Stories about the environment focused on the Pacific Northwest, with many from KPLU's Environment reporter, Bellamy Pailthorp.

It’s always pretty special to see an eagle soaring near the water. But summer revelers in Seattle were recently shocked when they saw two of the large birds fighting in mid-air, dive-bombing each other at Seward Park. 

mage courtesy of Sheraton Seattle Hotel Facebook page.

Already known as a leader in sustainable architecture, Seattle is teaming up with Microsoft to take green building to the next level with the help of big-data computing.

Bellamy Pailthorp Photo / KPLU News

They’re the tools of modern-day warfare: unmanned aircraft systems better known as drones.

They’re also being tested to help carry out important scientific missions, including surveys of wildlife and marine debris in the National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of the Olympic Peninsula.

jpellgen / Flickr

Washington state House Democrats removed funds for a fish-consumption study from the final budget. That went against the wishes of one of the state's biggest business interests, Boeing.

The state Department of Ecology currently assumes that people in Washington eat about one meal of fish a month. But the state acknowledges the standard is out of date; many people eat a lot more fish than that.

Tribes and environmental groups have been urging the state to update its standard and require stricter regulation of water pollution. But that has been met with resistance from businesses, including Boeing.

courtesy Carolyn Bowie

Western Washington University is poised to become the largest public university in the country to ban sales of bottled water. The school joins Evergreen State College and Seattle University in making the move.

For many young environmentalists, saying no to bottled water and yes to public taps is an easy choice and a cause they can get passionate about.

Puget Sound Energy

“It’s the change we have been waiting for.” That’s the response from the Sierra Club to President Obama’s speech on climate change. A major part of his action plan is new limits on carbon emissions from power plants.

The local chapter of the club says even though no new policies will take effect for several years, utilities need to start adjusting now.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

Urban farming sounds like a great idea to many people. You can grow your own vegetables and put in a chicken coop, or keep some ducks to make it all come full circle.

But a Seattle woman behind an operation called Ducks and Clucks says many folks are biting off more than they can chew when it comes to the birds. It is she who often comes to their rescue.

Craig Damlo / Flickr

Experts on urban cycling are convening at the University of Washington this week to talking about how to get more people out of cars and onto bikes. And the experts say Seattle is poised to get to the next level.

Seattle is about half way through its ten-year Bicycle Master Plan. An update is under way and expected to be approved by the Seattle City Council this fall.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU News

At a time when Washington state has been making headlines for the largest dam removal project ever on the Elwha River, Snohomish County is proposing a new one.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District says the proposed dam’s modern low-impact design would help the county diversify its energy portfolio and meet the future power demands of a growing population.

But the location of the proposed dam—on a wild and scenic stretch of the Skykomish River near the small town of Index—has many locals banding together against the project. 

'No dam way'

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dealt a big blow to environmental groups fighting proposed coal export terminals in the Northwest.

During testimony before Congress, an official with the agency said the Corps is not planning a broad environmental study on the impact of coal exports, meaning the proposed terminals' effects on climate change won’t be considered during the review process.

courtesy Seattle Public Utilities

Scientists with the city of Seattle are narrowing in on the source of polluted water that flows through the city’s largest watershed. With a new study, they’ve confirmed human fecal bacteria are likely entering Thornton Creek at multiple locations near Northgate and Lake City Way.

Imagine paying less than a dollar per gallon for your commute, compared to today's statewide averages of $3.84 in Oregon and Washington and $3.80 in Idaho for a gallon of gas. Eighty-four cents in Idaho and Washington -- or 96 cents in Oregon -- per gasoline gallon equivalent is how much the US Department of Energy figures it costs to recharge an electric car in each state.

The agency's assistant secretary David Danielson announced an online cost comparison calculator Tuesday for what he calls the "eGallon."

courtesy Andrea Matzke

Federal officials will be in Index this week to hear from the public about a controversial proposal for a new dam on the Skykomish River.

Representatives from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will tour the proposed dam site at Sunset Falls, and take public comments as part of the licensing process.

Workers are back on the job at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation’s waste treatment plant. Work stopped this week when radioactive soil was found under the nests of some swallows.

Swallows used some radioactive mud to make nests on exposed beamwork in Hanford’s waste treatment plant. That’s the $12 billion factory designed to bind-up radioactive sludge in glass logs. The nests were found during routine tests, but this is the first radioactive contamination of the new plant.

Eli Nixon photo / Flickr

A coalition of environmental groups led by the Sierra Club has filed suit against Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway and five energy companies.

The plaintiffs say coal dust flying out of uncovered train cars is polluting Washington rivers and Puget Sound, in violation of the federal Clean Water Act.

Bellamy Pailthorp photo / KPLU News

Scientists examining the health of Puget Sound have uncovered a new mystery involving the very bottom of the food chain.

A new study from the state Department of Ecology shows toxins in sediments have declined over the past decade. But it also found declining health of the creatures that live in the sediment. 

Gerard Van der Leun photo / Flickr via Compfight

The Arctic is getting hotter faster than any part of the globe. Experts predict the region will be free of sea ice during the summer within about 20 years. 

That’s creating a gold-rush mentality among many shipping and energy companies eager to capitalize on new trade routes or tap new sources of oil and gas.


State officials are urging owners of backyard chicken to sign up their flock for bird flu testing.

The state is trying to prevent an outbreak of a new strain of bird flu like the one recently seen in China. At least 36 people have died of the disease since March.

courtesy Burke Museum

Plastics have only been in wide use since the 1940s, yet they are everywhere, from sandwich bags to phones, to keyboards, to rain gear. Even the cans of soup in the grocery aisle are lined with it.

It's hard to imagine a world before these conveniences. What would your life be like without plastics?

Seattle resident Samantha Porter decided to find out. She works behind the scenes of the Burke Museum, which is hosting an exhibit titled "Plastics Unwrapped."

Bellamy Pailthorp Photo / KPLU News

A prototype of a self-sustaining portable classroom has arrived at a parking lot in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

The classroom is meant to set a higher bar for schools by demonstrating they can meet the highest standard of green building design, the Living Building Challenge, fairly quickly. 

The automaker Nissan says sales of its fully-electric Leaf compact surpassed all other Nissan models at dealers in the Seattle and Portland areas this spring. The announcement Wednesday runs counter to the prevailing wisdom that adoption of plug-in cars has been sluggish.

At Nissan USA headquarters, director of electric vehicle marketing and sales Erik Gottfried says he's scrambling to ship enough Leafs to meet demand in the Pacific Northwest. The car maker juiced its plug-in sales by slashing the sticker price and offering low-cost leases. Gottfried says that was made possible by opening a domestic production line in Tennessee.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A songbird called the streaked horned lark has a curious propensity for risky neighborhoods. That's not a good quality for a bird proposed for listing as a threatened species. Its preferred hangouts include airports, Army training fields, and dredge spoil dumping sites along the lower Columbia River. A two-state experiment seeks to find out if these rare larks can be enticed to safer habitats.

Photo courtesy of CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company.

Cleanup of a hazardous chemical in the groundwater at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is going faster than expected.

Hexavalent chromium is the nasty stuff that made Erin Brockovich famous down in California. The chemical was used to inhibit rust in coolant water in Hanford’s reactors. But that water was dumped into the desert, and now the carcinogen is making its way toward the Columbia River in large groundwater plumes.

Bellamy Pailthorp Photo / KPLU News

As the special legislative session gets underway in Olympia, Gov. Jay Inslee says some of the most important parts of his two-year budget proposal are investments in clean energy.

During a fundraiser for the nonprofit group Climate Solutions on Monday, the governor said he is pushing for a state budget that includes funds to start a new research center at the University of Washington.

Bellamy Pailthorp Photo / KPLU News

Seattle has been in the spotlight lately as the home to the world’s greenest new office building, the Bullitt Center. Also under construction is the headquarters of Brooks Sports in Fremont, which promises to be “deep green.”

But what about all the buildings that are already standing?

Philip Maser / Heron Habitat Helpers

The great blue heron is one of Washington’s most iconic birds, as is the bald eagle. Now, it seems eagle attacks on heron nests are driving herons to abandon the largest colony in Seattle. And volunteers are asking local residents to help them figure out where the herons have gone.

For more than a decade, Pam Cahn has monitored the dozens of heron nests at Kiwanis Ravine near Discovery Park in northwest Seattle. The volunteer citizen-scientist has kept track of eggs laid, chicks hatched and fledglings flown, then sent the data to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife for record-keeping.

But Cahn says this season, eagles have wreaked havoc on the approximately 90 heron nests in Kiwanis Ravine.

toddraden Photo / Flickr

Though it’s thousands of miles away, a proposed mine for gold and copper in Alaska’s Bristol Bay threatens to destroy the livelihood of thousands of people in the Puget Sound area. 

Seattle’s fleet of commercial fishermen and seafood processors have been a big part of the opposition to the so-called Pebble Mine.

A new economic report puts the value of Bristol Bay’s salmon at $1.5 billion per year, and says more than a quarter of the jobs it generates are located in Washington state.

Debra Prinzing

Like many other holidays, Mother’s Day has become quite commercialized. Along with a Hallmark card often comes a perfect-looking bouquet of flowers that have traveled thousands of miles to get to your front door.

But for those who long for flowers with a local tie and fewer pesticides, there are other options.

woodleywonderworks / Flickr

A much-loved open house at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver did not take place over the weekend. The center is run by the U.S. Geological Survey, which had to cancel the program due to the federal budget sequestration.

leff / Flickr

Having your groceries delivered might seem like a self-indulgent luxury.

But researchers at the University of Washington have found that, most of the time, you can feel good about doing something for the environment when you order your groceries online and have them delivered instead of making a trip to the store.

“We like to call it 'the bus for groceries,'” said Anne Goodchild, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at UW.