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.

The U.S. Senate Tuesday passed a sweeping public lands bill, with measures meant to protect lands across the country. It’s expected to have a big impact on Washington’s lands, rivers and more.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, co-sponsored the bill. She said the bipartisan legislation would be a boon for people who use public lands and waterways in Washington, especially because these natural resources need more protection in the face of a changing climate.

A proposal that would sharply reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions is one of the more hotly contested pieces of policy making its way through the Capitol, with environmental advocates calling for stricter rules and businesses predicting doom.

Now, that debate is set to hit the road.

A national public lands bill approved by the U.S. Senate on Tuesday includes wilderness protections for the Devil’s Staircase in southwestern Oregon, a 30,000-acre area that includes some of the largest old-growth forest stands in the Coast Range.

The measure also includes a number of wild and scenic river designations, including portions of the Molalla River east of Salem and about 120 miles of Rogue River tributaries in southern Oregon.

Winter storms in the Pacific Northwest over the past week have helped boost mountain snow levels. Ski areas across the Cascades report they have received between 9 and 20 inches of new snow since Friday.

Mt. Ashland Ski Area in southwest Oregon has seen 20 inches over the past week. General manager Hiram Towle says they filled the parking lot on Sunday, as 2,300 people traveled to the mountain to take advantage of the new snow.

It hasn’t just been the most recent storms that have attracted business, the season started strong as well.   

Naturalist Andrew Emlen paddled a few strokes in his 17-foot kayak, grabbed the binoculars hanging from his neck and looked at a line of fishermen in the distance.

Then he looked behind him at a barge moving up the shipping channel.

“Yeah, we may need to stay on this side for a little bit, huh?” he said to his kayak companions, Kyleen Austin and Chris Hathaway. “Because the worst offense a kayaker can make is run into a hog line of fishermen.”

A new economic report finds Oregon’s proposed cap-and-trade plan would create thousands of jobs and boost household income while creating only modest increases in energy prices.

Moreover, the report concludes, the more aggressive interim cap on greenhouse gas emissions proposed for 2035 would create even more economic benefits than a more gradual decline in emissions from 2021 and 2050.

Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington woke to icy but mostly clear conditions Sunday morning — but more winter weather is moving in, fast.

The region is in store for a quiet but cold start to the day Sunday, according to Jeremiah Pyle, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Portland.

But that all starts to change Sunday afternoon, when the first of two new winter storms moves into the region, bringing mostly rain to the lowlands but significant snowfall in higher elevations. A second, bigger storm moves into the area Tuesday.

Washington regulators want water at dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers to meet state standards. They say that would make it safer for imperiled salmon, especially during hot summers. But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is putting a stop to those plans — for now.

Oregon Rep. Suzanne Bonamici on Thursday was appointed to a high-profile committee focused on combating climate change.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the appointment of Bonamici and seven other Democrats to the new panel on a day that also saw the release of the Green New Deal, a sweeping legislative resolution that calls for moving the economy away from fossil fuels.

Oregon Legislature Treads Carefully Toward Pricing Carbon

Feb 7, 2019

This week, lawmakers are formally introducing a bill that would make Oregon the second state after California to adopt an economy-wide cap-and-trade system to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The bill has support from Gov. Kate Brown and the statehouse's other top Democrats, but even its champions are treading carefully to protect the state’s economy as they aim to address climate change.

Rumor had spread that time might be running out for the Nelson House.

The Charles E. Nelson House was a weathered clapboard farmhouse, tucked up in the rolling wheat fields of Oregon’s high plains. With two gnarled black locust trees beside it and a collapsing wagon in front, the Nelson House captured people’s imaginations, evoking questions: Who once lived there? Why had they left? How long had the house been there and how much longer would the house stand?

The Northwest Forest Plan was a groundbreaking policy to ensure wildlife habitat would not be lost to intensive logging in the western parts of Oregon, Washington and California. Now 25 years in, a new study shows it’s still a good ways off from achieving those goals.

A proposal to transfer ownership of the Elliott State Forest from the state to Oregon State University is taking a small step forward.

The Oregon Department of State Lands says it is prepared to sign a framework agreement — called a memorandum of understanding — with the University Tuesday that will allow the two to develop a solid plan to create the Elliott State Research Forest. 

“This memo captures the Board’s overall direction to date regarding the Elliott,” DSL Interim Director Vicki Walker told the State Land Board at a meeting Tuesday morning.

More people than expected are drinking water that could be harmful to their health. That’s according to a new study that looked at a water contaminate that’s been an issue in one of the Northwest's most productive farming regions.

Oregon Bottle Deposit System Hits 90 Percent Redemption Rate

Jan 18, 2019

Oregon’s bottle deposit system is recycling more containers than ever before despite major disruptions in global recycling markets.

Last year, Oregon recycled 90 percent of the beverage containers covered by its bottle deposit system. The rate has jumped from 64 percent just two years ago and the total number of bottles recycled reached an all-time high of 2 billion in 2018.

A new proposal from the Trump administration could dramatically change the way the government cleans up radioactive tank waste at the Hanford Nucl

I watched a sea lion die last summer. The large animal was emaciated, its spine and ribs visible below its fur. Its hind limbs were immobile as it dragged itself from the shore to the water. Once in the harbor, without the use of its rear flippers, the sea lion struggled to stay afloat. It sank, resurfaced and sank again.

I called a hotline, but it was too late. The animal never came back up.

As people move into Central Oregon in droves, they’re driving up the odds wildfire will strike populated areas.

It’s a problem Deschutes County is trying to address through zoning changes. This week, county commissioners approved a designation to require fire-resistant, low density construction on the west side of Bend.

The idea is to put a long, carefully planned buffer between one of Oregon’s fastest growing cities and the pine forest routinely burning around it.

About half the salmon swimming up the Columbia River come from hatcheries — most of which are raised to be caught by fishermen. The rest are wild. And many of those salmon are protected under the Endangered Species Act.

For years, Oregon and Washington have been searching for the best way to catch more hatchery fish while letting the wild fish return unharmed to their spawning grounds. Now, one group says they've found it.

The gas and diesel you use to fuel your car are some of the biggest sources of greenhouse gasses and air pollution in Washington. Some lawmakers want to change that.

They kicked off a debate Tuesday that would require lower carbon fuels  — and could cost you more.

After a decade, House Bill 1110 could reduce Washington vehicles' carbon pollution to 10 percent below 2017 levels. It would continue to reduce emissions to 20 percent below 2017 levels by 2035.

For the last 35 years, the snowpack in the West’s mountains has resisted the impacts of global warming. But that could soon change, according to a new study out of Oregon State University.

The partial government shutdown is elevating the threat of wildfires in the West. That’s  the contention of a dozen Democratic U.S. senators, including Oregon’s Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden and Washington’s Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has started killing sea lions below Willamette Falls to protect a fragile run of winter steelhead.

The Northwest is getting closer to the end of its long goodbye to coal-fired power. The region’s first coal plant will turn off its burners in just under two years.

So what will replace all that power? The answer is complicated.

A new federal report shows the amount of coal burned for power has fallen to its lowest point in almost 40 years. That’s because natural gas is cheap, renewable energy is growing and coal plants are shutting down.

Ranchers, hunters and wolf conservation advocates have been in talks with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife over an update to the rules governing the protection and management of the state's wolf population, including when and how wolves can be killed.

The city of Vancouver has been fined $60,000 after raw sewage was accidentally released into the Columbia River in 2017.

The discharged sewage from Vancouver’s Westside Wastewater Treatment Plant happened during two separate spills in September and October of 2017, according to a penalty report released Friday.

The Washington State Department of Ecology said in total nearly 600,000 gallons of raw and partially treated sewage was dumped into the Columbia River.

UPDATE (Jan. 4, 2 p.m. PT) — The Humboldt marten is in line to get new protections in Oregon.

State fish and wildlife officials signed a court settlement Wednesday that calls for new rule-making to ban trapping of this imperiled, mink-like mammal.

The Humboldt marten’s numbers have plummeted and it was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in the 1990s.

If it were up to David H. Johnson, he’d be out of the burrow-making business.

Instead, he stands on a wind-swept prairie, shovel in hand. He wipes the sweat from his brow and surveys the sagebrush as it stretches across the rolling hills. His eyes scan for any flutter of small feathers.

He doesn’t see anything and keeps digging in the loose sand. This wide-open stretch of sage and sand and shrubs was once riddled with burrows. For millennia, animals like badgers and prairie dogs pockmarked the Columbia River plateau with burrows.

Rosalinda Guillen sat at the kitchen table in her childhood home and wrinkled her nose.

“Hey, this water stinks,” Guillen said.

Guillen and her brother Martin Yanez have been in this house since 1968. Their parents were farmworkers who came to Zillah to harvest crops like asparagus and apples. But the Yakima Valley of their youth is not like they remember.

“The water was so cold so refreshing. So what happened?” Guillen asked.

An end-of-year report from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality shows the state’s recycling rate in 2017 was 42.8 percent, slightly better than the previous year.

Doubling of the bottle deposit to 10 cents was a booster for Oregon's recycling race. But recycling had setbacks too, including the closure of local paper mills that bought recycled paper and China deciding to cut off recycling imports from the United States.

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