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

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.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air announced strong earnings for the first quarter of the year on Friday.

The airline group's CEO said he expects good results for the rest of 2014 as well, notwithstanding growing competition from Delta Air Lines on Alaska's home turf. Delta is dramatically ramping up its Seattle operations to build a new hub city oriented toward the Pacific Rim. 

Rick Bowmer / AP Photo

Hydropower dams built without fish ladders have blocked migratory fish from the upper reaches of the Columbia and Snake Rivers for decades. Tribal leaders from across the region gathered this week in Portland to strategize how to return salmon to their full historic range.

AP Photo

Washington state environmental regulators are expecting a lively crowd in the coastal city of Hoquiam on Thursday when the public will get a chance to weigh in about increased crude oil train traffic. But one powerful state senator says the controversial oil trains are needed.

Developers are proposing side-by-side marine terminal expansions on Grays Harbor along the Washington coast. They would receive crude oil by rail from the Northern Plains and send it out by barge and tanker to West Coast refineries.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

 

State wildlife officers trapped and killed six salmon-chomping sea lions at Bonneville Dam earlier this week.

It's part of a renewed campaign against nuisance predators who follow the spring salmon run.

Tom Banse / Flags fly at half mast in front of Washington state Capitol.

Flags will fly at half-mast across Washington state until next Tuesday to honor the victims of last month's deadly landslide. Earlier Tuesday, the Snohomish County medical examiner raised the death toll by one to 37. Seven others remain missing.

InciWeb

 

Wildfire season officially starts on April 15 in Washington state. Oregon and Idaho have rolling starts to fire precaution rules, depending on local conditions.

Fire managers are looking ahead to a fairly "normal" wildfire season in Idaho and Washington this year. Drought-ridden central and southern Oregon though are classified at higher risk.

Tom Banse

Thanks to late-season snow that fell in many areas, some Cascade ski areas will welcome skiers and snowboarders well past Easter.

There will be end-of-season parties at at least nine Northwest ski resorts this weekend. Timing means everything for the bottom line of these resort companies. But a strong finish doesn't necessarily make up for a late start like we saw this season.

NWRFC

Irrigators, hydropower dam operators and tugboat captains are sitting pretty across most of the Northwest, according to the latest regional water supply forecast presented Thursday.

Andrew Russell / Flickr

A federal fisheries management panel approved what some charter captains are calling the best ocean fishing season in 20 years.

Meeting at a hotel in Vancouver, Washington, the Pacific Fishery Management Council on Wednesday adopted the 2014 season quotas unanimously after days of lengthy negotiations between commercial troll and recreational fishing representatives, treaty tribes and government regulators.

The quotas are a big turnaround from the recent past when ocean salmon fishing was sharply curtailed or not allowed at all.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Gov. Jay Inslee says he's pleased with the federal disaster relief flowing to the state for last month's deadly landslide in Snohomish County. But during an interview with public radio Wednesday, Inslee said the arrival of the Federal Emergency Management Agency aid does not replace private charity.

Tom Banse

Here's a surprising fact: the largest bitcoin mine in North America is located on the outskirts of Wenatchee, Washington.

It's not a mine in the traditional sense. In these mines, you won't have helmets, lamps or pickaxes, and there's no danger of cave in. In this case, the mine consists of two warehouses that have been converted into a data center.

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