Environment | KNKX


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

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House (or golden) finches gather in winter months to feed on bird feeders and natural forage. Because of this year’s salmonellosis outbreak, WDFW asks Washington residents to remove feeders or clean them daily to prevent the spread.
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Washington wildlife officials are urging people to take down their bird feeders, even at this coldest time of year. That’s because of an outbreak of salmonella that is infecting songbirds, especially finches and particularly pine siskins.

A view of Hobuck Beach Resort during the shutdown in Neah Bay. Tourism is currently prohibited under 'Phase 3' health orders from the Makah tribal council. Their hope is to reopen to the public in June.
Courtesy of TJ Green

The Makah Tribe was the first community in the state to shut down because of COVID-19. Now they’re more than halfway through a vaccine rollout and are hoping to reopen this summer. The remote nation in Northwest Washington has remained closed to visitors since mid-March, with a checkpoint on the only road in and out.

The New York City skyline with smokestacks.
Unsplash / Courtesy UW news and information

One of the first actions by President Biden after his inauguration was bringing the U.S. back into the Paris climate agreement. A new study from a researcher at the University of Washington shows people how much more we will have to do, to meet the goals in that accord.

Patrons watch transient orcas on a 12-passenger Maya's Legacy Whale Watching boat, after departing from Friday Harbor.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

New licensing requirements for whale watch boats working in Washington waters take effect March 1. They’re the result of years of work, both from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and from the governor’s southern resident killer whale task force, which recommended the implementation of a licensing system.

But this week, state lawmakers began considering changes that would weaken those rules.

Democrats urge investigation into removal of owl protections

Feb 2, 2021
In this May 8, 2003, photo, a Northern spotted owl flies after an elusive mouse jumping off the end of a stick in the Deschutes National Forest near Camp Sherman, Ore.
Don Ryan / The Associated Press file

Eight Democratic lawmakers called Tuesday for an investigation into “potential scientific meddling” by the Trump administration in its rule to remove critical habitat protections for the imperiled northern spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest.

Solar panels gleam in the sunshine on a sunny day in Arlington.
Snohomish County PUD

It’s a small step, but an important one in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Seattle City Council on Monday unanimously passed a new building code for commercial properties. It requires all new construction to meet much higher standards for energy efficiency.

The Space Needle is seen in view of still standing but now defunct stacks at the Nucor Steel plant in Seattle, seen in 2016. Rates of heart disease and asthma are higher near big polluters such as this plant.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press file

The pressure is on to pass climate bills in Olympia. Attempts to get policies through that limit carbon pollution by putting a price on it have often failed here – including two statewide voter initiatives with broad or bipartisan support.

A replica of the Treaty of Point Elliott, on display at the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve in Tulalip, Wash.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

166 years ago this past Friday, on Jan. 22, 1855, the Treaty of Point Elliott was signed in what is now Mukilteo, Washington. The document is the source of much power for many local tribes today, but it wasn’t always that way. It’s celebrated every year in tribal ceremonies that are open to outsiders.

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

Officials in Washington state denied a key permit for a large proposed methanol plant Tuesday, saying the project that aims to send the chemical to China to be used in everything from fabrics and contact lenses to iPhones and medical equipment would pump out too much pollution.

A5 pod is seen with a new calf on Jan. 4, 2021.
Jared Towers / Fisheries and Oceans Canada

A pod of orcas has returned to a part of British Columbia where they have not been seen for years. 

Coho salmon spawn on the Salmon River in northwestern Oregon.
Bureau of Land Management / Courtesy University of Washington News and Information

Washington’s salmon are “teetering on the brink of extinction,” according to a new report. It says the state must change how it’s responding to climate change and the growing number of people in Washington. 

Trump administration slashes imperiled spotted owls' habitat

Jan 14, 2021
The Associated Press

The Trump administration said Wednesday that it would slash millions of acres of protected habitat designated for the imperiled northern spotted owl in Oregon, Washington state and Northern California, much of it in prime timber locations in Oregon’s coastal ranges.

In this photo taken Nov. 5, 2014, a researcher measures a dead coho found in Seattle's Longfellow Creek. More than a decade ago, researchers began noticing that adult coho were dying before returning to spawn in urban creeks in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press file

Endangered species in Washington will get a much-needed boost following the settlement of a major lawsuit about runoff and water quality.  

In this May 1, 2013, file photo, an All Electric Bus, a Zero-Emissions Vehicle, produced by China's BYD Co., is parked at the announcement of the opening of an electric bus manufacturing plant in Lancaster, Calif.
Reed Saxon / Associated Press file

As King County Metro expands its fleet of electric buses with a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040 with a zero-emissions fleet, the agency must make important choices about battery size and composition. It’s a puzzle many big transit agencies are working on.

The new bridge span that carries traffic over the Puyallup River between Tacoma and Fife is now called the Fishing Wars Memorial Bridge and in Twulshootseed, yabuk’wali, meaning “place of a fight.”
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Author's note: Every once in a while, a milestone anniversary comes around that allows us to learn about or review important historical events. This year, because of the pandemic, the Puyallup tribe did not do much to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a crucial standoff beneath the new structure now known as the Fishing Wars Memorial Bridge. That event, and the media coverage it garnered, ultimately led local authorities to live up to the promise of tribal fishing rights, agreed to in the treaties of the 1850s.

I didn’t know much about the Puyallups' role in this until I got a chance to sit down with former chairwoman Ramona Bennett. That interview is one I won’t forget – and I hope the story that it yielded helps all of us remember how recently indigenous people here were hounded for trying to make a living exercising their rights – as well as to recall the power of public attention and media coverage to turn things around.

A juvenile snowy owl begins hunting at dawn amid the blowing snow.A juvenile Snowy Owl begins hunting at dawn amid the blowing snow.
Paul Bannick / paulbannick.com

For about a month now, a snowy owl has been spending its daytime hours on several rooftops in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood. Prior to that, there were sightings of the iconic bird in West Seattle and Burien.

Janna Nichols / Courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

Seven years ago, a wasting disease began killing sea stars all along the West Coast. The largest and hardest-hit species, the sunflower sea star (Pycnopodia helianthoides), is now critically endangered, reduced in numbers by some 90 percent. Scientists with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) put it on their “red list” last week. But researchers at Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island say there’s reason for hope.

In this June 1, 2016, file photo, piles of wood chips sit near a paper mill in Tacoma, Wash. Communities close to major sources of air pollution whose health suffers as a result could benefit from the work of the state's environmental justice task force.
Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

As they prepare for the next legislative session, state lawmakers are reviewing a report that calls for laws to ensure environmental justice.

It comes from a new entity, created in 2019 and charged with developing strategies to address findings in the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map.

In this photo taken July 31, 2015, passengers aboard a commercial boat watch orca whales swim past in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash.
Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

Operators of commercial whale-watching vessels are pushing back against proposed new regulations from the state. The Department of Fish and Wildlife is implementing a mandatory licensing system for the vessels, after the Washington Legislature passed a directive last year that also instructed the department to develop rules for viewing endangered southern resident killer whales.

Coastal shellfish manager Daniel Ayres pulls a razor clam from the sand for sampling on November 16, 2020.
Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Wind and rain hammer the coast in the early morning hours at Copalis Beach in Ocean City. But Dawn Radonski is already out in her waders, waiting for the perfect moment to pull a five-gallon bucket of saltwater from the waves. She’s a harmful algal bloom specialist with the Quinault Indian Nation, and she’s sampling for a certain kind of especially toxic algae.

Christina Miller of Green Bow Farm in Ellensburg
Courtesy of Washington Food and Farm Finder

Demand for fresh food from local farms has surged in recent months, even as the pandemic has sometimes made it harder to get. Many people are looking for healthy ways to avoid grocery store shopping and support local small businesses.

 In this Aug. 28, 2017 photo provided by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, a crane and boats are anchored next to a collapsed net pen used by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific to farm Atlantic salmon near Cypress Island in Washington state.
David Bergvall/Washington State Department of Natural Resources / The Associated Press

A controversial plan to raise domesticated steelhead in net pens in Puget Sound faces a new legal challenge.

Cooke Aquaculture wants to use its remaining leases with the state, despite the ban on net pen farming of non-native fish. So, it proposed switching from Atlantic salmon to sterilized native steelhead.

In this photo taken in February 2015 by NOAA Fisheries, newborn orca calf L-121 swims with its mother, L-94, off Westport, with the NOAA research ship Bell M. Shimada in the background. Young orcas often do not survive past their first year of life.
NOAA Fisheries, Candice Emmons / The Associated Press

Underwater noise from ship traffic is one of the major threats to Puget Sound’s endangered Southern Resident orcas. It can interfere with the whales’ ability to communicate, navigate by echolocation and find the increasingly scarce salmon they prefer.

A recommendation from the orca recovery task force convened by Gov. Jay Inslee in 2018-19 is to reduce noise and disturbance from large vessels. Work is underway to develop a program called "Quiet Sound," which will alert ships to the presence of whales so they can re-route or slow down.

Children hold signs as they stand on stage with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who signed bills addressing climate change, Tuesday, May 7, 2019,
Elaine Thompson / Associated Press

Climate action advocates say they’re hopeful they’ll see more success in Olympia, when lawmakers return to session. 

A recent webinar with several environmental groups provided an overview of the election outcome, and its implications for climate policies.

Clayton Carson, a technician from the state department of fish and wildlife, delivers Dungeness crab samples from three coastal areas to the state health department's labs in Shoreline. They will be tested for domic acid, a neurotoxin.
Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

UPDATE, Nov. 25: The state Department of Fish and Wildlife has closed recreational fishing for Dungeness crab on the central Washington coast, effective immediately.

That’s after new test results showed levels of the neurotoxin domoic acid have reached unsafe levels. The closure stretches from the Queets River to Point Chehalis and includes Grays Harbor and the popular Westport Boat Basin.

The commercial crab season is not yet open. Tests next week will determine when it can open and if domoic acid continues to be an issue.

Razor clam digging closed to the public on washington's coast Oct. 21, 2020, after high levels of domoic acide were found in sampling.
Courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

A potentially record-setting season for razor clam digging in Washington has come to a screeching halt. Warm water off the coast has helped toxic algae thrive, rendering the clams unsafe to eat.

Some species of algae that razor clams feed on produce domoic acid. It’s a neurotoxin that at high levels can cause brain damage in humans and other vertebrates. Tests in mid-October showed the levels of this toxin had reached unsafe levels. The clams are unaffected, but they concentrate it in their flesh.

Peter Bowyer, the facility manager at AquaBounty Technologies, points out a newly hatched Atlantic salmon alevin among the first batch of bioengineered eggs in an incubation tray in Albany, Ind., Wednesday, June 19, 2019.
Michael Conroy / The Associated Press (file)

A federal judge has ruled that production of the world’s first genetically engineered salmon was allowed to go ahead without the required evaluation of environmental risks.

The ruling, from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, says the Food and Drug Administration violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act when it granted approval to a plan from Massachusetts-based AquaBounty in 2015.

In this file photo, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is seen campaigning as Democratic presidential candidate, during a Columbia Climate Strike rally at Columbia University on Friday March 15, 2019, in New York City.
Bebeto Matthews / The Associated Press (file)

Environmental groups have become some of the biggest spenders in U.S. politics this election. Washington state is no exception.

The Washington Conservation Voters political action committee (WCV PAC) has poured some $425,000 into about 10 state legislative races. In each case, fossil fuel interests have funded campaigns on the other side.

This combination of  photos taken Sept. 25, 2020, shows state Rep. Beth Doglio, left, and former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland. Both are Democrats, facing off in the race for the next representative of Washington's 10th Congressional District.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Two Democrats are vying to fill the open seat in Washington’s 10th Congressional District. State representative Beth Doglio is running against former Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

The race has been called a microcosm of the recent split in the Democratic Party between establishment liberals and left-leaning progressives. One issue that clearly displays their differences is how they would address climate change.  

Under a smoke-filled sky, volunteer Shawn Daley directs traffic into the parking lot an evacuation center at the Oregon State Fairgrounds, which was crowded with hundreds of cars, pickup trucks, and campers of evacuees, in Salem on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.
Andrew Selsky / The Associated Press (file)

The state department of Labor and Industries has begun a rule-making process to protect outdoor workers from wildfire smoke. It will make Washington the second state after California to do so.