Environment

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

Five years ago, Washington became the first state in the nation to ban a class of toxic flame retardants known as PBDEs.

Now, evidence is mounting that a widely-used alternative is just as toxic.

A new bill before lawmakers in Olympia would ban the flame retardant called Tris from children’s products and household furniture.

Refrigerators, foam buoys and even ketchup bottles are piling up on Alaska's beaches. Almost two years after the devastating Japanese tsunami, its debris and rubbish are fouling the coastlines of many states — especially in Alaska.

At the state's Montague Island beach, the nearly 80 miles of rugged wilderness looks pristine from a helicopter a few thousand feet up. But when you descend, globs of foam come into view.

Courtesy American Forests

Seattle is among the nation’s top ten cities for urban forests. This might sound like a no-brainer, but many cities that take pride in their trees did not make the cut. 

The Washington, DC non-profit American Forests based the list on surveys of urban forestry programs in the nation’s fifty most populous cities.

If Teddy Roosevelt were to go big game hunting today, he might bring home slightly less-impressive trophies. That's because, according to a new analysis, the horns and antlers of North American wildlife have shrunk over the last century.

Janna Nichols photo

The giant Pacific octopus is a relatively healthy and abundant creature among the native wildlife living in Puget Sound.

But it’s such an iconic species that the recent killing of one by a young diver near Seattle’s Alki point has others in the community calling for new protections.

The state is accepting nominations for an advisory group that will consider a range of conservation strategies.

SPOKANE, Wash. - Leaders at Gonzaga University are asking What Would Jesus Do about climate change? The Jesuit school in Spokane, Wash., has adopted a plan for zero greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050.

Over the next four decades, Gonzaga University plans to make a dramatic switch to green energy, some of it generated at new facilities on campus. Meeting the goal will also require major cuts in energy use. Car travel to campus by students and faculty, and Zags basketball trips to away games are all part of the final emissions tally.

A team from Washington Fish and Wildlife is trying to figure out whether the newest rusty visitor to the Northwest coast came from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. The 19-foot-long metal pipe landed at Cape Disappointment near Ilwaco, Wash.

State Parks spokeswoman Sandy Mealing says the metal tourist will reside in a storage area until it can pass a few more tests.

Courtesy Skanska USA

Seattle is leading the way in environmentally-sound building design. Sweden’s international construction firm Skanska has broken ground on a building in Fremont that promises to bring a whole new level of green to the city. 

When you think of the clean energy economy, military barracks and mortar launchers probably aren’t the first things that come to mind.

But local clean energy boosters say the use of solar panels and biodiesel by the Department of Defense could be the key to getting more of these technologies off the ground.

Two years ago, the DOD created a new office, with a goal of reducing energy use by the U.S. military.

US Coast Guard photo / courtesy Washington Dept of Ecology

Two derelict vessels are sinking in a bankrupt marina near Tacoma. Fire fighters have circled them with oil booms to contain any pollutants. 

The incident is the latest in a series of stories that show the link between ecological health and the economy.

The two boats in question were chained together when one of them, the Helena Star, began to sink. The other, the Golden West, was listing badly when coast guard and firefighters got to the scene.

  RICHLAND, Wash. – News out of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation can sometimes sound like just one critical report after another. In fact, last week a federal watchdog agency said Hanford’s massive waste treatment plant is in jeopardy. Several developments lately have intensified the debate over this question: Should a massive federal waste treatment plant move ahead or stop to fix its nagging technical problems?


OLYMPIA, Wash. - When you order that special filet at a restaurant or store, you're often going on trust that the fish actually is what the menu or label says it is. In Washington, two state agencies are asking for tougher penalties to deter seafood fraud.


Investigators for Consumer Reports recently found more than one-fifth of the fish they submitted for DNA identification was mislabeled at the point of sale.


Washington Fish and Wildlife police deputy chief Mike Cenci says the penalties for false labeling need to be stronger.

Benimoto photo / Flickr

If you live in the Evergreen State, chances are, you like trees. Cities around the Pacific Northwest do a lot to protect them. 

But, do they really make us healthier? An economist with the US forest service in Portland is working on that question.

Geoffrey Donovan  loves trees. He’s already shown they make home prices go up, energy use go down and they tend to keep crime rates down as well. So what about public health?

A small engineering firm in Seattle says it has developed a system to capture carbon dioxide going up power plant smokestacks and convert it to methanol. The solvent is also known as wood alcohol and as an Indy race car fuel.

Brett Scott is chief counsel for Emission Resource Group. He says having a viable method to refine CO2 into methanol could make it worthwhile for fossil fuel burners to capture the greenhouse gas.

A federal agency plans a major effort to preemptively rescue about 65 deer upriver from Astoria. The animals live on a floodplain beside the lower Columbia River.

These aren't just any deer. They're an endangered species: the Columbian white-tailed deer. One of this animal's strongholds is a national wildlife refuge near Cathlamet, Washington. But now the Columbia River is on the verge of bursting through a failing dike at the edge of the refuge.

Courtesy of National Park Service

A dock that washed ashore on a remote Washington beach last month is now confirmed as debris from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. This news comes just as the federal government requests bids from salvage companies to get rid of the huge hulk. Correspondent Tom Banse reports.

Bellamy Pailthorp photo / KPLU News

It’s data that’s been collected and analyzed for several years now.

But predictions on how high tides and extreme storm events might combine to cause flooding in Seattle are seeming less and less like science fiction.

The City has unveiled a new map, showing huge areas that are much more likely to end up waterlogged during storms. And it says the estimates are no longer considered extreme. 

Bjørn Giesenbauer photo / Flickr

Imagine a future in which major areas of Seattle’s waterfront are flooded because of rising tides.

Businesses that front on Elliot Bay, including the famous Edgewater Hotel, or parks such as Myrtle Edwards or Golden Gardens, would have to adjust to storm surges more than six feet higher than we’re used to.

According to a new federal report on climate change, that future is just a few decades away. 

State and federal biologists say they are confident they have minimized the invasive species threat posed by a derelict dock that washed ashore last month in Olympic National Park. The concrete and steel dock appears to have drifted across the Pacific Ocean after last year's tsunami in Japan. But the story is not over yet.

djniks photo / Flickr

Washington voters are in the avant-garde when it comes to policies on recreational marijuana and same-sex marriage. And now a grassroots campaign wants us to lead the country on food labeling.

Backers of legislative initiative 522 say they submitted 100,000 more signatures than needed for a measure that would require companies to clearly mark products containing genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

woodleywonderworks photo / Flickr

Locally grown foods are better for the environment; it takes fewer resources and produces fewer greenhouse gases to get them from farm to table.

And a new report indicates that people in western Washington could pretty easily more than double their consumption of local foods.

This year's extreme weather was one for the record books; 2012 is slated to be the hottest summer on record.

The worst drought in 50 years struck the South and Midwest, devastating the U.S. agriculture industry. Deadly floods and superstorms paralyzed the northeast and other parts of the country.

While the public is in shock by extreme weather events that have taken place, environmentalist Bill McKibben and other members of the science community say it is a result of climate change.

courtesy Burke Museum

The  University of Washington’s 113 year-old Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is debuting a new look and feel. Curators there say they want people to think more about everyday objects and how they evoke our place in the world.

“The Life Before You” is the new tag line encouraging visitors to discover and explore the Burke’s collections. First up, as the rebranding rolls out, is a new temporary exhibition called Plastics Unwrapped.

It was three, maybe four o'clock in the morning when he first saw them. Grad student Jeff Bowman was on the deck of a ship; he and a University of Washington biology team were on their way back from the North Pole. It was cold outside, the temperature had just dropped, and as the dawn broke, he could see a few, then more, then even more of these little flowery things, growing on the frozen sea.

Photo by by Sappymoosetree / Flickr

What’s the best way to have a Christmas tree…and not feel like you’re killing it?

The Adopt-a-Stream Foundation in Everett says if you don’t mind something that looks a bit scrappy, you can have your tree and plant it too.

The foundation says it rented out 100 trees over this past weekend…and they have about 100 more available. They’ll be open 9-5 through Friday.

Bellamy Pailthorp photo / KPLU News

It was one of the biggest outpourings of environmental activism that Seattle has seen since the WTO protests more than a decade ago.

At Freeway Park, a giant balloon shaped like an asthma inhaler floated above a sea of red shirts and banners from the Sierra Club. There was also a giant salmon puppet accompanied by schools of ailing herring and a sad-looking polar bear. And a white-haired lady dressed like Santa held a sign that said, "SAVE MY NORTH POLE." 

railsr4me / flickr

Seattle is bracing for a big hearing.

Thousands of people are expected to turn out Thursday for a chance to testify about the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point, north of Bellingham.

Tom Banse

The Northwest may have another species listed as endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Monday proposed listing the Mazama pocket gopher as threatened in the South Puget Sound region of western Washington.

This is the third time this fall the government has moved to protect a critter that depends on dwindling Northwest prairies or coastal grasslands. Correspondent Tom Banse reports from Olympia.

Peterastin / Creative Commons

Though well known for their amorous natures, pet rabbits still aren’t fixed as often as they should be. To help curb the problem, the Seattle Animal Shelter will open its rabbit spay and neuter service to the public in January.

Shelter veterinarian Mary Ellen Zoulas says a common cause of unexpected pregnancy in rabbits has to do with folks mistaking Peter Cottontail for a female.

Vacationers wanting to fly from the Seattle area to destinations such as Hawaii and Phoenix may soon have another option. The Federal Aviation Administration has approved commercial flights out of Paine Field, near Everett. It’s a proposal that’s been in the works for years.

Pages