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Chris Hopkins moved to Pine Forest for the trees. He was drawn to the hilly, forested community in Washington’s Methow Valley, and decided to build a cabin there in the 1990s, "before we really knew about fire danger," he said.

Protesters call for the removal of dams on the Snake River to help salmon spawn -- and consequently feed Puget Sound orcas. The protest came outside a meeting of the governor's orca task force in Wenatchee on Tuesday.
KUOW photo/Eilis O'Neill

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.

Now whale scientists and NOAA are weighing trying to feed live Chinook salmon to an emaciated 4-year-old orca or trying to inject her with an antibiotic.

“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.

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.

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.

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 (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.

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.

"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.

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.

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.

Why Do We Have Allergies?

Jun 14, 2018

Summer’s back and every plant wants to fertilize your nose. At least that’s what it feels like if you have allergies. Itchy eyes, runny nose, constant coughing and sneezing — pollen can make us miserable.

The federal government is reviewing the endangered species status of gray wolves in the Lower 48 states — a move that could lead to reduced protections. This includes the western parts of Oregon and Washington, where wolves are considered endangered under U.S. law.

A scientist at Oregon State University is developing edible food packing as well as edible coating for fruits and vegetables. Her goals: reduce plastic waste and keep food fresher longer. Katie Herzog visits Yanyun Zhao in her lab for a taste test.

In July, seven Oregon craft breweries will start selling beer in reusable glass bottles in the country’s first statewide refillable beer bottle program.

Oregon's Widmer Brothers, Buoy Beer, Double Mountain, GoodLife, Gigantic, Wild Ride and Rock Bottom breweries will be pioneering the program with some of their beers. Other breweries may join the program later.

The reusable bottles will be on store shelves just like all the other beer, but they'll look a little different.

How Do You Want Your Smoke?

May 7, 2018

There’s broad agreement that fire plays a vital role in forest ecology in the West. Many of our problems with severe wildfires can be traced, at least in part, to a century of putting fires out, rather than letting them clean up excess forest fuels.

Now, there’s a need to deliberately set controlled fires to help re-establish a more natural fire pattern. But after a summer in which residents and tourists alike choked on foul air and many events were canceled due to heavy smoke, are people ready to put up with more smoke from prescribed burns?

It arrived at 3 a.m on July 26, 2013. Dennis Sifford remembers details like this. They marked the beginning of his final shift as an incident commander on a wildfire.

“The lightning storm came in — dry lightning storm,” Sifford said, describing that morning. “It was unexpected.”

The storm touched down in mountainous terrain just north of the town of Glendale, Oregon. More than 80 fires started.

Twelve hours later Sifford got the call. He would lead the 3,000 people needed to fight what would be known as the Douglas Complex.

The U.S. Forest Service says it will have more money to fight wildfires and more tools to prevent them thanks to the new wildfire funding bill Congress recently approved.

The extra resources may very well be needed in Oregon and California this year, where officials say they are already seeing an elevated risk of wildfire because of low snow pack and dry spring weather. The fire outlook is less concerning for Washington.

Oregon and Washington are joining a coalition of 17 states and the District of Columbia in suing the Environmental Protection Agency and its administrator Scott Pruitt over the decision to roll back greenhouse gas emissions standards for vehicles built between 2022 and 2025.

The states argue those emissions standards for cars and light-duty truck models were put in place to help reduce carbon pollution and oil consumption.

Some Trails Closed By Eagle Creek Fire To Reopen This Summer

Apr 29, 2018

The U.S. Forest Service plans soon to reopen some of the trails in the Columbia River Gorge that have been closed since the Eagle Creek Fire last year.

According to Lily Palmer with U.S. Forest Service, the trail to Benson Bridge at Multnomah Falls will be the first to reopen early this summer. Trails east of Cascade Locks, including Starvation Creek Ridge Loop and Herman Creek, Mount Defiance and the Pacific Crest Trail should reopen later in the summer.

Last summer's Eagle Creek Fire burned more than 48,000 acres in the Columbia River Gorge. Conservationists estimate that it may take years for some areas to reopen to the public. But despite the devastation, some areas in the Gorge are seeing their first signs of rebirth. 

Enter, the humble mushroom. The charred wood and decaying organic matter in the wake of a fire create the perfect environment for several types of fungi to thrive. Oregon's mushroom hunters are forecasting a mushroom bonanza this spring — including a bumper crop of the coveted wild morels.

The U.S. House approved a bill Wednesday that would circumvent a federal judge’s order for dams on the lower Snake River to spill more water and protect current dam operations through the next four years.

The additional spilled water is meant to help migrating salmon, meaning it would not be available for generating electricity.

Patricia Marin says her daughter Azul has been suffering from asthma since she was just a baby.
EarthFix, NWPB Photo/Courtney Flatt

Patricia Marín still remembers the day nine years ago when her daughter Azul started coughing and couldn't stop. Her breathing was ragged.

At the time, Azul was just 18 months old. Marín brought her to the emergency room.


The Pacific Northwest could soon become a hub of ocean energy technology. An Oregon State University project to set up a wave energy test site is now applying for the federal permits needed to move ahead.

Homes located near or inside forests are a big complication for managing wildfires. Forest managers find themselves under increasing pressure to suppress natural fires because of the risk of nearby homes igniting.

But experts now say keeping those homes from burning could be cheaper and simpler than previously thought.

Researchers at Oregon State University have worked out a way to detect and identify whales long after they move on — just by sampling the water.

When whales swim they leave behind a plume of genetic material in the environment: skin, poop and bodily fluids. If you know what to look for, you can use that DNA to figure out what kind of whale went by.

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