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.

UPDATE (Aug. 13, 7:40 a.m. PT) — People in the Columbia River Gorge near Mosier were told Saturday to evacuate due to a wildfire that started Friday night around Memaloose State Park. The evacuations remained in place as of Sunday morning.

No one was home at a house deep in the woods of Josephine County, Oregon. The people who live here had evacuated days ago along with hundreds of their neighbors. As flames from the Taylor Creek Fire got closer and closer, the firefighters showed up.

They came to prepare for the worst so that if the wind picked up, they’d be ready to dash down the driveway and save this house, even if the forest burned around it.

A group of wildfires, referred to as the Miles Fire, continues to threaten about 1,300 structures on Oregon’s Jackson-Douglas County line. The combined fire is burning more than 40,000 acres.

Smoke has been sitting on top of the region for the past few days, keeping conditions relatively stable. But beginning Tuesday afternoon, that smoke began to lift, causing a shift on the ground.

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit over water management at Round Butte Dam in Central Oregon.

The environmental group Deschutes River Alliance argued in court that Portland General Electric and the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation were violating water quality standards on the lower Deschutes River.

In late July, an orca calf died within half an hour of its birth. The mother carried the dead calf on her head for more than a week.

“To let fires burn in July and August is ridiculous.” — Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus in the New York Times, Sept. 22, 1988

Rich Fairbanks walks a forest trail through a stretch where two wildfires have burned in the last six years.

The ground is mostly bare, and the tree trunks are striped with black, scorched bark.

Fairbanks has worked for the U.S. Forest Service as a wildland firefighter and as a wilderness advocate. He is thrilled by all this. He points up at the green crowns of the trees with delight.

The Oregon Court of Appeals has ruled the state should not have sold off a piece of the Elliott State Forest to a Eugene-based timber company four years ago. The state sold the land in 2014 after environmental groups successfully sued to halt several timber sales on the forest.

“It’s our understanding that this will revert back into public ownership like it should be,” said Josh Laughlin of Cascadia Wildlands, one of several groups challenging the sale.

Fire conditions in southwest Oregon improved slightly over the past couple days, as stagnant smoke helped raise the humidity. Those conditions started to change Tuesday morning, which is expected to increase activity on multiple wildfires burning in the region.

West of Grants Pass, the boundaries of the Taylor Creek and Klondike fires had grown to within about seven miles of each other Tuesday. Fire information officer Bill Queen said crews will try to maintain the gap because of what lies in between.

The West is in the midst of another intense fire season. Fires in California and Oregon have claimed lives and homes and burned up farmland.

As part of EarthFix's ongoing series on wildfire, reporter Tony Schick spoke with interim Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen about what her agency is doing to reform fire management and reverse the fire problem.

Christiansen discussed her agency’s approach to wildfire management and what she’s doing to reduce the damage from wildfires in the future. Below are some of her responses on these issues, edited for length and clarity. 

Activists brought their campaign against a Southern Oregon fossil fuel pipeline project to Portland Monday.

The protest was part of a national push by climate activists who worry that such projects will ensure the continued burning of fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming. The Portland event included a theatrical skit in a park and demonstrating in front of banks accused of financing pipelines and other fossil-fuel infrastructure.

The Portland demonstration focused on the proposed Pacific Connector Pipeline and Jordan Cove projects in Southern Oregon.

Wildfires are pouring smoke into the valleys of southern Oregon, making hazardous air that’s nearly unbreathable.

Even healthy people may experience chest pain, burning eyes or a phlegmy cough if they spend too much time outdoors.

It’s even worse for people who already have breathing problems. Kimberlee Rupert-Coyotl lives in the Rogue Valley. She says the smoke is keeping her family inside.

“I have a 16-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son,” Rupert-Coyotl said. “And they both have asthma. They both have the bark going on.”

Oregon’s 2018 toxic algae troubles didn’t begin with the summer bloom tainting Salem’s water supply.

Northwesterners are hearing a lot about mountain lions lately. Since May, an extremely rare fatal attack in the Washington Cascades, a Willamette Valley pool party interrupted by a wandering cat and a viral Facebook video of a mountain lion lounging in a southern Oregon woman’s living room have made headlines across the region.

Are the Northwest’s mountain lions acting out of character this summer?

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Derek Broman says no. But they are adapting to a gradual shift in their range.

“Although the fact that fire has always been an important ecological factor is recognized to a certain extent by most foresters, many of them disregard or minimize the possibility of utilizing fire as a silvicultural agent in the management of ponderosa pine forests.”

— Harold Weaver, Journal of Forestry, 1943

On a cool spring morning outside Sisters, Oregon, the Wolf Creek Hotshots weaved their way through ponderosa pines, drip torches in hand.

By Sarah Hoffman/KCTS 9

In the basement of a quiet residential street in Federal Way, Washington, hides the ultimate home science experiment — a nuclear fusion reactor.

Wildfire smoke continued to collect in the Rogue Valley air Sunday, sending air quality readings into the Very Unhealthy range for the first time since lightning started the fires a week ago.

By sundown, the Medford air reading for smoke stood at 243, well above the 200 line between Unhealthy and Very Unhealthy.  Ashland's reading was 213 at the same time.  Grants Pass and Williams remained in the Unhealthy category. 

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.

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