Environment | KNKX

Environment

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

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An increase in private use of fireworks this year — like these sold at Wild Willy's Fireworks tent in Omaha, Neb., Monday, June 29, — likely added up to at least as much air pollution as normally registered from large communal displays.
Nati Harnik / The Associated Press

If you felt like there were more fireworks going off in your neighborhood this year around the Fourth of July, you’re probably right. Air quality data is in. And local agencies say even though all the major public displays were canceled, the small particle pollution registered was equivalent to previous years. 

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, left, speaks as Gov. Jay Inslee looks on during a news conference, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in Seattle, where Ferguson announced a lawsuit against agrochemical giant Monsanto over pollution from PCBs.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press (file)

SEATTLE (AP) — The agrochemical giant Monsanto has agreed to pay Washington state $95 million to settle a lawsuit that blamed it for pervasive pollution from PCBs — toxic industrial chemicals that have accumulated in plants, fish and people around the globe for decades.

A new study finds that plastic pollution is not just a problem for the world’s oceans. It’s everywhere – including in the air, where tiny fragments known as microplastics can be carried by wind and rain to places as remote as national parks and wilderness areas.

In a Sept. 28, 2011 file photo, a native fisherman displays a salmon he pulled from his net on the Duwamish River, in Seattle
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press (file)

A coalition of environmental groups, commercial fishermen and the Makah Tribe are suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency over its decision to roll back water quality regulations in Washington state. At issue are human health standards that the EPA itself forced the state to adopt just a few years ago.

Wesley Hull / Courtesy of Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association

A federal judge has thrown out a general permit for the shellfish industry in Washington that has reduced the regulatory burden on them for decades. Now, growers will have to apply individually to continue existing operations. And an industry group is planning to appeal.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

She will be home in 2020.

That was the word from members of the Lummi Nation who have not given up on their efforts to free the captive Southern Resident orca some call "Lolita" from her cement tank at the Miami Seaquarium. A nonprofit law group has now joined the fight, bringing new legal tactics to the battle.

Joey Manson, center director of the Seward Park Audubon Center, birdwatching Sunday with his colleague Armand Lucas at Be’er Sheva Park, in Seattle's Rainier Valley.
Glenn Nelson

If you’re Black in America, something as innocent as bird-watching can cause suspicion. A social media campaign is celebrating African Americans taking back that space. It’s called Black Birders Week.

A racoon spotted by one of the cameras in the Grit City Carnivore Project in Tacoma on May 5th, 2020.
Courtesy of the Grit City Carnivore Project, Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, and UW Tacoma.

The slowdown of daily life under stay-at-home orders because of the coronavirus has many of us feeling more connected to nature. We hear more birdsong in the mornings. The air seems cleaner. Perhaps we’re seeing more wildlife in the parks as we take walks in our neighborhoods. But the change of pace hasn’t necessarily benefitted urban wildlife.

courtesy Northshore Utility District

Local utility districts have been warning for some time of issues with so-called "flushable" wet wipes. Despite what the labels on many packages say, they are much too durable to be flushed. If sent down the loo, they damage pipes, pumps and entire sewer systems.

In this May 15, 2019 photo, the Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River is seen from the air near Colfax, Washington. The dams are blamed for reducing salmon numbers on the Snake and Columbia river systems.
Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Salmon need cold water to survive. Dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers are making the water too hot, in some places by as much as 5 degrees.

Now, after a drawn-out lawsuit and direction from the state of Washington, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has released plan to change that.  

Paula Frier / The Associated Press

Most state public lands will reopen Tuesday as Gov. Jay Inslee’s order to ease restrictions on outdoor recreation takes effect. But not Washington’s coastal beaches.

Seattle City Light is going through a detailed federal process over the next five years, to meet regulations to keep operating the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.
Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Seattle City Light has started the process of relicensing three large dams in the North Cascades that supply the utility with about a third of its power.  

The utility will go through a detailed federal process over the next five years, to meet regulations to keep operating the 100-year-old Skagit River Hydroelectric Project. The current license was enacted in 1995 and expires on April 30, 2025.

Jeanne Clark / Courtesy of SDOT

At the same time that the City of Seattle has been keeping some parks closed because of concerns about COVID-19, it has opened up certain neighborhood streets for pedestrians, cyclists and skaters to get out more and move.

People wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus walk past a mural of the world in Philadelphia, Wednesday, April 22, 2020.
Matt Rourke / The Associated Press

Washington’s broadest coalition of climate activists is using the 50th anniversary of Earth Day to call for a just recovery from COVID-19.

Tacoma's controversial liquefied natural gas facility is among the projects that could be affected by the drop in prices for fossil fuels.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

The impact of the new coronavirus on the global economy has caused prices for fossil fuels to plummet. As everything has slowed down, demand has shrunk to just a fraction of what it was before governments told people to stay home to slow the spread of disease.

Visitors view a widened passage for salmon to swim up the Middle Fork of the Newaukum River under Middle Fork Road near Chehalis, Wash., Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 — an example of restoration work the Quinault say would be undermined by the proposed dam.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

“Extinction is not an option.”

That’s the headline on a statement released Thursday by the Quinault Indian Nation, as the tribe formally announced its opposition to a proposed dam on the upper Chehalis River. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The state Department of Natural Resources is closing all DNR-managed lands to public recreation. The closure goes into effect Thursday and will last through at least April 8. It’s an additional step in government efforts to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

The end of this year’s legislative session has been overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak. The session started with high hopes for new state policies to reduce climate warming greenhouse gas pollution, stoked by youth climate strikes as well as cities and the Puyallup Tribe declaring climate emergencies.

FILE -- This Aug. 3, 2009 photo shows clerk Allison Ure lifting groceries she's bagged in a plastic sack at the M Street Grocery in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Washington is poised to become the ninth state in the nation to ban the use of thin plastic bags in retail sales. After passing both chambers of the Legislature with strong bipartisan support, it was signed by the president of the state Senate on Wednesday.  

In this March 23, 2015 photo, Chris Owens pulls a geoduck clam out from deep in the sand while harvesting geoducks for Taylor Shellfish Farms near Harstine Island, Wash.
Ted S. Warren / AP Photo/ file

While lots of people are feeling frightened or inconvenienced by the novel coronavirus, at least one group is also financially devastated: geoduck divers. They normally sell the huge, iconic bivalves as a luxury export item, primarily for customers in China. Not right now. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Images

The Chehalis River has flooded 18 times in the past 20 years, sometimes submerging Interstate 5 near Olympia. The local Flood Control Zone District is proposing a new dam to prevent extreme high water. A draft environmental impact statement is now out for public comment.  

An orca is seen swimming free in the Salish Sea.
Photo by Katy Foster

UPDATE, Feb. 27, 2020: The Whale Sanctuary Project that was considering sites in Western Washington and British Columbia has announced it will not be setting up here anytime soon. It has chosen to start its work in Port Hilford, on the eastern shore of Nova Scotia. That location will be primarily dedicated to rehabilitating beluga whales that are retiring form marine parks and aquariums.

Puddles, a dog used by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to sniff out invasive quagga and zebra mussels during boat inspections, waits for instructions during a demonstration of her skills for reporters.
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

At a public boat launch on Black Lake, south of Olympia, Sgt. Pam Taylor holds dozens of small, dark black shells in the palm of her hand. At her side is an inquisitive white hound, barking enthusiastically.

“These are what I put in the little socks to train Puddles,” says Taylor, an inspector with the Aquatic Invasive Species program at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

It's Invasive Species Awareness Week in Washington. Public officials, like Taylor, are warning that non-native invaders can proliferate quickly and wipe out native ecosystems. And they’re calling on the public to help find them and prevent their spread.

In this May 17, 1999 file photo, two Makah whalers stand atop a dead gray whale, moments after helping tow it to shore in the harbor at Neah Bay, Wash. Earlier in the day, Makah Indians took it in their first hunt since opting out 70 yrs. earlier.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

A little less than a month remains for public comment on a proposal to allow the Makah Indian Tribe to resume its hunt for gray whales.

A shopper places her goods into her car outside a supermarket in Christchurch, New ZNew Zealand, Friday, Aug. 10, 2018. New Zealand plans to ban disposable plastic shopping bags by next July as the nation tries to live up to its clean-and-green image.
Mark Baker / AP Images

The proposal for a statewide ban on thin plastic bags in retail establishments is quickly moving forward.

A vote is scheduled for Tuesday in the state Environment and Energy Committee, where lawmakers heard public comments from a packed chamber this week.

Drinking water is seen on a cafeteria table in Los Angeles on Friday, Aug. 2, 2109. Among the proposals Washington legislators are still considering this session is a ban on new sales of water rights to bottling companies.
Richard Vogel / The Associated Press

Members of Washington's Environmental Priorities Coalition say they're making good progress on the legislative agenda they set for this session. The agenda comes out of annual cooperative agreements between more than 20 organizations statewide.

Ron Peltier and Betsey Wittick at Bainbridge Vinyards.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

It started over a few glasses of wine, with friends passing around a smartphone and sharing views of a sketch by late-night comedian Bill Maher.

The idea presented there, for a holiday on par with those honoring moms and dads, often provokes laughter. “I Didn’t Reproduce Day” would celebrate single people, aunts and uncles who help out — and not just by being allies to parents or mentors to young people. Maher makes the case that people who remain childless are saving resources and preventing thousands of tons of carbon pollution from warming the Earth’s climate.  

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 via AP

Four large environmental groups are suing the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

At issue is the agency's approval of Cooke Aquaculture's plans to switch to native steelhead farming in net pens in Puget Sound. The permit would apply to four existing net pens with valid leases and possibly three more later.

Kristin Haakenson / Jubilee Farm

Pacing behind his cow barn, David Haakenson looks out over the farm where his family has lived since 1989.

Today, it’s surrounded by water from the Snoqualmie River.

“It’s all frothy and logs are going down, and we’ve got water all around,” he said. “I’ve got all my tractors and trucks and vehicles, and all the animals, up here on this raised-dirt mound, and my house is a stone’s throw away, and I’ve got my row boat in the driveway.”

Nick Dubitzky (L) and farm manager Charlie Delius display the current crop of kelp at Hood Canal Mariculture during a growers workshop Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2020..
Washington Sea Grant

As seaweeds grow in the ocean, they naturally pull carbon dioxide from the water for photosynthesis, much as trees pull CO2 from the air. Many people in western Washington see an opportunity in that.

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