Environment

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

Anna King

Fisheries experts say the return of chinook salmon to the Columbia River may not quite break records this fall as expected.

Last year’s run of nearly 1.3 million salmon was a record, but future years may not bring those kinds of numbers.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

Editor's Note: Fifteen years ago, Puget Sound salmon were listed under the Endangered Species Act. Despite the billions of dollars spent on recovery since, the results remain mixed. Some runs are seeing record returns while others are facing one of their worst years ever.

To learn more about the challenges of salmon recovery, this series follows one Chinook run from the open ocean to Puget Sound, through the Ballard Locks, past Renton and finally home to native spawning grounds on the Cedar River.

Bjørn Giesenbauer photo / Flickr

Many of the region’s top researchers have gathered this week for the Pacific Northwest Climate Science Conference at the University of Washington.

Gov. Jay Inslee gave the keynote address and called on scientists to get more engaged in public policy.

Gilpatrick/Lynn/NOAA

California blue whales have rebounded after decades of commercial whaling.

New research from the University of Washington suggests their numbers are back to where they were before humans started hunting the species. 

AP Photo/Olympic National Park Service

Olympic National Park says a house-mover is putting all the animals and equipment in place to pull a historic lodge away from the eroding edge of a river in the Enchanted Valley.

AP Photo

Oregon regulators’ rejection of a proposed coal export terminal on the Columbia River is just the latest hurdle for the energy company behind it, according to anti-coal activists.

The activists are asking Washington officials to consider Ambre Energy’s finances before allowing a terminal it’s involved in at Longview, Washington. 

Laura Rauch / AP Photo

Despite widespread concern about global warming, rising air temperatures have actually slowed down dramatically over the past 15 years. This so-called “hiatus” has posed a big puzzle for climate scientists.

Researchers at the University of Washington looked deep into the oceans for answers, and found that despite the surficial evidence, climate change has not stopped. 

The Environmental Protection Agency has given the state of Idaho notice that a corner of the Idaho panhandle isn't meeting stricter new air quality standards. The agency intends to change that by forcing the state to reduce what are called “fine particulates” in the air.

One likely target will be pollution from wood burning. Wood stoves and outdoor burning are major contributors to air pollution throughout the Northwest, including Idaho's Silver Valley.

beataT1i / Flickr

As the city of Seattle prepares to put in place its new voter-approved park district, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says citizens can expect both better facilities and more accountability. 

Oregon state regulators have rejected a proposal for a coal terminal on the Columbia River that would be a conduit for exporting millions of tons of American coal a year to Asia.

The decision is a victory for tribal groups that said the terminal threatened their fishing. It's also a win for Washington state, said Kimberly Larsen with the group Climate Solutions.

National Park Service

With crews working to remove the last of the second dam on the Elwha River, Olympia National Park officials are inviting the public to take a guided tour of land that sat underwater just two years ago.

Lake Aldwell disappeared after the removal of the Elwha Dam, revealing “a fascinating, up-close look at shifting sediments, both old and new vegetation, giant stumps logged a century ago, and the river re-establishing itself,” according to the National Park Service.

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.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU News

She’s been called President Obama’s “green quarterback.” Gina McCarthy is the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, and she's known for tackling sources of climate change. And now she’s shining a light on efforts to clean up Puget Sound.

McCarthy met with government officials and community groups in Tacoma on Wednesday and toured Commencement Bay by boat to learn more about what still needs to be done. 

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.

Courtesy of James Leder / / Idle No More Washington

Flanked by Puget Sound on one side and railroad tracks on the other, dozens of people gathered at Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park on Monday to bring attention to protecting the Salish Sea — the waters of Puget Sound, Georgia Strait and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. 

The coalition of environmental groups and Native Americans voiced their opposition to the increased traffic in coal- and oil trains, as well as the proposed coal terminals that would be built in Longview and on the Great Lummi Nation’s sacred burial ground.

Bellamy Pailthorp

Federal scientists and their supporters are seeking increased funding to monitor ocean acidification in an effort to gather additional environmental intelligence.

U.S Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and fellow Democrat Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska toured a lab in Seattle Monday to see the latest technology and highlight their hopes of making ocean acidification monitoring a national priority. 

Tim Durkan

Did you catch the supermoon over the weekend? Lucky for us, several Seattle-area photographers did. 

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

A poster child for Washington state’s problem with abandoned boats is at a shipyard in Seattle. The notorious Helena Star is being scrapped by Stabbert Maritime in Ballard.

The decrepit vessel once made headlines as a drug-smuggling ship; in 1978, the U.S. Coast Guard seized the ship off the coast of Washington with $75 million worth of marijuana on board. Now it’s an object lesson on how and why the process of cleanup and recovery of abandoned boats is so complex and expensive.

Don Ryan / AP Photo

The U.S. and Canada are looking at renegotiating the Columbia River treaty, which has been in effect since 1964.

The treaty put into place a mechanism for the two countries to reduce flooding and increase electrical power generation. But it did not address the status of salmon and steelhead that have been decimated by the dams on the giant waterway. 

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.

Cariboo Regional District Emergency Operations Centre

A dam break at a central British Columbia mine could threaten salmon fisheries in the Pacific Northwest.

Mount Polley is an open-pit copper and gold mine roughly 400 miles north of Seattle. A dam holding back water and silt leftover from the mining process broke Monday, releasing enough material to fill more than 2,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

NOAA Fisheries West Coast

Tiny forage fish don’t have the iconic status of Northwest species such as salmon or orcas, but the marine creatures at the bottom of the food chain play a critical role. So scientists are excited to see signs they’re spawning in new habitat created by the Elwha dam removals. 

Paul Chiasson / AP Photo/The Canadian Press

Local and federal responders plan to rehearse how they’d handle the fiery crash of an oil train in Seattle – a hypothetical disaster that will play out around a table in King County.  

King County’s Emergency Management Department is coordinating with about a dozen different agencies in what they call a “tabletop exercise.” Staff will present the scenario, and responders around the table or on the phone then go through the motions of what happens next.

“Let’s say [it's] just a day like today, a nice wonderful day in Seattle. Oil train derails, oil spills, ignites, there's a large fireball in the sky,” said department director Walt Hubbard. “Who would you coordinate with? How would you communicate?”

Courtesy Cliff Mass

The Pacific Northwest stands out as just about the only part of the country that will be largely spared from the ill effects associated with global warming, according to KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass, who mapped out all the calamities expected to result from climate change over the next century.

Rick McGuire / Courtesy Washington Wild

A bill that would expand the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area east of Seattle is one step closer to becoming law. For the first time in nearly four years, the proposal has moved forward in the U.S. House.  

Courtesy of King County Wastewater Division.

Gov. Jay Inslee took a walk through King County’s wastewater facility in Discovery Park on Tuesday as part of his tour of sites affected by climate change. 

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.

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