that "it's still too early to tell" if there is a connection between logging and this spring's deadly landslide near Oso, Washington. Even so, a state panel that sets timber harvest rules decided it was worthwhile to take an all-day look at landslide hazards.

Deborah Durnell, 50, was at work when the huge landslide crashed down on the rural enclave where she lived with her husband. He was at home and died. She hopes the tragedy motivates the state to better protect people.

Courtesy of the Washington Governor's Office.

A federal geologist doubts the cause of the deadly landslide near Oso, Washington will ever be fully pinned down.

During testimony in Olympia Monday, USGS scientist Jonathan Godt said heavy rains in February and March certainly contributed to the slide. Geologists have also ruled out an earthquake as a trigger. But Godt says a big missing piece is groundwater flows, for which there's no data.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Cruise season has begun in the Pacific Northwest with the arrival of gleaming cruise ships. They'll be steaming back and forth to Alaska all summer from Vancouver, B.C. and Seattle. At the beginning and end of the cruise season, those large cruise ships also call on smaller Northwest ports such as Astoria, Port Angeles and Nanaimo, B.C.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

A legendary champion of tribal treaty rights and Northwest salmon restoration died Monday. Billy Frank Jr. was 83 years old.

The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission announced Frank's passing. The message did not give a cause of death.

Rae Ellen Bichell

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated the ATM was the first in the U.S. 

Seattle has just become home to the first bitcoin ATM in the U.S. Northwest.

Tom Banse

A family-owned sporting goods company in suburban Seattle is confronting the tension between honoring tradition and embracing innovation in the sport of baseball.

The company is going to market with what it calls a "better" baseball bat.

Don Ryan / AP Photo

Scientists monitoring Mount St. Helens confirmed Wednesday that magma is on the rise and "re-pressurizing" the volcano in southwest Washington.

However, they also stress there are no signs of an imminent eruption.

Courtesy of Friends of MacDonald

It’s not too late to say thank you, even after 180 years. That’s what a Japanese delegation did last week as it retraced the history-making path of three castaways to the Makah Indian Reservation on the Washington coast.

The story starts when a typhoon disabled a coastal trading vessel off central Japan. Three survivors drifted all the way across the Pacific Ocean until their boat wrecked on the Olympic Peninsula coast in early 1834. That made them the first Japanese to set foot in the Pacific Northwest.