Environment | KNKX


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

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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.

Members of groups including 350.org, Seattle Cruise Control and the Center for Biological Diversity
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

A celebration of Earth Day in honor of the Salish Sea took aim at the Port of Seattle Thursday. Representatives of several groups, including 350.org and the Center for Biological Diversity, called attention to the port’s impact on marine life.  

Even as human impacts cause increasing numbers of animal strandings along beaches in Washington and Oregon, there has been a gap in critical care for them. Till now, there was no marine wildlife hospital in either state dedicated to rehabilitating hurt or sick animals.

A line of Teslas charge outside a dealership in Littleton, Colo., on Aug. 23, 2020.
David Zalubowski / The Associated Press file

In less than a decade, all cars and light-duty vehicles sold in Washington will be powered by electricity, not fossil fuels. That’s the goal set within legislation that has passed the state House and Senate. The 2030 timeline is now part of a bill that aims to prepare the state for a zero-emissions transportation future. It’s on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee for signing.

Researchers are monitoring this gray whale after it potentially developed health complications due to a satellite tag being implanted in its body.
NOAA Fisheries

Federal scientists say a gray whale that might have developed complications from a satellite tag appears to be doing OK.

A plastic recycling company worker sorts out plastic bottles collected for processing at Tokyo Petbottle Recycle Co. in Tokyo in June 2019.
Koji Sasahara / The Associated Press file

It looks increasingly likely that Washington will ban plastic foam, reduce plastic waste and strengthen recycling markets. A bill to that effect is nearly through the Legislature.

The Cushman Powerline Trail is a 6.2 public trail located in Gig Harbor, Wash.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Throughout the central Puget Sound region, wide trails offer the promise of safe and accessible transportation corridors for people who bike or walk. Many are converted railroad right-of-ways, and some connect to high-speed transit. But many stand alone, limiting their utility.

Standup paddleboarders off the coast of Port Townsend, WA in March, 2020.
Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Spring has sprung, many people are now vaccinated and there’s renewed excitement to get outdoors. The pandemic has again led to a surge in outdoor recreation as people look for safe things to do in the open air.

From top, a pine siskin, American goldfinch and Black-capped chickadee sit on a feeder in Fayston, Vt., in December 2008.
Toby Talbot / The Associated Press file

Six Washington residents have become ill in an outbreak of Salmonella typhimurium, believed to be linked to wild songbirds, particularly pine siskins, state health officials said Monday.

Bundled plastic goods, which were separated from paper and metal recyclable materials, are stacked and awaiting processing at EL Harvey & Sons, a waste and recycling company, in Westborough, Mass., on Sept. 6, 2018.
Charles Krupa / The Associated Press file

A law that would respond to the plastic waste crisis in the U.S. is advancing in the state Legislature. It passed the state Senate earlier this month; a hearing in the House appropriations committee is expected this week.

Mussels are fed to an adult Sunflower sea star in the first ever captive breeding program for this critically endangered species, at UW Friday Harbor Labs.  The research is a collaboration with The Nature Conservancy.
Courtesy University of Washington

In December, sunflower sea stars were declared critically endangered by an international union of scientists. This species is the largest and hardest hit among the iconic and colorful starfish that have been devastated by a wasting syndrome.


Environmental justice became part of federal law in 1990. Washington might soon catch up. A proposed state law would infuse the concept into the work of seven key agencies.  

Washington State Department of Agriculture entomologist Chris Looney displays a dead Asian giant hornet, bottom, next to a native bald-faced hornet. The Asian hornets are deadly to honeybees, but bug experts say they’re not a big threat to people.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press file

Officials in Canada and the United States are coordinating efforts to detect and eradicate the Asian giant hornet. 

 In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, endangered orcas from the J pod swim in Puget Sound west of Seattle, as seen from a federal research vessel that has been tracking the whales.
Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press file

For more than a decade, Brad Hanson and other researchers have tailed the Pacific Northwest's endangered killer whales in a hard-sided inflatable boat, leaning over the edge with a standard pool skimmer to collect clues to their diet: bits of orca poop floating on the water, or fish scales sparkling just below the surface.

Retired USGS geologist Brian Atwater on Seattle's Duwamish River at dusk. He often explores the area at low tide looking for signs of geological activity.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Twenty years ago this Sunday, the Nisqually earthquake rattled the region. It registered 6.8 on the Richter scale and shook for 40 seconds. The damage was significant. Bricks flew. It caused cracks in the Capitol dome in Olympia and sealed the fate of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct as well as many older buildings in Pioneer Square. But it was nowhere near as drastic as some of the other possible geological scenarios that could lead to truly devastating shaking.

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.