Environment

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

King County has released an app that puts flood warning information at residents' fingertips. The smartphone- and tablet-friendly app displays real-time flooding information on major rivers in the county.

Vaughn Walton / Oregon State University

A malodorous invasive bug has gone from a worry to a certifiable nuisance for some Northwest farmers and gardeners. The name of this insect is a mouthful: the brown marmorated stink bug.

Researchers say the population really seems to have taken off this year. With the approach of winter, these stink bugs are leaving the fields and may just crawl into your home.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is among the political leaders who will be part of President Barack Obama's task force on climate issues.

The White House said Friday that Obama was establishing the panel to advice the administration on how the federal government can support local communities impacted by climate change. Inslee is one of eight governors named to the panel. The task force also includes local and tribal leaders.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU News

With its rocky beaches and abundant sea life, Puget Sound is at the heart of western Washington’s identity. Yet we are falling behind on the work needed to restore its health, following years of pollution from industry and a growing population.

The Puget Sound Partnership has released its latest progress report. And though there is some improvement, the challenges are still numerous. 

City of Seattle

With the number of bike commuters up 78 percent since 2005, bike lanes in Seattle are packed. 

But not everyone feels safe riding in close proximity to cars, having to worry about distracted drivers or collisions with car doors.

So Seattle planners are in the midst of an experiment—one they hope will make anybody feel comfortable hopping on a bike to get around the city. Seattle is building what are called "cycle tracks" as a way of making riding on the street more attractive to the novice or reluctant rider.

WSDOT

November, which marks the start of flood season in the Northwest, is just around the corner. And the National Weather Service says there is high potential for rivers to burst their banks from now through February.

This winter will bring what is known as a “neutral” weather pattern; we won't see the milder El Niño nor the wetter, windier La Niña this winter. But that hardly means we get a break.

A neutral winter can mean trouble for those who live or work near flood plains in western Washington as it brings the highest number of so-called “Pineapple Express” events during which an atmospheric river forms off the coast. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Whale spotters say dozens of killer whales are still in Puget Sound where they have been seen by ferry passengers as well as people on shore.

Anna King

A dried-out 3-mile-stretch of creek in central Washington will soon swell again with water. It’s part of a project near Ellensburg to pipe irrigation water from the Yakima River to keep water in the creek for salmon and steelhead.

Michael Schweppe / Flickr

Count the rings on a tree trunk to figure out its age.

Or, if you’re University of Washington climatologist Jim Johnstone, study the molecules of a redwood trunk and crack the code for natural weather data that could date back more than a thousand years.

Greenpeace

The original Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, sailed the seas protecting seals and whales from hunters. The organization’s newest Rainbow Warrior has been docked along Seattle’s waterfront for the past few days as part of a West Coast tour.

The 2-year-old vessel is the third Rainbow Warrior. But it’s the first one Greenpeace had custom-made from stem to stern.

Gerry Hadden

Should consumers have the right to know what’s in the food they eat?

That’s the question at the heart of Initiative 522, which would require labeling of genetically-engineered foods and seed sold in Washington. 

Most people want the choice, but whether the initiative would actually give shoppers useful information is up for debate. One place to look for answers is the European Union, where the world’s first GE labeling requirements took effect nearly two decades ago.                 

Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

An unprecedented amount of outside money has been pouring into local elections in Whatcom County to fund both sides of the fight stemming from the proposed coal export terminal at Cherry Point.

Four of the county council's seven seats are up for grabs. And two political action groups have formed to try and tip the balance in the Gateway Pacific project north of Bellingham. 

AP Photo/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A federal agency is taking the eastern population of Steller sea lion off the threatened species list.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokeswoman Julie Speegle says the eastern population has met recovery criteria the agency set out in 2008.

Anna King

When a Columbia River steelhead completes its epic journey from ocean to spawning grounds, it’s usually too exhausted to go downriver again. Often, the fish just dies. But the Yakama Nation is changing that circle of life.

Tribal biologists have created a rehabilitation center that helps steelhead recover so they can spawn again in the future. And the Yakama fish spa is seeing more success.

philsnyder / Flickr via compfight

Proposals to streamline permitting for development in and around state waters have some environmental groups worried. The groups are concerned the changes could weaken crucial protections for fish and their habitat. 

The law in question is the state’s Hydraulic Code, which dictates how permits are issued for any project that touches a waterway—things like docks, culverts, and bulkheads. The law’s main aim is to protect fish and their habitat.

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday laid out how he'd like the state to combat global warming pollution, including eliminating any electricity generated by coal and putting a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Legislative Republicans immediately raised concerns.

Back in 2008, the Washington Legislature set ambitious goals for reducing the state's carbon footprint. But they're just goals without enforcement mechanisms. Subsequently, a pact between 11 western states and provinces to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions fell apart. 

How much fish is safe to eat? That’s the key question in a federal lawsuit filed today

The plaintiffs are trying to force stricter limits on pollution in local waters. A coalition of groups including clean water advocates, tribes, and the commercial fishing industry have filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

Wild mushrooms are going gangbusters this year in the Pacific Northwest, thanks to just the right weather conditions, and foragers are rejoicing after last year’s shortage

Among them is James Nowak, an amateur mycologist who spends most of his days working with mushrooms. When he’s not out in a forest hunting for mushrooms, he grows them in his lab in Seattle or processes them for sale to restaurants and home cooks.

Olympia has become the tenth city in Washington to ban disposable plastic bags from retail stores.

A unanimous vote from the Olympia City Council means starting in July, shoppers will have to bring their own reusable totes or pay 5 cents for a paper bag. Olympia joins nearby Tumwater and unincorporated Thurston County in enacting the ban.

Katrina Rosen, field director with Environment Washington, says the news is evidence of the growing movement spreading in the south Sound.

Kayla Bordelon

Bad weather is posing a hurdle for dozens of long-distance hikers determined to finish the Pacific Crest Trail. 

Rescuers are searching for two hikers stranded in snow in Skamania County. A Coast Guard helicopter rescued two other hikers stranded on the trail on Tuesday night. And many more hikers are trying to decide whether to continue on, or give up.

IMLS DCC / Puget Sound Maritimne Historical Society

A historic tugboat has sunk off Bainbridge Island, spilling fuel into the waters of Eagle Harbor. The tug Chickamauga is 99 years old, and it’s thought to be the first diesel-powered tugboat on the West Coast, according to the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society.

Bainbridge Firefighters got a call that it was sinking at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, and quickly deployed booms and other containment equipment.

Hugh E. Gentry / AP Photo

A judge is requiring federal regulators to reassess permits that allow the Navy's expanded use of sonar in training exercises off the West Coast.

 

An alliance of aboriginal groups in British Columbia has told federal officials that if Ottawa wants to get tribal cooperation on energy development, they'll have to kill a controversial oil pipeline proposal.

Hugh Shipman, Washington Department of Ecology

A recently-formed environmental watchdog group is appealing nearly a dozen permits issued for development along the Puget Sound shoreline. Sound Action says too many permits are being issued without the restrictions the law requires to protect important fish species.

WSK_2005 / Flickr

Some fish in the Columbia River aren’t safe to eat, according to advisories issued Monday by health officials in Washington and Oregon.

The warnings do not apply to ocean-going fish like salmon and steelhead.

Steve Liptay Photo

This Saturday, environmental activist and author Bill McKibben will lead a rally against fossil fuel exports and the Keystone XL pipeline in Seattle. 

Known as one of the first voices to warn of the dangers of global warming, McKibben is on tour with his new book, Oil and Honey. He is also the founder of an international organization called 350.org, which he created to fight climate change. 

McKibben says 350 is "the most important number in the world, but nobody knew it until 2008, when Jim Hansen and his team at NASA published a paper saying we now know enough about carbon to know how much in the atmosphere is too much." 

Bellamy Pailthorp photo / KPLU News

Ocean health is at stake as Congress decides whether to confirm the next head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The nominee faced tough questions from Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, about funding for research of and adaptation to ocean acidification.

Bellamy Pailthorp photo / KPLU News

Two times this summer, rabid bats have been found in Seattle’s Madison Park neighborhood. Health officials say it was an unusual coincidence, not a sign of an outbreak. But it doesn’t help the reputation of a creature that’s facing an epidemic. White-nose syndrome has been spreading westward from New York. 

Andrea Matzke at Wild Washington Rivers

The road map for balancing environmental needs with the need to generate power from the Northwest's hydroelectric dams is being revised. And the move has some people worried it could open the door to destructive dam projects on Washington rivers.

Erin Hennessey photo / KPLU News

Scoping hearings begin tomorrow on a proposed coal export terminal in Longview, near the Columbia River.  It’s one of two Washington terminals that would ship coal from the Powder River Basin in Montana and Wyoming to Asia.

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