News

National Park Service

Federal and state biologists are trekking back to a remote beach in Olympic National Park where a large dock washed ashore. The concrete and steel dock appears to have drifted across the Pacific Ocean after last year's tsunami in Japan.

Washington Marine Debris Task Force spokeswoman Virginia Painter says the primary goal of Thursday's expedition is to scrape potential invasive species off the hulk.

"All the agencies agreed that the invasive species removal has to be the first priority, so that is what this is about."

USDA

RICHLAND, Wash. – Many Northwest growers are left out of the partial extension of the U.S. Farm Bill included in this week’s fiscal cliff legislation. The new law largely covers conventional agriculture and not the organics, specialty crops and conservation programs that our region’s farmers are known for.

Oregon State Police

RICHLAND, Wash. – Two Korean tourists who were visiting family in Bothell, Washington are the latest victims to be identified in that deadly bus crash in northeast Oregon. Police say Sunday’s accident east of Pendleton was Oregon’s deadliest crash since 1971. Among the dead were 67-year-old Jung Oun Hong and his 63-year-old wife, Kim Joong Wha of Korea.

Lieutenant Gregg Hastings with the Oregon State Police says there are some real challenges in identifying the victims quickly for waiting families.

Wikimedia

It’s not just the so-called "fiscal cliff" that Congress is trying to resolve Monday. A tentative agreement on what’s been dubbed the "dairy cliff" is aimed at avoiding a government-induced spike in the price of milk.

Northwest dairy farmers are paying close attention to those negotiations. Without an extension of the farm bill, a 1949 law will kick in, forcing the government to buy dairy products at hugely inflated prices by today's standards. That would create an artificial dairy shortage.

City of Vancouver

For thousands of people around the Northwest, the way to start the New Year off right is with a dip in frigid water.

A so-called "Polar Bear Plunge" - or "swim" or "dip" - is a long time tradition in more than 20 different Northwest cities and towns. Numerous home videos posted online show the shivering anticipation, then a surge of people -- often costumed -- splashing into the water, followed seconds later by a surge in reverse.

Landing One Job No Longer Sufficient For Many In Idaho

Dec 28, 2012
Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

POST FALLS, Idaho - Personal incomes took a hit in the economic downturn across the nation. But according to the latest figures, no state has lower median earnings than Idaho.

A few years ago, James Drennen and his family left Lancaster, Penn., to start a new life in north Idaho.

“We figured we could come out here and live on a whole lot less money and my wife could stay home," he says. "But when we got here, we found out the jobs aren't paying as well.”

US Census Bureau

Centenarians are still a rare breed, but their ranks are swelling. The most recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau found more people than you might expect over 100 years old in the Northwest. There are more than 1,000 centenarians in Washington state, nearly 700 in Oregon and 220 in Idaho.

"Oh, my goodness. People live to be old these days, huh?" says 100-year-old Justine Ackerman of Newport, Washington. She says she credits her longevity in part to clean living.

"I never drank or smoked, or anything like that," she says.

Lester L / Flickr

Northwest wheat growers are hoping for a swift resolution to a labor dispute that could keep their grain from reaching the world market. Grain terminals remain open in Portland, Vancouver and Seattle, even though the terminals' owners have implemented a contract offer unionized longshoremen rejected.

Most of the wheat that grows on the rolling hills of eastern Washington is bound for the international market. But to get there, the wheat passes through one of a handful of grain terminals in the Northwest.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Most of the tsunami warning sirens in one Oregon coastal county will go silent in the New Year. Communities up and down the West Coast are phasing in more modern forms of emergency alerts.

After much debate, Tillamook County leaders decided they could not justify the expense of modernizing and maintaining an aging network of 30 tsunami warning sirens. County emergency management director Gordon McCraw says there are many other pathways for people to hear about incoming danger.

Signs Of The Times Buried In Holiday Trash Heaps

Dec 27, 2012
Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

KELLOGG, Idaho - Now that presents have been opened, it's time for another tradition of the holiday season: bags upon bags of trash. And garbage collectors say they can gauge the state of the economy from this year’s haul.

National Park Service

Marine scientists say dozens of Japanese coastal species hitched a ride across the Pacific Ocean on a floating dock. The likely piece of tsunami debris washed ashore in Olympic National Park last week.

The preliminary list of marine hitchhikers includes 29 species "of Japanese coastal origin." Several are potentially invasive. National Park Service ecologist Scott Fradkin says he's concerned about the wilderness environment where the dock landed.

Washington Dept. of Transportation

A key cross-state highway in Washington will stay closed at least into Wednesday, forcing long Christmastime detours. US Highway 2 is barricaded between Stevens Pass and Leavenworth. The state Department of Transportation says unusually heavy and wet snow is snapping and uprooting trees at a rate they haven't seen in decades.

Traffic management supervisor Shellee Ludeman says highway crews are waiting for a helicopter to help them clear the route.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington state is set to join Oregon and Idaho in requiring most homes and rentals to be equipped with carbon monoxide alarms. Washington's new law takes effect on January 1. The detector rules are inspired by preventable tragedies.

Carbon monoxide is sometimes called "the silent killer." Kent, Washington Fire Department Captain Kyle Ohashi says just about every major power outage brings 911 calls that turn out to be related to the colorless, odorless gas.

Why You Might Be Able To 'Smell' Snow Coming

Dec 24, 2012
Jenni Wade

Snow is expected east of the Cascades this week. But some people say they don't need forecasters to tell them that -- they claim to be able to "smell" when snow coming. Enough people in the Northwest say this, but is there a scientific explanation?

Laura Munson is a writer living in northwest Montana. She swears she can tell when it's going to snow -- even if people don't believe her.

Patients Rush To Have Surgery Before New Year Resets Clock

Dec 24, 2012
Jessica Robinson / Northwest News Network

One of the busiest places to be this time of year is the operating room. But it's not because of holiday accidents. Huge numbers of patients have surgery in December by choice.

Dr. Tim Smith is a sinus surgeon at Oregon Health and Science University. The week before Christmas this year, he performed 10 surgeries in three days.

“We joke with one another that people think it's busy at the mall this time of year, they ought to check out their outpatient surgery centers.”

National Park Service

A reconnaissance team on the Washington coast has finally reached a large dock that washed ashore on an Olympic Peninsula beach early this week. The team found Japanese writing and Asian barnacles on the hollow concrete dock. That strongly suggests the hulk drifted across the ocean after last year's tsunami in Japan.

National Park Service ecologist Steven Fradkin says the dock is now being battered and punctured by heavy surf, but could potentially still be towed away in the New Year.

Office of the Governor

OLYMPIA, Wash. – One measure of success for governors is their ability to get better results out of schools. As Washington Governor Chris Gregoire prepares to leave office, the state’s high school graduation and dropout rates have improved, but not a lot. And there’s still a significant achievement gap between white and non-white students.

Northwesterners Pause To Remember Sandy Hook Victims

Dec 21, 2012
Chris Lehman / Northwest News Network

SALEM, Ore. – One week after 26 people were shot and killed at a Connecticut elementary school, Northwesterners paused to remember the victims. The Governors of Oregon, Washington and Idaho asked their citizens to observe a moment of silence Friday morning. Afterward, many churches rang their bells 26 times to honor those who died.

These bells rang out at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Salem. Shawn Murray stood on the sidewalk and listened silently.

Anti-Tax Group Wants To Force Elections On Tax Hikes

Dec 20, 2012
Kevin Mooney / Northwest News Network

SALEM, Ore. – Initiative activists in Oregon are already looking to the 2014 ballot. One of the early ideas: Require voter approval for nearly all tax increases.

The Taxpayer Association of Oregon is a long way from qualifying its initiative for the ballot. It would require any proposed tax increase that would raise more than $5 million a year statewide to go before voters. The current requirement for tax hikes is that they have to be approved by at least three-fifths of the legislature.

High Desert Warrior. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales

The top forces commander at Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord has decided to seek the death penalty against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. He’s the 39-year old soldier accused of murdering 16 Afghan civilians earlier this year.

Bales is accused of conducting two predawn raids on villages in southern Afghanistan. The victims were mostly women and children and the Army says some of the bodies were burned. Prosecutors had asked for a death penalty trial and top commanders at Lewis-McChord agreed.

GenoaPhoto.com

Travel experts say holiday driving around the Northwest will be especially treacherous this year. Snow, wind, rain and ice are predicted through Christmas. This week, a man from Kennewick died in a car wreck on I-90 during snowy weather in central Washington.

First rule? Yes, you’ve heard it before: “Slow down.”

In case you didn't get that, Alice Fiman, a spokeswoman from Washington’s Department of Transportation adds, “And even if you think you’re going slow enough, slow down again.”

Andreas Klinke Johannsen / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington’s jobless rate has dropped below 8 percent for the first time in nearly four years. The November jobs numbers out Wednesday peg Washington’s unemployment rate at 7.8 percent. That’s down from 8.2 percent in October – the largest one month drop since 1977.

But chief labor economist Joe Elling cautions the state is still far from what he would consider full employment.

Army Orders Sgt. Bales To Capital Court Martial

Dec 19, 2012
High Desert Warrior. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales

The U.S. Army announced Wednesday that Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will face a general court-martial on 16 counts of premeditated murder and other charges. If convicted, the maximum penalty is death. The decision follows a pretrial hearing last month.

An attorney for  Bales says she's "disappointed" by the Army's decision to seek the death penalty against the Washington-based soldier accused of massacring Afghan villagers in March.

Staff Sgt. Jason van Mourik / Oregon Military Department Public Affairs

SALEM, Ore. – The state of Oregon is at odds with the federal government over how to use money from Japan meant for cleaning up tsunami debris. It can’t be used to reimburse the state for money it’s already spent.

The Japanese government donated $5 million to the US this fall to help pay for the cost of cleaning up debris from last year’s deadly tsunami. But Oregon hasn't seen a penny of that money so far.

Feds To Review Endangered Status Of Northwest's Reindeer

Dec 18, 2012
US Fish & Wildlife Service

COEUR D’ALENE, Idaho - The protected status of a small population of reindeer in the Northwest is getting a second look. Snowmobilers and an Idaho county that depends on winter snow sports petitioned the government to delist the animal.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to do a status review on woodland caribou in the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho and Washington. They’re part of a larger herd from Canada.

Alan Vernon / Wikimedia

As winter begins, humming bird experts say more of the tiny birds may be sticking around the Northwest instead of migrating south.

There are three types of hummingbirds Northwesterners might be seeing more of at feeders or in their yards this time of year: the Rufous, the Anna’s or the Allen’s hummingbirds. These little birds are able to survive the cold by lowering their body temperature, hiding in the lees of tree trunks, shivering to warm up and eating a lot.

Washington Governor Proposes Taxes For Schools

Dec 18, 2012
Austin Jenkins

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Outgoing Washington Governor Chris Gregoire is proposing to extend two temporary taxes for three-and-a-half years in order to make a $1 billion down payment on a recent Supreme Court ruling that found the state is not adequately funding public schools. Much of that new money would go to reduce K-2 class sizes, speed up the phase-in of all-day kindergarten and help districts with basic operating and maintenance costs.

Google Earth

SALEM, Ore. – Some of Oregon’s voter-approved criminal sentencing laws would get a second look under a series of recommendations approved Monday by a high level commission. It’s part of a package of ideas aimed at slowing the growth of Oregon’s prison population.

The Commission on Public Safety didn't wholeheartedly endorse the proposal to scale back some voter-approved mandatory minimum sentences. Those include some types of robbery, assault and sex abuse. But the panel did list the strategy as one way for lawmakers to avoid having to open a costly new prison.

University of Washington

Researchers have discovered something they didn’t expect in the air above an Oregon mountain: hundreds of tiny organisms from Asia. The study suggests the atmosphere is filled with life capable of traveling long distances.

The trans-Pacific winds are certainly capable of carrying pollution across the ocean. That’s long been known to climate scientists and air quality experts.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington Governor Chris Gregoire will leave office January 16th. During her eight years as governor, the Democrat often referred to herself as a “recovering lawyer.” Polls showed the former attorney general struggled to connect with voters. She could come off as a fierce technocrat. But her two-terms in office were marked by challenges that affected her on a deeply personal level.

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