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

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.

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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.

Gen Nashimoto, of Luminalt, installs solar panels in Hayward, Calif., on Wednesday, April 29, 2020. From New York to California, the U.S renewable energy industry is reeling from the new coronavirus pandemic
Ben Margot / The Associated Press (file)

The clean energy sector was one of the fastest growing parts of the economy before the pandemic, and it’s been one of the hardest hit. But researchers say jobs in energy efficiency or solar or wind power are still some of the best paid.

Mount St. Helens, in the foreground, is shown with with Mt. Rainier in the background in 2004, near Longview, Wash. The USGS ranks Mount Rainier as the third most dangerous volcano in the nation, after Kilauea in Hawaii and St. Helens, both active.
JANET L. MATHEWS, THE COLUMBIAN / The Associated Press

Officials from the U.S. Department of the Interior and United States Geological Survey have been touring sites in Mount Rainier National Park this week. They’re looking at five new locations where upgraded monitoring stations will soon enhance detection of lahars. There’s also a proposal to add another 12 lahar monitoring stations in the park, to complete an expansion they say will put detection at Rainier on par with other high-threat volcanoes in the region, such as Mount St. Helens.

In this May 3, 2018 photo, a couple walk their dog near the Kinder Morgan Inc. Westridge oil tanker terminal in Burnaby, BC. The company's Trans Mountain expansion is projected to increase oil tanker traffic here by as much as sevenfold.
Jeremy Hainsworth / The Associated Press (file)

Washington has been stepping up systems to prevent and reduce the risk of oil spills, due in part to the looming expansion of Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline. It could result in as much as a sevenfold increase in the number of oil tankers traveling from Vancouver, B.C., through Puget Sound.

In 2018, the state Legislature passed the Strengthening Oil Transportation Safety Act. Among its requirements, along with a barrel tax on crude oil and updates to contingency plans for oil spills, was the establishment of the Salish Sea Shared Waters forum.

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

This story originally aired on February 14, 2020.

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.

In this July 31, 2015 photo, one orca whale swims along as another leaps out of the water near a whale watching boat whose passengers happen to be looking the other way in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press

Update, Dec. 18, 2020: State officials have approved new rules that limit whale watch boats to a three-month season for viewing Puget Sound’s endangered killer whales. They will only be allowed from July through September.

AstroTurf in the Puyallup River, near the site of Electron Hydro's dam improvement project.
Courtesy of the Puyallup Tribe

The Puyallup Tribe intends to sue Electron Hydro and its backers over violations of the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The tribe’s 60-day notice, filed in federal court, comes after a whistleblower working at the Pierce County dam site this summer revealed that the company was using artificial turf in the Puyallup River.  

Washington State's Department of Agriculture this week for the first time radio tagged a live Asian giant hornet. Unfortunately, the tag fell off before the glue dried.
Washington State Department of Agriculture

It’s been a busy week for Washington state agriculture officials tracking the potential spread of the Asian giant hornet. Scientists say they found evidence of six new hornets near Blaine, indicating the likelihood that a nest is in the area.  

The invasive species, sometimes called murder hornets, can decimate honeybees and other pollinators, threatening ecosystems and agriculture. Fifteen of them have now been found in Washington since they were first seen here last year.

Turning Basin No. 3 is among the Port of Seattle parks being renamed with the public's help in a campaign that launched this summer.
Courtesy of Port of Seattle

The Port of Seattle owns and operates six public parks along the Duwamish River that many people don’t even know exist. That’s changing as the port engages community in a renaming process meant to help residents reclaim the properties and their heritage.

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