Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Before taking his current beat, Tom covered state government and the Washington Legislature for 12 years.  He got his start in radio at WCAL–FM, a public station in southern Minnesota. Reared in Seattle, Tom graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota with a degree in American Studies.

When not sifting through press releases, listening to lobbyists, or driving lonely highways, Tom enjoys exploring the Olympic Peninsula backcountry and cooking dinner with his wife and friends. Tom's secret ambition is to take six months off work and travel to a faraway place beyond the reach of email.

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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.

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.

IFRC

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Chances are, you've heard the public service announcements that say "It's up to you to be ready. Get a kit. Make a plan..."

For years, emergency managers have urged people to stockpile enough food, water and supplies to last 72 hours after a disaster. In the Northwest, basic assumptions like that are now under scrutiny, especially when it comes to the risk from a big earthquake. Two committees in Oregon and Washington have been working for more than a year to come up with wide-ranging recommendations to improve the region's disaster resilience.

OPT Inc.

GLENEDEN BEACH, Ore. - It goes without saying that the Pacific Ocean is vast. So it may come as a surprise to hear the sea described as "crowded." Perhaps even too crowded to make room for the nascent industry of wave and tidal energy.  Taxpayers and investors have pumped tens of millions of dollars into finding ways to turn the ocean's power into electricity.  In recent weeks, high stakes negotiations to identify wave energy sites on the Oregon Coast are finally getting somewhere.

Tom Banse. File photo of a Mazama pocket gopher

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The Northwest may have another species listed as endangered. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Monday proposed listing the Mazama pocket gopher as threatened in the South Puget Sound region of western Washington. This is the third time this fall the government has moved to protect a critter that depends on dwindling Northwest prairies or coastal grasslands.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

LONG BEACH, Wash. – It’s been more than four months since the last confirmed piece of Japanese tsunami debris washed ashore on the Pacific Northwest coast. Even sightings of suspected disaster debris have tapered way off in recent months. Does that mean we’re just in a lull or past the worst of it?

Valero Alamo Bowl

‘Tis the season for college football fanatics to consult their travel agents. That’s because four Northwest teams received bowl game invites Sunday night.

The Oregon Ducks (11-1) are headed to the Fiesta Bowl outside Phoenix. They’ll play the Kansas State Wildcats (11-1) on January 3rd in a showdown of football teams that were until recently both in contention for the national championship.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The privatization of liquor sales in Washington this year is having an unintended side effect: increasing theft of booze. In Olympia Friday, lawmakers quizzed top managers of the state Liquor Control Board. The agency's deputy director, Rick Garza, says there are now five times as many liquor outlets in the state than before privatization.

Michael Pereckas / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Stricter recordkeeping requirements for scrap metal dealers and sellers have not stopped trafficking in stolen copper wire and metal parts. That's according to Northwest police agencies and crime victims. So in Olympia Friday, Washington state lawmakers promised to look at further steps including a possible blacklist of suspicious sellers.

Link Transit

In the last couple years, you've seen mass-produced, 100 percent electric cars take to the streets in the Northwest. In the same vein, now come the first battery powered buses. And we're not talking about trolley buses that get juice from overhead wires.

FBI

A decade on the lam has ended for a suspect in a string of eco-sabotage attacks across the American West.  Alleged Earth Liberation Front fugitive Rebecca J. Rubin turned herself in at the Canadian border Thursday morning. 

Later in the day, she showed little emotion during a brief appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Outside the federal courthouse, defense attorney Richard Troberman explained why Rubin surrendered.  "She really wants to move her life forward without these impediments. It was just time," said Troberman.

Rahul Nair / Flickr

Sawmills in the Northwest have significantly ramped up production in response to the rebound in construction nationally. That's according to a market survey by an industry consultant based near Seattle.

Wood Resources International president Hakan Ekstrom says the region's sawmills are returning to profitability thanks to a happy coincidence of rising domestic and foreign demand.

Friends of Washoe

The director of a chimpanzee institute at Central Washington University says she feels urgency to bring in new animals. The education and research program in Ellensburg is now down to two aging chimps after the weekend death of another ape known for his sign language abilities.

The chimpanzee named "Dar" was 36 years old when he died unexpectedly on Saturday of unknown causes. Autopsy results are expected later this week.

Randy Hoodenpyl

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Heavy rains and high winds are making it hard to get around parts of western Washington and northwest Oregon this afternoon. Flood watches and warnings are in effect across a wide area of the Northwest. At least half a dozen mudslides have blocked highways and rail lines since this morning .

The freight train of storms pummeling the Northwest has saturated soils. Some places are not getting enough time between downpours for the water to drain off. Oregon's Department of Geology put all of western Oregon on notice for increased potential of landslides.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - In Olympia, a new revenue outlook shows a shortfall in the next state budget cycle. That is putting renewed attention on promises not to raise taxes.

Washington's Democratic governor-elect Jay Inslee made such a pledge during the recent campaign. So did many Republicans elected to the Legislature.

The chief budget writer for House Democrats, Ross Hunter, says he's working on a no-new-taxes spending blueprint for the next two years. But Hunter Wednesday predicted the product will include so many unpalatable cuts, he doubts it could pass.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Eugene-based track star Ashton Eaton already has a world record to his name and a gold medal in decathlon from this year's London Olympics. 

Bobak Ha'Eri / Wikimedia

A Pac-12 spokesman said Monday that the athletic conference does not have a timeline for completing a review of the WSU football program. 

CLE ELUM, Wash. - Heavy air tankers are dropping retardant on a stubborn wildfire still wreaking havoc in Washington’s Kittitas Valley.

While overall it seems like firefighters are getting the upper hand on what’s now called the Taylor Bridge fire, it’s clear that in places, it’s still putting up stiff resistance.

Wednesday will mark the 67th anniversary of the Japanese surrender to end World War Two. With each passing anniversary, there are fewer and fewer living witnesses to the event. Time is also running low for an aging U.S. Marine veteran who wants to return a captured Japanese war flag.

Ex-U.S. Marine George Koller of Clarkston, Washington collects war memorabilia. Among his possessions is an inscribed "good luck flag" carried into battle by a Japanese fighter pilot. The airman's plane crashed into the jungle of New Guinea late in World War II.

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