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

AP Photo/Grant County Public Utility

Water behind the Wanapum Dam near Vantage is being drawn down 26 feet to relieve pressure on the big crack in the structure. Officials say dozens of engineers are on site, and more around the country are studying the problem.

Robin W. Baird / AP Photo/ Cascadia Research Collective

Active sonar is the Navy’s best weapon to detect the presence of hostile submarines. But that same powerful underwater pulse of sound can harm or even kill whales and other marine mammals.

Now, the Navy is seeking permission to continue using a huge swath of the Northwest coast, from northern California to the Canadian border, for a wide range of naval training and practice, including sonar. The Navy says it’s taking precautions to protect whales, but others say it’s not enough. 

Al Grillo / AP Photo

Washington's U.S. senators are praising a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency for starting a process that could potentially restrict the development of proposed gold-and-copper mine in southwest Alaska.

The EPA on Friday asked Alaska and those behind the proposed Pebble Mine to make their case for the project.

Courtesy of Washington Sea Grant

Garfield High School students will put their smarts to the test to defend their title at the annual Orca Bowl at the University of Washington this weekend.

In a competition that slightly resembles the TV game show “Jeopardy,” 20 teams from around the state will try to answer multiple-choice questions about marine sciences, many of them specifically geared toward this year's theme of ocean acidification. Then finalists from Ocean Science Bowls around the country will meet again in May to vie for the national title. This year, it's taking place for the first time in Seattle.

The environmental group Climate Solutions is urging Gov. Jay Inslee to exercise his executive power to adopt a clean fuels standard. 

The group's leaders spoke to reporters on Thursday in hopes of adding momentum to their efforts to follow in the footsteps of California and British Columbia.

labspic / Flickr

When you walk into an evergreen forest, you get a whiff of that unmistakable smell of pine.

It turns out some of those vapors come from newly-discovered particles that seem to come out of nowhere and cool the forest. 

Researchers at the University of Washington have confirmed the finding, which they say will help scientists more accurately forecast climate change.

Erin Hennessey photo / KPLU News

Seattle is well-known as a city that loves its trees. The city even has a plan to increase its tree canopy to cover 30 percent of its open skies by the year 2037.

But the trees can sometimes get out of hand. Their powerful roots can be downright treacherous when they push through sidewalks.

So, what to do if you see one that has you worried? Or if you stub your toe on a bulging root? 

Bellamy Pailthorp

It might surprise you to learn that you can dump the contents of your toilet into Puget Sound and not get in trouble. That’s essentially what some boaters do when they discharge their sewage into the water instead of pumping it out at a dock or marina.

The state Department of Ecology has proposed a federally-enforced ban on dumping in Puget Sound to stop the practice.

Amy Jankowiak with the state Department of Ecology says the state has been working on evaluating the feasibility and appropriateness of putting a dumping ban in place for two years. The department has now written the proposed law, which is ready for public comment.

Gosia Wozniacka / AP Photo

People on the West Coast have counted on fish hatcheries for more than a century to help rebuild populations of salmon and steelhead and bring them to a level where government would no longer need to regulate fisheries.

But hatcheries have thus far failed to resurrect wild fish runs and artificially bred fish have come to dominate rivers. Critics say their influx harms wild salmon and masks the fact that wild populations are barely hanging on.

Courtesy of John Gussman

The slow-motion demolition of two hydroelectric dams on the Elwha River is radically changing the landscape near Port Angeles, but it’s not a scene you can witness on your own. 

Just a handful of dedicated photographers and filmmakers have been given permission to place their cameras at key posts near the Glines Canyon Dam to capture the changes as crews of skilled technicians carefully notch into the concrete walls and place dynamite in just the right places.

The close proximity of a group of mountains known as The Rattles to the the Tri-Cities in southeast Washington, means urban dwellers can hike a 1,500 foot peak and enjoy dramatic views on their lunch break -- or even after supper.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

State and local regulators say they'll consider a sweeping environmental review of the impacts of a proposed terminal in southwest Washington that would export millions of tons of coal to Asia.

The state Department of Ecology and Cowlitz County said Wednesday its review includes looking at train traffic impacts along the entire route as the coal is moved by train from Montana and Wyoming throughout the state. The review will also study global-warming effects of burning the exported coal in Asia.

U.S. Forest Service

Forest managers in western Washington and northern Idaho will be closing some popular camping areas this year. They say nearby trees are infected with root rot and post a threat to campers. It’s a problem Northwest forests may see more of in the coming years.

The Bumblebee Campground near the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River is typically full of people every weekend from Memorial Day to Labor Day. But Jason Kirchner of the Idaho Panhandle National Forests says inspectors recently discovered all 25 campsites were close to at least one diseased tree at risk of falling.

Nan Sterman photo / Plant Soup, Inc.

  From growing your own food to planting native or drought-resistant plants, sustainability themes abound at this year’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. At least one presenter took that idea to the next level by sharing a lesson she learned while admiring some of the world's most famous gardens. 

Nan Sterman is a garden writer from San Diego who attends the show in Seattle just about every year. This year, she presented a talk titled “From Sustainability to Stewardship” based on a tour of old English gardens she led last summer in the U.K.

Matthew Brown / AP Photo

State lawmakers in Olympia are going down divergent tracks in how to respond to the rapid increase of crude oil trains crossing the region. Timely public disclosure of train cargoes and safety risks is one point of contention.

Four recent derailments and explosions of crude oil trains in other parts of North America have raised alarm in city halls and state capitols in the Northwest. But state and local officials soon discovered their hands are largely tied because the feds have sole jurisdiction in this arena.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

"The best classrooms are the ones without walls," said U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, standing inside a classroom at the University of Washington, her alma mater, on Tuesday.

The former CEO of Seattle-based REI spent two days at home this week, wrapping up her visit with a roundtable discussion about the president's Climate Action Plan and the local impacts of climate change. 

To illustrate the need to reduce carbon pollution, Jewell visited Mount Rainier National Park and toured areas affected by climate change.

Matthew Brown / AP Photo

Faced with increasingly volatile sources of crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week issued an executive order directing his state agencies to review safety regulations and response plans.

Now community activists in Washington are asking Gov. Jay Inslee to do the same for the state’s coast.

Bellamy Pailthorp

A rubber adapter may be the answer to preventing illegal dumping in local waterways, according to a new campaign by Washington Sea Grant.

The pathogens in untreated wastewater can cause everything from minor skin rashes to serious gastrointestinal illnesses like Giardia and norovirus. But it happens, and often by accident. Many boaters know better, but lack proper equipment or information on how to pump out safely. 

Bellamy Pailthorp

New accusations are fueling an ongoing controversy over a proposal to put a small inflatable dam on one of the Northwest’s scenic treasures. Opponents accuse the Snohomish County PUD of clouding the issue with confusing information and a secret meeting.

Tom Banse

The slow uptake of electric cars by Northwest drivers is prompting calls to extend a tax break in Washington state for new vehicles powered by alternative fuels. A sales tax exemption is set to expire next year.

Washington and Oregon have been among the best sales markets in the country for plug-in cars. But still, the number of fully electric and other alternative fuel vehicles on the road remains a tiny fraction of total registrations.

AP Photo


Over the last several years, Hanford Nuclear Reservation managers have mishandled barrels and boxes of hazardous and radioactive waste in the central part of the southeast Washington site.

The state of Washington last Friday slapped the U.S. Department of Energy with a $15,000 fine.

AP Photo

About 300 workers who were told they'd be laid off can now keep their jobs at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. 

Because Congress approved the 2014 federal budget for 2014 last week, layoffs announced last year can be avoided.

Ed Ronco / KPLU

Sen. Maria Cantwell is sending a letter to the White House, asking the president to stop a mining project in Alaska.

About 1,000 Washington residents hold permits to fish for salmon in Alaska’s Bristol Bay. Not far from there, an organization called the Pebble Partnership wants to open a gold and copper mine.

That’s a bad idea, said people gathered outside Seattle’s Fisherman’s Terminal on Thursday.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Scientists have said it's safe to eat fish caught in the Pacific Ocean in the wake of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, but rumors continue to circulate on the Internet. 

To quell these false claims and put consumers at ease, a Seattle fish company has conducted independent tests to prove Pacific salmon is safe for consumption.

As the biodiesel industry convenes for a national conference in San Diego today, one of the topics of discussions will be the loosening of the renewable fuel standard.

Among the participants will be Seattle-based General Biodiesel, a company that turns used cooking oil into vehicle-grade fuel. The company 's CEO is upset over backpedaling by the federal government on incentives for more use of alternatives.

AP Photo/NOAA Fisheries Service, Candice Emmons

A conservation group is asking federal officials to protect endangered killer whales in the marine waters off the West Coast.

The Center for Biological Diversity on Thursday petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate critical habitat for orcas along the coast of Washington, Oregon and California.

Matthew Brown / AP Photo

Last year’s fires aboard oil-carrying trains in Quebec and North Dakota have spurred environmentalists into action here in Washington state.

Figuring out how to keep Washington families safe from oil spills is one of two top-line issues backed by more than 20 groups in the Environmental Priorities Coalition this legislative session.

Randy Wilder / Monterey Bay Aquarium

It's not something we often think about, but as we go about daily life, we're constantly shedding little flakes of skin. So are animals and fish. This fact now makes it possible to estimate which species are most plentiful in a lake or bay.

University of Washington professor Ryan Kelly is jazzed.

"This is about the coolest project I have been involved in,” Kelly said.

courtesy PNNL

When you turn on your tap or shower in the morning or run your washing machine at night, you probably aren’t thinking much about how many other people in the area are doing the same thing.

But when it’s cold outside, use of electric heaters for hot water often pushes peak loads to the brink for local utilities.

That’s where so-called smart-grid technology could come in and save the day. The idea, which increases energy efficiency and saves everyone money, is being put to the test on Fox Island, near Tacoma.

David Goldman / AP Photo

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved an unusual way for prospective immigrants to earn a U.S. green card and permanent residency. They can loan money to independent Northwest truckers who want to upgrade to less-polluting rigs.

The idea was the brainchild of Bellingham immigration attorney David Andersson and a cross-border association of state Legislatures and parliaments called the Pacific Northwest Economic Region.