Environment and Planning

Environment and Planning

ANNA KING/NW NEWS NETWORK

A new watchdog report says the federal government hasn’t done enough to prevent structural failures at the Hanford Nuclear Site’s aging facilities. The accountability report comes after a tunnel partially collapsed in 2017, where for decades the federal government stored highly contaminated radioactive waste.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

A group that wants to bring back wild sea otters to the Oregon Coast is taking a big step forward. The federal government has awarded them a grant to launch a feasibility study for a possible reintroduction effort.

CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company

The large plant that produced two-thirds of the United States’ Cold War-era plutonium no longer exists. 

Crews at the Hanford site recently finished demolishing the tricky Plutonium Finishing Plant’s main processing facility in southeastern Washington. 

But the demolition gave contractors some real trouble.

USDA/NRCS

Remember the first few weeks of January? Snow-covered mountain passes, closed highways. Not great for travelers, but pretty helpful to the region’s snowpack, which is a vital source of water in the spring and summer.

 

Bonneville Power Administration

Salmon need our help, but solutions aren’t going to come easy. That was the common thought from speakers Tuesday night in Clarkston, Washington.

The panel kicked off the first of three workshops to discuss issues that bog down the fate of four lower Snake River dams in Washington. 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Operators at Chief Joseph Dam in eastern Washington will now have to reduce pollution from oil spills that leak into the Columbia River. That’s after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently reached a settlement with Columbia Riverkeeper.

CH2M HILL Plateau Remediation Company

At Hanford, in southeastern Washington, contractors have just completed much of the demolition work at the site’s Plutonium Finishing Plant. But now crews have to finish the job. 

And that’s the tough part. 

Demo Timeline

Tom Banse / NW News Network

It was a dark and slippery early morning on the Oregon coast when researchers scrambled down the rocky shore in the small town of Yachats. 

They kept one eye on the crashing waves while scanning for two species of Pacific Northwest sea life that are now being checked for microplastics — fibers and fragments less than 5 millimeters long.

Courtney Flatt/Northwest Public Broadcasting

 

It was a hot, dry summer afternoon when Molly Linville glanced out her front windows and noticed a rare storm pushing down the narrow valley where she raises cattle.

Then came five lightning strikes in quick succession. And five plumes of smoke.

She thought things would be OK. She was wrong.

“I wasn’t as concerned as I should have been from the get-go,” Linville said.

At that moment, her 125 cattle were all in the southern end of the ranch, where the flames were closing in.

John Calambokidis / Cascadia Research

A whale expert is reporting a rare sighting of blue whales off the Washington state coast. The largest animals on the planet have also been sighted in unusual numbers offshore of Oregon this summer.

A humpback whale breaches in the Salish Sea.
Island Adventures Whale Watching

Humpback whales were once so numerous in the coastal and inland waters of the Pacific Northwest, there were whaling stations near Nanaimo, British Columbia, and Grays Harbor, Washington. These closed by 1925, after the regional population of humpback whales had been largely wiped out.

A century later, humpbacks are resurfacing in big numbers in the Salish Sea, the Columbia River mouth and the Northwest coast. Along with excitement over the humpbacks' return comes concern about ship strikes and entanglement in fishing gear.

Pacific NW Large Whale Entanglement Response Network / NOAA Permit #18786-03

A badly entangled whale is swimming free again after a dramatic rescue off the Washington coast on Thursday evening. The 35-foot long humpback whale calmly allowed responders to cut it free of fishing gear, according to witnesses.

SeaWorld parks said it has no interest in turning over its captive orcas to the Whale Sanctuary Project.
Mike Aguilera / SeaWorld San Diego

An environmental nonprofit is gauging interest in the creation of an orca enclosure in Washington's San Juan Islands. The organization is hosting public outreach meetings over the coming week in six Western Washington locations.

Courtesy Michele Gerber

A new federal report says that a massive building at the Hanford Nuclear Site is worse off than managers thought. 

The so-called PUREX -- Plutonium Uranium Extraction -- plant isn’t clean. Starting in 1956 the plant processed loads of plutonium. Its walls are up to 6 feet thick, and it’s as long as three football fields.

PUREX is located within Hanford’s 200 East Area. It’s about 7 miles from the Columbia River and 5 miles from State Highway 240.

Mario Rivera

The tally of dead gray whales washing up on Pacific Northwest beaches during this year's northbound migration keeps going up. That's prompting an unusual request for volunteers from a federal agency.

Timothy Lawes

Cormorants by the thousands have taken up residence under the landmark Astoria-Megler Bridge over the Columbia River. Their poop can corrode the bridge and that is unacceptable to the Oregon and Washington transportation departments. But what actions to take against the protected birds and whose responsibility that is are up in the air.

Courtesy of Hanford contractor Mission Support Alliance

At the Hanford Nuclear Site in southeastern Washington, and across the West, winter’s deep snow and a cool spring have produced lots of brush and grass.

That’s a problem for the coming fire season.  

Hanford and the region surrounding it is a desert. Sagebrush and bunchgrass stud the site. But there’s also a lot of invasive cheatgrass that forms a brittle shag carpet across the landscape. And then there are drifts of tumbleweeds. The site’s a bit like an expansive fire starter. It’s all fine if there isn’t a spark.

John Weldon / Portland State Univ. via NOAA Marine Mammal Stranding Program

Olympic National Park said a decomposing gray whale washed ashore Friday morning north of Kalaloch Campground. That makes the 24th dead whale stranding in Oregon and Washington this year during the northbound migration.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

A big rebound in the sea lion population along the West Coast in recent years has created a constant battle to wrangle the protected animals. They're smart and fun to watch from a safe distance, but also noisy, smelly and proving to be a headache for some coastal marinas.

Cascadia Research Collective

An unusually large number of gray whales are washing up dead on their northbound migration past the Oregon and Washington coasts this year.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Pacific Northwesterners are undeniably fond of their endangered resident killer whales. Many locals are also fans of salmon fishing, a hobby that sustains charter fishing fleets in coastal harbors from Neah Bay, Washington, to Brookings, Oregon.

But now there is a chance future fishing trips on the ocean could be curtailed to leave more food for the killer whales. Regulators are preparing to reassess the Pacific salmon harvest and an environmental lawsuit seeks more action to save orcas.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network, 2018

Politicians and wildlife managers are engaged in a fresh debate about whether to intervene in nature to save an imperiled species. The question is whether humans can get seals and sea lions to lay off Chinook salmon so there's more for killer whales to eat.

epa.gov / US Environmental Protection Agency

  

The Environmental Protection Agency set new clean-air standards four years ago for wood stove and hydronic heater manufacturers.

These manufacturers were told that by 2020 they would have to sell off older models of stoves and heaters that did not meet the new standards that limit fine particulate matter. Now, under the Trump administration, the EPA is proposing a two-year delay to that sell-by deadline.

ANNA KING / NORTHWEST NEWS NETWORK

new proposal from the Trump administration could dramatically change the way the government cleans up radioactive tank waste at t

A bald eagle looks for its next meal along the Skagit River. Eagles converge there in great numbers every winter.
Jason Ransom / NPS 2017

From mid-December to February, hundreds upon hundreds of bald eagles flock to the Skagit River in northwest Washington to feast on spawning salmon. It's one of the biggest seasonal concentrations of eagles in the Pacific Northwest, but this eagle watching hot spot is being affected by changing cycles of nature.

One of the six fishers is released on Wednesday December 5, 2018, at the North Cascades Visitor Center in Newhalem.
KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

An elusive carnivore in the weasel family is roaming free in Washington’s North Cascades for the first time in at least 70 years.

Federal and state wildlife biologists on Wednesday released six fishers captured and relocated from Alberta. One by one, the six furry fishers sprinted out of their wooden boxes into the mossy forest of the Ross Lake National Recreation Area near Newhalem. 

ODFW, 2017

An online map of wolf sightings from the public includes unconfirmed reports of wandering wolves from the Idaho border to the Pacific beaches, not to mention inside major cities such as Seattle and Tacoma.

The Oregon and Washington state wildlife departments welcome more eyes on the woods to monitor the spread of wolves, even though a good number of the citizen sightings are probably mistaken.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

Injured, sick or orphaned seals, seabirds and turtles could get a second chance in a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center if the Oregon Coast Aquarium succeeds with a capital campaign it just launched.

Tom Banse / NW News Network

It's been more than a century since sea otters were hunted to near extinction along the U.S. West Coast. The cute animals were successfully reintroduced along the Washington, British Columbia and California coasts, but an attempt to bring them back to Oregon in the early 1970s failed.

Now a new nonprofit has formed to try again.

Scott Benson / NOAA Fisheries

The Oregon crab industry is putting up money to launch a new research study on where whales swim and feed along the Pacific Coast. The study stems from growing concern West Coast-wide about whales getting tangled in fishing gear.

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