Environment | KNKX


Stories about the environment focused on the Pacific Northwest, with many from KNKX's Environment reporter, Bellamy Pailthorp.

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Orca Behavior Institute

It’s peak season for whale watching in the Salish Sea. But the iconic southern resident killer whales that for decades spent their summers here have been scarce, likely because of a lack of salmon.

Monster wildfire in Oregon tests years of forest management efforts

Jul 20, 2021
The Bootleg Fire rises behind Sycan Marsh in southern Oregon on July 17, 2021. The destructive Bootleg Fire, one of the largest in modern Oregon history, has already burned more than 476 square miles, an area about the size of Los Angeles.
Bootleg Fire Incident Command / via AP

Ecologists in a vast region of wetlands and forest in remote Oregon have spent the past decade thinning young trees and using planned fires to try to restore the thick stands of ponderosa to a less fire-prone state.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Washington health officials are warning of a spike in shellfish-related illnesses believed to be connected to last month’s heat wave.

Female grizzly collared in Washington for 1st time in 40 years

Jul 15, 2021
An image from a remote game camera shows a female grizzly bear, far left, with her three cubs near Metaline Falls in northeast Washington. Wildlife biologists fitted her with a radio collar to help them learn more about grizzly bears in Washington.
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Wildlife biologists have captured a female grizzly bear in Washington state for the first time in 40 years, fitting it with a radio collar so they can track its movements, officials said Thursday.

Drought emergency declared in Washington state

Jul 15, 2021
All of Washington's 39 counties have some coverage in a newly declared drought emergency, though most of King County as well as the cities of Seattle, Tacoma and Everett are not included.
Washington State Department of Ecology

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday declared a statewide drought emergency because of hot, dry conditions that have plagued the region and water supply.

Smoke, extreme heat pose harsh test for West Coast vineyards

Jul 12, 2021
Alejandra Morales Buscio of Salem, Ore., reaches up to pull the leaf canopy over pinot noir grapes to shade the fruit from the sun on July 8, 2021, at Willamette Valley Vineyards in Turner, Ore.
Andrew Selsky / The Associated Press

The heat wave that recently hit the Pacific Northwest subjected the region’s vineyards to record-breaking temperatures nine months after the fields that produce world-class wine were blanketed by wildfire smoke.

Crystal Conant, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, releases the final salmon into the upper Columbia River on Aug. 9, 2019. Conant said salmon’s reintroduction to the upper Columbia will help heal the tribe and the ecosystem.
Courtney Flatt / Northwest Public Broadcasting file

Tribes across the Northwest called for immediate action to remove the four Lower Snake River dams during a two-day Salmon and Orca Summit in western Washington. The group called on President Biden and congressional members to “take bold action, now.”

Preliminary data from the Washington Department of Health shows statewide heat-related deaths this year compared to last.
Washington Department of Health

11:45 a.m.: Updated with new information from the state Department of Health.

The Washington state Department of Health has a preliminary tally of heat-related deaths in the past week. At least 78 people died statewide because of the scorching temperatures that began June 26.  

Northwest heat wave impossible without climate change, scientists find

Jul 7, 2021
A display at an Olympia Federal Savings branch shows a temperature of 107 degrees Fahrenheit, Monday, June 28, 2021, in the early evening in Olympia.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

The deadly heat wave that roasted the Pacific Northwest and western Canada was virtually impossible without human-caused climate change that added a few extra degrees to the record-smashing temperatures, a new quick scientific analysis found.

Summer swelter trend: West gets hotter days, East hot nights

Jul 7, 2021
A farmworker wipes sweat from his neck while working on July 1 in St. Paul, Ore., as a heat wave bakes the Pacific Northwest in record-high temperatures.
Nathan Howard / The Associated Press

As outlandish as the killer heat wave that struck the Pacific Northwest was, it fits into a decades-long pattern of uneven summer warming across the United States.

A great horned owl seen against a smoky backdrop in in Washington County, OR on August 19, 2019.
J. Maughn / Flickr / Creative Commons

We know that people suffer when smoke from wildfires fills the air. It’s a nuisance and a health hazard. But how does it affect wildlife?

Researchers at the University of Washington are tackling that question.

The milking parlor at Jason Sheehan’s Yakima Valley dairy operates nearly 24 hours a day. As a member of a groundwater advisory committee, he’s worked to show people the updates he’s made to reduce nitrates from his operation. He says nitrates also come f
Courtney Flatt / Northwest Public Broadcasting file

It’s back to the drawing board for state regulators, after the Washington Court of Appeals ordered the Department of Ecology to rework permits for confined animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs.


 In this Feb. 25, 2016, file photo the Space Needle is seen in view of still standing but now defunct stacks at the Nucor Steel plant in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

State lawmakers passed significant legislation this session that takes concrete steps to address climate pollution and the concerns of communities that it has harmed the most in Washington.

KNKX environment reporter Bellamy Pailthorp sat down with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick to talk about the changes that will be taking place in our state.

Fireworks over Lake Union
John Froschauer / The Associated Press file

Update, July 2, 2021: Carnation has cancelled its scheduled fireworks display. Details below. 

With most pandemic restrictions now lifted, people may be yearning to gather and celebrate with the bright lights and explosive fun of fireworks on the Fourth of July.  But extremely dry conditions have made them more dangerous than ever. Fire marshals statewide are urging caution, and emergency bans are spreading in many parts of Washington.

Alan Schreiber inspects his broken irrigation pump. It's only working at 30 percent capacity in 117 heat.
Anna King / Northwest News Network

Record heat across the Northwest is taking a toll on agriculture – both the crops and the workers who harvest them. 

Central Washington farmer Alan Schreiber is worried about his fields.

Raspberries normally thrive in the cool summer climate of western Washington.
Dean Fosdick / The Associated Press file

Cool offshore flow and mild summer heat normally make western Washington an ideal place to grow red raspberries. The state commission for that crop reports growers here provide about 70 percent of the nation’s premium flash-frozen raspberries.

But the record heat has left immature berries sunburnt, while causing ripe ones to melt and shrivel on the vine.   

Sockeye salmon like these are among the salmon species in peril, as outlined in the 2021 State of Salmon in Watersheds report.
Aaron Kunz / Oregon Public Broadcasting

As the mercury climbs this weekend, water temperatures are also expected to increase. Warmer waters can spell bad news for salmon, especially if the temperatures stay warm for long periods of time.

AstroTurf seen in the Puyallup River during work done in late July 2020 by Electron Hydro.
Courtesy of the Puyallup Tribe

In another blow to the operators of the Electron Dam on the Puyallup River, a judge in federal District Court has barred its parent company from diverting any water to generate power until it gets permits under the Endangered Species Act.  

Dying clams on Washington's Hood Canal, victims of Yessotoxins from Protoceratium reticulatum, a dinoflagellate phytoplankton.
Taylor Shellfish / Courtesy of Washington SeaGrant

In July of 2018 and 2019, large numbers of oysters, cockles and clams died on beaches all around Puget Sound. No one knew why. It was a particularly bad couple of years, but summer mortality events with mass die-offs of shellfish happen regularly. They’ve been recorded by researchers in western Washington as far back as the 1930s. The source has remained a mystery.

White-tailed ptarmigan in summer plumage
Pete Plage / U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is proposing new protections for the Mount Rainier white-tailed ptarmigan. If approved, the Endangered Species Act would list the birds as threatened.

White-tailed ptarmigans spend their entire lifecycle on alpine mountaintops, above the tree line of the Cascades. 

A grain ship sails the Columbia River at the Port of Kalama, where a Chinese-backed company wanted to build a methanol plant.

A company backed by the Chinese government on Friday ended its seven-year effort to build one of the world’s largest methanol plants along the Columbia River in southwestern Washington, following a series of regulatory setbacks and a long debate over its environmental footprint.

An architectural rendering of the new high-rise at 303 Battery St.
Sustainable Living Innovations

Buildings are one of the largest and fastest growing sources of climate pollution. In Seattle, they’re responsible for more than a third of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. 

What to do? Well, on Thursday, local leaders celebrated the groundbreaking of a new building that demonstrates some answers.

Puyallup Tribe biologist Eric Marks lifts a section of turf that was found in the Puyallup River on May 3, 2021.
Puyallup Tribe of Indians

Electron Hydro is facing a $501,000 fine from the state Department of Ecology – plus new requirements for monitoring water quality near its dam on the Puyallup River.

Gov. Jay Inslee signs three key environmental bills, including the Climate Commitment Act, May 17 at Shoreline Community College.
Office of the Governor

Anger lingers among tribal leaders in Washington after a surprise veto from Gov. Jay Inslee last month. As he signed the cap and trade Climate Commitment Act, the governor struck down new powers for tribes.

Inslee signs ambitious environmental protection laws

May 17, 2021
Gov. Jay Inslee signs the HEAL Act at the Duwamish Tribe's Longhouse and Cultural Center on Monday.
Office of Gov. Jay Inslee

Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee signed a series of bills Monday designed to strengthen the environment in Washington state.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX file

Environmental justice will be center stage Monday morning in Seattle’s Duwamish River Valley. That's where Gov. Jay Inslee is signing the so-called “HEAL Act.”

A live green crab, captured Thursday, May 13, on top of several mesh bags of frozen green crabs that were caught over the past few months in Grays Harbor on the Washington coast.
Alex Stote / Courtesy of Washington Sea Grant Crab Team

European green crabs were found in Washington’s inland waters in 2016, prompting extensive monitoring. Now state officials say this destructive invasive species is spreading in several coastal locations. 

They thrive in shallow water and soft sediment, which Washington’s estuaries provide. And over the past two years it seems the populations of green crab are exploding, especially on the coast.

The Ice Harbor dam on the Snake River in Pasco in 2006.
Jackie Johnston / The Associated Press file

Washington state's top Democrats have come out against a proposal from U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, to remove four hydroelectric dams on the Snake River and replace their benefits as part of a huge infrastructure bill being crafted by the Biden administration.

CRC 44 or Dubknuck's fluke seen off of Camano Island in North Puget Sound. Dubnuck was first spotted in south Puget Sound 1991.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Every spring, gray whales migrate up the West Coast on a 12,000-mile round-trip from their calving grounds in Mexico to the Alaskan Arctic, where they feed on tiny crustaceans.

Since early 2019, an unusual mortality event has reduced their population by more than 20 percent. Whales wash up severely emaciated or sometimes suffer from ship strikes or entanglements made worse by lack of food.

But researchers in Washington have identified a small group of gray whales that returns to Puget Sound every year in what seems to be a survival strategy.

Jesse Huggins / Cascadia Research

Another gray whale has died off the Washington coast. The animal was confirmed dead after stranding in the tidal areas of north Port Susan, east of Camano Island.