Environment | KNKX


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

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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.

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.

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.

Smoke from wildfires in Oregon and California creates hazy skies as the sun is seen above the Washington state Capitol, Saturday afternoon, Sept. 12, 2020, in Olympia, Wash. Numerous air quality warnings were in place for most of the West for several days
Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press

Forecasters here are monitoring smoke from California that has the potential to reach Western Washington this week. Easterly winds have revved up and the smoke is accumulating offshore. Some of it is expected to flow north, but how much, exactly when and how it impacts air quality once it arrives are all open questions at this point.

In this 2015 file photo, protesters demand release of the orca whale some call Lolita, who has been in captivity at the Miami Seaquarium for 50 years.
Wilfredo Lee / The Associated Press (file)

Fifty years ago this week, the killer whale some call Lolita arrived at Miami Seaquarium. She was captured at Penn Cove, in the waters off Whidbey Island, in early August 1970, along with dozens of other young orcas.

Sold for about $20,000, she arrived in Miami on Sept. 23, where she received her stage name and has lived ever since, in an 80-by-35-foot tank. Originally named Tokitae by her trainers, she is the last surviving Southern Resident orca in captivity.

A helicopter flies over fires burning on a ridge in Sumner, Wash., Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020.
Rachel La Corte / The Associated Press

Another potentially devastating effect of wildfires: increased landslide risk. The state Department of Natural Resources has a team doing rapid response analysis in areas that have recently burned.

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

Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier says he wants to see the obsolete Electron Dam removed from the Puyallup River. This comes after an employee revealed that the private owner of the dam was illegally using discarded AstroTurf in the river during work on upgrades this summer.

Tahmina Martelly, Of World Relief Seattle, gives a tour of the Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden in Kent. Martelly says among the coverted crops grown here by immigrants are these hairy gourd vines.
Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

A community garden in Kent is in the spotlight as an example of climate action that empowers people who are disproportionally impacted by climate change.

The Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden fills more than an acre on a hillside that used to be an underused parking lot. The church next door donated the land.  

Students work to assemble a young female gray whale as part of a class at Seattle Pacific University.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Inside Seattle Pacific University’s Eaton Hall, a small group of students huddle around the huge skull of a gray whale, whose bones they’ve all been studying intently for two weeks. Then, they take turns drilling into it.

King County Executive Down Constantine unveils the 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan at the Paradise Parking Plots Community Garden in Kent on Thursday.
Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

King County Executive Dow Constantine has unveiled his proposal for the 2020 Strategic Climate Action Plan. It’s a five-year roadmap that aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by the end of the decade. Among the details is a pledge to plant 3 million trees and make buildings and transit greener.

A record population of razor clams has just been counted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Courtesy of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

It looks like it could be a wonderful year for razor clam digging. The state’s annual summer survey is done and Coastal Shellfish Manager Dan Ayres says their count of clams at Long Beach came in at 24 million.

" class="wysiwyg-break drupal-content" src="/sites/all/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" title="<--break-->">That’s nearly double the number last year — which was already a 25-year record. He says the numbers are way up coastwide.  It seems to be a combination of factors coming together in the nearshore environment.

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

UPDATE, Sept. 14:  Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier says he wants to see the obsolete Electron Dam removed from the Puyallup River. He issued a letter to the head of Electron Hydro, extending the county’s stop-work order because of the AstroTurf and requiring a list of 14 steps to be carried out immediately.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Puget Sound at low tide is a joy well known to many in the region. It’s a formative experience for many children here, overturning rocks to see all the tiny crabs and sea stars that live amidst colorful seaweed, kelp and barnacles.

But few people are as versed in the lesser-known critters that live in the tidal zone as Seattle naturalist Kelly Brenner. She specializes in anything without a backbone. Brenner is the co-founder of an online event called #Invertefest, which challenges anyone who wants to take part to find and help document the lesser-known or less-celebrated creatures in our midst. She also wrote a recent field guide to Seattle, which includes chapters on marine life.  

We waded into the saltwater together during a recent low tide at Constellation Beach, near Alki, so she could show me around — and introduce me to some of her favorite invertebrates.

Soon the Pilchuck River will be redirected to its original channel, after the removal of two dam structures that have held it back for more than 100 years.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

This week, the Pilchuck River will be redirected to its original channel, after the removal of two dam structures that have held it back for more than 100 years. It’s a relatively small project, compared to the monumental dam removals on the Elwha River in 2014 or even this summer’s explosive demolition work on the Nooksack.

But taking down this 10-by-60-foot barrier promises to dramatically improve critical habitat for salmon and steelhead. 

Adrian Florez / KNKX

Victoria, British Columbia, is about ready to finally stop dumping raw sewage into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A new $580 million treatment plant will be up and running by the end of this year.

The almost completed sewage facility is controversial. U.S. politicians and environmentalists have wanted it for a long time. Others assert the natural currents of the Strait of Juan de Fuca naturally break down the effluent.