EarthFix

News Fixed on the Environment.

EarthFix is a public media partnership of KLCC, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Idaho Public Television, KCTS9 Seattle, KUOW Puget Sound Public Radio, Northwest Public Radio and Television, Jefferson Public Radio, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

After nearly a week of fighting dozens of lightning-caused fires, agencies in several levels of government announced plans to better coordinate the firefighting.

The Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest announced "a multi-agency coordination group that will provide a mechanism for prioritizing incidents, sharing resources and putting fires out more efficiently."

For years, some farmers in central and eastern Oregon have been battling an unexpected new pest: a genetically modified strain of the soft, lush grass you’d commonly see on a golf course.

In 2003, a botched experiment by agribusiness giants Scotts Miracle-Gro and Monsanto unleashed a mutant strain of creeping bent grass across the state. It's a fight that raises questions about the regulation of GMOs and of who is on the hook when something goes awry.

UPDATE (6:30 a.m., Monday, July 23) — Fire officials say crews have made significant progress fighting the Substation Fire burning near The Dalles, Oregon, which was 92 percent contained, burning just under 80,000 acres as of Sunday evening. All evacuation levels have been reduced to a Level 1 (be ready).

Jean Bradbury lives in northeast Seattle. She’s an artist, and she loves swallowtail butterflies.

“These guys are big—like we think of a monarch, maybe—big like the palm of your hand,” Bradbury says. “They’re pale bright yellow. Very, very beautiful.”

She says she hasn't seen many swallowtail butterflies in Seattle before, but this summer she sees them every day.

She posted about it on Facebook. And, she says, her friends said, “Yes! It's a thing! There seem to have been more this year.” Bradbury asked KUOW to investigate.

UPDATE (July 20, 7:15 a.m. PT) — The Substation Fire burning east of The Dalles, Oregon, is now the nation's top priority fire. That means it's first in line for national fire resources as needed and available.

"This adds more people and tools to the 217 firefighters who are currently out here, and that's representing 73 fire agencies across our state," said Stefan Myers with the Oregon State Fire Marshal's Office.

UPDATE (July 19, 8:41 a.m. PT) — One person died as a result of the Substation Fire east of The Dalles, Oregon, and county officials have called in state help in determining whether someone intentionally set the blaze.

UPDATED COVERAGE: Man died trying to protect neighboring land from Substation Fire.

For almost 80 years, the Charles E. Nelson House stood abandoned and alone, tucked into a hollow on the high plains of Oregon. A clapboard farmhouse, sun-bleached, empty, leaning against the wind. It was widely considered the most photographed abandoned farmstead in Oregon.

Now, it's gone.

The iconic house near The Dalles burned to the ground in the Substation Fire, which had burned more than 36,000 acres and left one person dead as of this story's publishing on Wednesday.

The Oregon Health Authority says there are higher-than-normal levels of fecal bacteria in the water at Nye Beach in Lincoln County and Sunset Bay State Park Beach in Coos County.

The bacteria can cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, skin rashes and upper respiratory infections — especially among children and older people.

Increased pathogens and fecal levels come from shore and inland sources like sewer overflows, failing septic systems and animal waste.

UPDATE (July 18, 12:44 p.m.) — A fast-growing wildfire east of The Dalles, Oregon, that forced evacuations Tuesday night and Wednesday morning is expected to make a push to the south and east due to dangerous fire conditions in the area, fire officials said. 

UPDATED COVERAGE:  Substation Fire may have been human-caused, officials say.

Plans for a wooden high-rise in downtown Portland are no more.

Developers behind a 12-story building project known as Framework say the project has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. They cited inflation, escalating construction costs and market changes.

For the first time in 40 years, there are Oregon silverspot butterflies on Saddle Mountain.

With containers full of caterpillars loaded painstakingly into backpacks, a team of biologists, zookeepers and park rangers winds its way up an increasingly steep trail. They're headed for the few, isolated meadows capable of supporting the endangered butterfly.

Klamathon Fire Nears End As Lightning Starts New Fires

Jul 15, 2018

Summer lightning returned to the skies over Southern Oregon and Northern California on Sunday, just as Klamathon Fire managers were preparing to declare that fire 100 percent contained.

Cal Fire reported new fires, likely from lightning down strikes, in Siskiyou County. The Steamboat Fire in the Shasta Valley Wildlife Area near Montague quickly spread to dozens of acres. Officials closed the wildlife area to the public.

"Deliberate use of fire, as well as control of wildfires, must be an integral part of the planning process.” — Thomas C. Nelson, Deputy Forest Service Chief, in 1979.

The U.S. government spent a record $2.9 billion fighting wildfires last year. This year is shaping up to be another costly fire season. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Federal lawmakers are making a move to change the Endangered Species Act.  On Thursday, members of the U.S. House announced legislation they say will “modernize” one of the country’s seminal environmental laws, originally passed in 1973.

Members of the House Western Caucus say the nine pieces of legislation are designed to streamline the administration of the Endangered Species Act, provide more local control and protect property rights.

By Eric Keto/KCTS 9

What does your future commute look like? Will you be taking a self-driving car, a solo-wheel, the hyperloop?

What about a self-driving bike?

In this episode of "ReInventors," we look at how Professor Tyler Folsom and his students at University of Washington Bothell are spearheading a grassroots effort to test and develop lighter, more affordable, personal rapid transit: self-driving bikes.

Oregon regulators have fined a Washington County company for violating asbestos rules more than 100 times.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality fined the company, Oregon Environmental LLC of Cornelius, more than $436,804. It also revoked the company’s license to handle asbestos.

Crews Turn The Corner On The Klamathon Fire

Jul 11, 2018

Five days after the Klamathon fire raced across the dry grasslands along the Oregon-California border, crews have fought the fire to a standstill. Even after days of gusty winds, containment lines have held and the fire has not increased in size since Monday.

“Any time our lines hold after strong winds like that, that next day is always a good day,” CalFire Team 4 Chief of Operations Mark Brown said at a briefing in Yreka Tuesday evening. “Today we had a good day.”

Fire managers have expressed cautious optimism that they will be able to continue making progress against the Klamathon fire in the coming days.

So far, the fire has burned 36,500 acres in northern California and southern Oregon and is 40 percent contained. 34 homes and 43 other structures have been destroyed, and more than 3,100 people have been evacuated or sheltered.

You know that expression, "Leave no stone unturned?"

That’s how Washington State University neuroscientist Allison Coffin goes about catching midshipman fish — at least during mating season.

Standing on the rocky, oyster-covered shoreline of Hood Canal, she rolled over a beach-ball sized rock to reveal a small pool of water just barely covering two fish.

“Oh yeah! Another female,” she said. “And then there’s the male right there.”

Because it’s low tide, some of the fish she and her research partner Joe Sisneros uncovered aren’t in any water at all.

Backers of an initiative to fund clean energy projects in Portland with a new business tax say they have gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot in November.

The Portland Clean Energy Fund would pay for programs like home weatherization, energy efficiency upgrades and job training in the renewable energy and energy efficiency fields. Many of the programs would be earmarked for low-income Portlanders and communities of color.

A new report finds significant air quality problems at a middle school building slated to open this fall in North Portland.

Oregon has adopted new rules to protect farmworkers from pesticides. 

The new regulations establish zones around pesticide applications that workers cannot enter. It also allows workers the choice to take shelter in housing or other structures instead of moving away.

For additional EarthFix coverage, click here.

Recreation in an untamed part of Southern Oregon generated far more economic benefit than grazing and logging put together. Yet it's difficult to say how changing the boundaries of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument might alter that mix.

Walla Walla County might just be the only place on Earth where you have to brake for bees.

“You can see the signs here,” says Mike Ingham, as he drives by a 20-mile-per-hour speed limit sign with a smaller sign below stating “Alkali Bee Area.” “There’s actually a county ordinance to slow the cars down who go by here, because a speeding car can kill a lot of alkali bees.”

The U.S. House approved a bill Tuesday that makes it easier to kill a limited number of sea lions that threaten imperiled salmon and steelhead populations.

The legislation was co-sponsored by Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.

“What we currently have on the Columbia River is an ecosystem seriously out of balance,” said Herrera Beutler, who believes the bill is necessary to save fish runs on the brink of extinction.

A new report examines a variety of ways the Portland metropolitan area can reduce toxic air pollution.

Federal officials anticipate a big wildfire season in the Northwest throughout July, August and possibly into September.

The latest forecasts show droughts throughout much of Oregon and Southeast Washington and the potential conditions for large fires if the region sees a week or longer stretch of hot and dry weather, according to the latest drought and climate outlook.

“If everything lines up with the dry condition and lightning, we could see an above-normal fire season across Oregon,” said Ed Delgado of the National Interagency Fire Center.

Pikas are little rabbit-like mammals that could fit in the palm of your hand. They’re often seen scurrying around rocky alpine slopes with their mouths full of wildflowers.

Pikas like it cold, so, as the climate has warmed, they’ve disappeared from lower elevations where they used to live.

For years, scientists thought pikas were adapting to climate change by moving uphill. But new research indicates the news is even worse than that.

Salem's Water Advisory 'Unlikely' To Be Lifted Monday

Jun 22, 2018

A drinking water advisory for the city of Salem doesn’t look like it’s going away just yet.

After extending the advisory over potentially harmful cyanotoxins for two weeks on June 11, city officials now say it’s unlikely the warning will be lifted June 25.

“I’m not going to rule anything out, but it does seem unlikely,” said Heather Dimke, a management analyst for Salem’s public works department.

This is a guest post by Claire Schoen, a producer, documentary filmmaker and the creator of the Stepping Up podcast.

Richmond, California, is a working class town that grew up in the shadow of a Chevron refinery. The company ran both the economy – and the local government – for more than a century.

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