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News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates.

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  • Okanagan River salmon eyed for endangered-species protection

    KUOW Blog
    caption: The Rock Island Dam, on the Columbia River near Wenatchee, is one of 10 Washington dams that Okanagan Chinook salmon must swim past to reach their Canadian spawning grounds. July 2022 photo.
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    The Rock Island Dam, on the Columbia River near Wenatchee, is one of 10 Washington dams that Okanagan Chinook salmon must swim past to reach their Canadian spawning grounds. July 2022 photo.
    KUOW Photo/John Ryan

    A fisheries agency is asking for public input on whether to list a salmon from the Columbia River Basin as an endangered species.

    The agency isn’t from Washington state or even the United States: It’s Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and the fish are Okanagan Chinooks.

    They are the only remaining Chinook salmon in Canada's portion of the Columbia River Basin.

    To reach their Canadian spawning grounds, these fish have to swim past 10 dams on the Columbia and Okanogan rivers in Washington state. (The international river is spelled “Okanagan” north of the border and “Okanogan” to the south.)

    Another dam about 17 miles north of the international border blocks off habitats farther upriver altogether.

    Canadian officials say dams and fishing in Washington are key factors in the salmon’s steep decline, as well as damage to their Canadian spawning habitat.

    Only 10 wild Okanagan Chinooks spawned in 2018, down from an average of 50 from 2013 to 2017 and up from an average of nine individual fish from 2008 to 2012, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Department officials did not respond to a request for more recent numbers.

    The Canadian government rejected an independent expert committee’s recommendation to declare Okanagan Chinook endangered in 2010.

    The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is taking public comment on the proposed listing under Canada’s Species at Risk Act until Dec. 5.

    About 85% of the Columbia River Basin lies within seven western states. The remaining 15% is in the province of British Columbia.

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  • The North Cascades Highway goes wild for the winter

    KUOW Blog
    caption: U.S. Highway 20 ascends into the North Cascades on Nov. 29, 2023.
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    U.S. Highway 20 ascends into the North Cascades on Nov. 29, 2023.
    Washington state Department of Transportation

    A rare, yet annual, event took place Thursday night in Washington’s North Cascades.

    A roadless area roughly doubled in size.

    The Washington state Department of Transportation shut down State Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, at 6 p.m. Thursday for the winter.

    The closure inconveniences drivers traveling between eastern and western Washington but reconnects the wildlands north and south of Highway 20.

    Avalanche danger beneath the jagged peaks of the North Cascades forces the snowy highway to close each winter.

    The effective disappearance of 37 miles of highway beneath a blanket of snow gives wide-ranging carnivores like wolverines and lynx more room to roam for several months.

    Those species thrive in roadless landscapes, where disturbance from humans and their motor vehicles is minimal.

    The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the wolverine as a threatened species outside of Alaska on Wednesday, 29 years after environmental groups petitioned the agency to do so.

    The agency listed lynx outside of Alaska as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2000.

    Biologists estimate that fewer than 50 Canada lynx remain in Washington, according to the nonprofit Conservation Northwest.

    The wolverine population in the Washington Cascades is probably fewer than 25 individuals, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

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  • Woodinville staple Molbak's says its been pushed out of major development project

    KUOW Blog
    caption: This is a rendering of what was supposed to be the new Molbak's at the center of The Gardens District in Woodinville.
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    This is a rendering of what was supposed to be the new Molbak's at the center of The Gardens District in Woodinville.

    The Molbak's Garden and Home store says it's been pushed out of a massive redevelopment project that's been in the works in Woodinville for about 15 years.

    The Woodinville staple and beloved east side business of 67 years was supposed to be the centerpiece of The Gardens District. A statement from Molbak's described the project as a “city in a garden,” which was supposed to include housing, retail, restaurants, and a brand new Molbak's garden center.

    However, according to Molbak's, the developer, Green Partners, recently informed the store that it is no longer part of the project and the agreement to include Molbak’s is now cancelled.

    “We’re shocked and devastated that Green Partners is cutting us out of The Gardens District,” said Julie Kouhia, CEO of Molbak’s. “We’re still reeling from this news and considering a range of options as we work to better understand this sudden change.”

    No explanation was given, according to Molbak's.

    Green Partners is associated with Cascade Asset Management Company, which manages the assets of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation trust and the Gates family.

    In a statement provided to KUOW, a Cascade spokesperson said the company was "surprised" by Molbak's announcement "given that we have no plans to remove Molbak’s Garden + Home from its current location." According to the statement, Molbak's still has "years remaining on its lease."

    "While Cascade is no longer planning to develop the Gardens District, we had been negotiating with Mr. Molbak toward the inclusion of his family’s business as a key feature of a possible future Gardens District," the statement reads. "However, Mr. Molbak upended the discussions even in the face of Cascade’s offer of concessions, including free rent. We expect that the Gardens District will serve the needs of Woodinville, regardless of what Molbak’s decides is in its interest."

    As of June, though, the project seemed to be heading down right path — at least from Molbak's perspective.

    According to Molbak's statement, a Green Partners spokesperson was at a Woodinville City Council meeting on June 20 and expressed the company's "pride" in the project: “It is a pretty rare circumstance we find ourselves in, with such a storied business and a beloved business like Molbak’s. We take great pride in what we have been able to put together with them and to create a project that integrates it for the next 65 years.”

    The statement from Molbak's also included comments from Woodinville Mayor Mike Millman, who spoke in favor of keeping the store involved in The Gardens District.

    “Woodinville has been working hard to create a vibrant and walkable downtown ... all while preserving and enhancing iconic Woodinville businesses like Molbak’s,” Millman said. “This Molbak’s-centric vision is why we are excited about this project and is why your Council approved the project in a 5-2 vote this past summer and this is still what the majority wants built now.”

    Update notice, Wednesday, 11/29/23 at 12:57 p.m.: This story has been updated to include a statement from Cascade Asset Management Company.

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  • Incoming: King tides to Puget Sound

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Waves break at the Point Wilson Lighthouse in Port Townsend during a king tide on Dec. 8, 2021.
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    Waves break at the Point Wilson Lighthouse in Port Townsend during a king tide on Dec. 8, 2021.

    The highest tides of the year are on their way.

    “King tides” are expected in Puget Sound on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday mornings (Nov. 28-30).

    King tides come every November, December, and January, when the moon, sun, and Earth line up just right.

    The gravitational pull of the sun on the sea is slightly greater during those months: Earth’s elliptical orbit brings our planet 3% closer to the sun in early January than it is in July.

    On Tuesday, the king tide is forecast to swell past Dungeness Spit at 5:20 a.m., then round the corner at Port Townsend at 6:14 a.m., pass Seattle at 6:25 a.m., slosh into Olympia at 7:10 a.m., and reach Shelton and the far end of Puget Sound from the Pacific Ocean around 7:51 a.m., according to Washington Sea Grant.

    The Olympia and Shelton areas get the highest tides on Puget Sound, just as the end of a bathtub gets the highest sloshing.

    King tides can bring coastal flooding, especially if combined with winter storms.

    Low-pressure storm systems can boost high tides an extra three feet in Puget Sound.

    READ: Sea level on steroids: Record tides flood Washington coastlines

    The forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday calls for high atmospheric pressure, which tends to squish the tide down, similar to laying your head on a pillow.

    This winter’s highest tides in Puget Sound are expected to arrive in January, shortly after Earth passes closest to the sun, a phenomenon known as perihelion.

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  • Seattle City Council approves 2024 budget with money for housing, homelessness, and mental health

    KUOW Blog
    caption: The sign at Seattle City Hall.
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    The sign at Seattle City Hall.

    The Seattle City Council approved the city's 2024 budget Tuesday, including more money for homelessness services, housing, and mental health support at Seattle Public Schools.

    The plan comes after weeks of tweaking Mayor Bruce Harrell's $7.8 billion budget proposal, which largely followed the the biennial plan originally passed last fall.

    Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said the package greatly increases the city's investment in affordable housing.

    "This biennial budget yields a $600 million investment into affordable housing," she said. "Housing that's not just affordable rental units, but two-, three-, and four-bedroom units and also first-time homeownership opportunities."

    In addition to money for housing, the final package includes:

    • About $1.5 million for a controversial gunshot detection program. Some critics have said the program is unreliable and could lead to over-policing in some communities.
    • $20 million for mental health supports for Seattle Public School students, coming from a small increase in the payroll tax on large companies.
    • $300,000 for a pilot private substance use treatment for people who are homeless or dealing with unstable housing.

    This is the final budget process for six of nine Council members, who either lost their reelection bids or decided not to run again. That means it will be up to the newly shaped — and decidedly more centrist — Council to figure out how to make up for a more than $200 million revenue shortfall during next year's budget process.

    District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant, who did not run for reelection, was the sole "no" vote. Sawant has voted "no" on every budget during her three terms on the Council. She celebrated the win for student mental health, but said the overall package didn't go far enough for working people.

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  • Sam Altman saga takes another twist with his return to OpenAI

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Sam Altman participates in a discussion during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in San Francisco. Microsoft has announced that it's hired Sam Altman and another architect of ChatGPT maker OpenAI after they unexpectedly departed the company days earlier in a corporate shakeup that shocked the artificial intelligence world.
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    Sam Altman participates in a discussion during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit, Thursday, Nov. 16, 2023, in San Francisco. Microsoft has announced that it's hired Sam Altman and another architect of ChatGPT maker OpenAI after they unexpectedly departed the company days earlier in a corporate shakeup that shocked the artificial intelligence world.

    Sam Altman is returning to OpenAI less than a week after he was ousted from the company he co-founded.

    Now, as he's set to return, several board members who fired Altman are out; According to The New York Times, the only holdover will be Adam D’Angelo, the chief executive of the question-and-answer website Quora.

    "I love OpenAI, and everything I’ve done over the past few days has been in service of keeping this team and its mission together," Altman said in message late Tuesday on the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

    Altman's return caps several days of drama in the tech world, starting with his sudden ouster by the OpenAI board on Nov. 17 for reasons that are still unclear. By Monday, he was set to join Redmond-based Microsoft, a multi-billion-dollar investor in OpenAI. Microsoft hired Altman and Greg Burkman, OpenAI's president who had resigned in solidarity, with the intention to form a new AI research team at Microsoft.

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  • Five NPR 'Books We Love' for readers in the Pacific Northwest

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Aintor Zeng, left, and Zach Zeng, 5, read at the Seattle Public Library Central branch on Thursday, January 2, 2020, on 4th Avenue in Seattle.
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    Aintor Zeng, left, and Zach Zeng, 5, read at the Seattle Public Library Central branch on Thursday, January 2, 2020, on 4th Avenue in Seattle.
    KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    It's the most wonderful time of the year: NPR released its annual "Books We Love" list this week.

    A daunting 381 books made the cut for 2023. So if you (like this reader) curate your personal reading list according to NPR's recommendations, you've got a lot of new material to consider.

    We did some of the hard work for you and found five books that may be of interest to readers in the Pacific Northwest.

    "A Fever in the Heartland: The Ku Klux Klan's Plot to Take Over America, and the Woman Who Stopped Them" by Timothy Egan

    KUOW listeners may recognize the latest title from Seattle author Timothy Egan. "Soundside" spoke to Egan in April about his book exploring the often-overlooked story of the Ku Klux Klan's power in northern states and the testimony that brought down its most powerful leader.

    Egan documents the people attempting to expose the KKK and the woman whose testimony ultimately brought down the Grand Dragon of Indiana and one of the most powerful men in the nation.

    Doug Berman, the self-described benevolent overlord of "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!" wrote this of "A Fever in the Heartland":

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  • UW, WSU agree to continue the Apple Cup, at least through 2028

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    football generic
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    This week's Apple Cup will not be the last, as fans had feared.

    The University of Washington and Washington State University announced Sunday that they've agreed in principle to keep the rivalry alive — for now.

    The agreement means the two football teams will continue to play the rivalry game at least through 2028. That's despite UW's departure from the Pac-12 conference; the Huskies are leaving for the Big Ten next year. UW's move will become official in August 2024.

    "The Apple Cup tradition is beloved by Huskies, Cougars and football fans across Washington and beyond, so one of my priorities has been to ensure that it continues into this new era," said University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce in a statement. "This is a win for our fans, our universities and the state of Washington."

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  • Seattle ties record for homicides set in the 1990s

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    Police tape generic
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    The city of Seattle has tied its previous record for the most homicides in a single year, and it likely will establish a new homicide record by the end of 2023.

    Seattle set a record in 1994 with 69 homicides. That is currently the number of homicides the city has recorded for 2023, with a month and a half left in the year.

    Seattle police confirmed the figure to KUOW on Thursday.

    In September, KUOW reported that Seattle had hit 57 homicides so far in the year, marking the second-highest number of homicides on record and making 2023 the city's bloodiest year in recent memory.

    RELATED: As Seattle homicides rise, King County has plans to prevent gun violence

    That statistic is based on information from the Washington Association of Sheriff's and Police Chiefs, which has tracked crime data in the state since 1980.

    In a previous interview with KUOW, Callie Craighead, a spokesperson for Mayor Bruce Harrell, called the spike in homicides "tragic, abhorrent, and unacceptable."

    "Public safety is a core charter responsibility, and Mayor Harrell believes that every person in our city deserves to be and feel safe," Craighead said.

    The increase in homicides and violent crime is not limited to Seattle. From 2019-22, Washington state saw a 96% rise in homicides. In 2022 alone, there was a statewide 8.9% increase in violent crimes.

    Seattle hit a 15-year high in violent crimes (homicide, rape, robbery, and assault) in 2022. That same year, homicides rose by 24% over the precious year, totaling 52. There were 53 homicides in 2020.

    According to SPD's 2022 crime report, the department investigated a total of 60 homicides that year, but 52 met criteria for the FBI's definition for criminal homicide.

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  • Top 3 Seattle holiday shows for kids, adults, and families in 2023

    KUOW Blog
    caption: "A Very Die Hard Christmas" at Seattle Public Theater in 2022.
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    "A Very Die Hard Christmas" at Seattle Public Theater in 2022.
    Seattle Public Theater

    Whether you’re into theater, ballet, burlesque, or just looking for an enjoyable holiday-themed experience, there is a show in the Seattle area for you.

    If you feel a little overwhelmed by the growing number of show announcements, you’ve come to the right place. Here are my top three holiday show picks, along with a rundown of the performance. Honorable mentions below.

    A Very Die Hard Christmas, Seattle Public Theater (adults)

    This is exactly what it sounds like: A Christmas-themed "Die Hard" spoof! I’m not here to debate whether or not the 1998 film featuring legendary action star Bruce Willis is or is not a Christmas movie. This hilarious production finds our star John McClane in LA visiting his estranged wife, when European bad-guys attempt to take over the building. What ensues is a comedic, musical farce, with all the action, theatrical explosions, and '80s references that you can handle. Presented by The Habit, the sketch-comedy group that recently produced "Titanish," a hilarious spoof of the Titanic, this Christmas-themed action/comedy/musical is at the top of my must-see list this year.

    The Nutcracker, Pacific Northwest Ballet (family)

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  • Seattle gets $4M to create 'circular wood economy'

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Stacks of lumber.
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    Stacks of lumber.

    The city of Seattle is getting a $4 million federal grant to launch a salvaged wood warehouse that will support a "circular wood economy."

    The idea is to reduce waste and prevent perfectly good wood from going to the landfill. The program boosts the recovery of wood from older homes that are taken apart, instead of being demolished. The result is a circular wood economy.

    RELATED: Do townhomes drive down housing costs? Social science has an answer

    According to the grant, which comes from the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the recycled wood will primarily come from residential structures that are torn down in the city. The grant pays for a warehouse to store, process, and organize such material. The city anticipates that the program could produce about 150 tons of usable wood per year.

    Kinley Deller, the construction and demolition program manager for King County, gave a presentation in June, explaining what a circular wood economy looks like.

    "If there is a lot of material in there that could and should be going to higher use, we feel we have a responsibility to guiding that material in a better direction that how it is currently being used in the landfill," Deller said in his presentation.

    RELATED: 'Good bones' from old homes help build Seattle's future

    "We're working to put a system in place that will take these materials from buildings and put them back into new buildings and lock up that carbon ... and create a number of other benefits along the way."

    Deller notes that there are about 350,000 tons of untreated wood being generated at job sites in King County each year. From that, about 60,000 tons of wood are being sent to the dump.

    RELATED: Audit alleges nepotism, other ethical problems at Seattle's building department

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  • Race for WA Rep. Kilmer's congressional seat is heating up

    KUOW Blog
    caption: Rep. Derek Kilmer
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    Rep. Derek Kilmer
    United States Congress

    The race to replace U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer in Washington's 6th Congressional District is taking shape, with three candidates interested in the seat.

    Kilmer, a Democrat who has served six terms in the seat, will not seek re-election in 2024.

    On Thursday, state Sen. Emily Randall (D-Bremerton) announced on X, formerly known as Twitter, that she was entering the race.

    "My story is just like the stories of my neighbors," she said in a video announcement, highlighting her upbringing in Port Orchard by union parents. "And when I stepped up to run for state Senate, no one handed me the keys."

    In fact, Randall has won two elections as a state legislator by fairly narrow margins.

    Randall's campaign adds a second Democratic candidate in a congressional district that has steadily voted Democrat for Congress. Washington's Public Lands Commissioner Hillary Franz was first to announce she'd run for the seat, just a day after Kilmer said he would not run again; Franz also won the benefit of Kilmer's endorsement.

    Republican state Sen. Drew MacEwan has also said he is forming an exploratory committee for a potential run to represent the 6th District. MacEwan currently represents the state's 35th Legislative District, which covers Mason County, and parts of Kitsap and Thurston counties.

    The 6th District covers the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas, as well as Tacoma.

    Randall's announcement video featured endorsements from fellow lawmakers as well as Washington Secretary of State Steve Hobbs.

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