Environment

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

Joshua trees are weird. They've got shaggy bark, twisted branches and needle-like leaves.

"It's something that you don't even imagine could live on Earth and here it is," says Cameron Barrows, standing right beneath one. "It's something very alien."

They stretch across the dusty valley of Joshua Tree National Park.

"It's like a Dr. Seuss book," Barrows says.

How A 'Sperm Bank' Is Saving Honey Bees

Aug 1, 2016
Brandon Hopkins / Washington State University

Think of it as a sperm bank for honey bees. That is essentially what you’ll find at Washington State University’s apiary lab. There’s even a “fertility clinic” where researchers artificially inseminate the queens.

If all that sounds like sticky business, try explaining it to a customs agent at the airport.  

C. Brown/COASST

Marine scientists are on alert as hundreds of seabirds have been washing up dead on local beaches.  Since May, the bodies of more than 300 rhinoceros auklets have been collected around the eastern side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  

Washington’s Protection Island Wildlife Refuge, near Port Townsend, is home to one of the world’s largest known colonies of the puffin-like bird, which is named for its unique appearance.

courtesy Mark Durall

There’s just one week left for the public to comment on preferred alternatives for completion of the missing link in Seattle’s Burke Gilman Trail. The nearly 20-mile trail extends from Ballard to Bothell and is one of the region’s most popular bike routes.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Boats will soon be forbidden from releasing sewage anywhere in Puget Sound if the state Department of Ecology has its way. The agency is seeking federal protection, asking the EPA to declare the Sound a “no discharge zone” for vessel sewage.  

The government of Peru has declared a state of emergency in the southern Andes after brutally low temperatures killed tens of thousands of alpacas, according to The Associated Press.

The government is promising $3 million in relief to farmers in the region, who live at or around 15,000 feet above sea level and raise the animals, relying on money from selling their lightweight wool.

If you think it's been hot this year, you're right. The latest temperature numbers from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the first six months of 2016 were the hottest on record around the planet.

Ted S. Warren, File / AP Photo

The Tesoro oil refinery in Anacortes is among six in the nation that will receive new equipment to reduce toxic air pollution. It’s part of a $425 million settlement for alleged violations of the Clean Air Act.  The U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency announced the deal in Seattle, calling it the largest settlement to date of its kind.

Kenneth Balcomb III / Center for Whale Research

Whale watchers say they finally spotted some orcas off the Washington coast late last week. But experts say it’s still an alarmingly bad year for sightings of resident killer whales, which have been late to arrive and are showing up in much smaller numbers than usual.

In northern New York state, logger Greg Hemmerich and his crew are clearing out an old pasture at the edge of a forest.

"There's a lot of balsam, lot of spruce, thorn apple trees," Hemmerich says. "Ninety percent of this lot is low-grade wood."

In other words, it's no good for furniture or paper or sawmills. But he'll make $80,000 to run the wood through a chipper and truck the chips to a nearby biomass plant.

"Everybody said that green power was supposed to be the wave of the future," Hemmerich says. "So I went full in."

Elaine Thompson / AP Images

It’s been about two months since permits were denied for the development of the controversial Gateway Pacific coal export terminal north of Bellingham.

Now the Whatcom County Council is under fire for considering a measure that would restrict new developments for handling of fossil fuels at the site.

file photo / AP Images

Opponents of plans to ship crude oil by rail and barge through Grays Harbor in Southwest Washington will rally in Hoquiam on Friday. They say the risks far outweigh the benefits of the proposal.

The rally was organized by the Quinault Indian Nation and will begin on the water with a flotilla of traditional tribal canoes as well as kayaks and fishing vessels.

The tribe’s president, Fawn Sharp, says they’ll also march to Hoquiam’s City Hall and host an open mic to voice their opposition for bringing oil trains to the area.

A massive bloom of blue-green algae has hit four southern Florida counties, blanketing beaches in foul-smelling muck and raising health and environmental concerns.

The condition of watersheds in Washington state continues to decline. That’s according to the the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission. The organization delivered the news to the National Congress of American Indians Wednesday.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Sea-Tac International is the fastest growing airport in North America -- and the first in the U. S. to receive certification as “Salmon Safe.” The designation recognizes work to improve water quality that goes above and beyond federal requirements.

Just west of Sea-Tac’s third runway, down the hill from a steep retaining wall, environmental specialist Josh Feigen stands in the underbrush at the edge of Miller Creek. In 2012, he says the port replaced a cement-box culvert here with woody debris, boulders and gravel to restore more than a mile of shady habitat for salmon.

Every five years, a team convenes to evaluate long-term water supply and demand for the Columbia River Basin. For eastern Washington, the water supply will increase, but not when demand is highest.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Washington is about to get the second highest gas tax in the nation — an increase of 4.9 cents kicks in on July 1 that will push the state surcharge to 49.4 cents per gallon – making it second only to Pennsylvania.

The hike is the final installment of a nearly 12 cent increase, part of a package called Connecting Washington, approved by the state legislature last year.  

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

People who work at businesses in downtown Bellevue may soon be asked to take the stairs more often and to remember to power down their computers at night.

The city has launched a new energy efficiency program called Urban Smart Bellevue that aims to make it a leader in energy efficiency – largely through simple changes in workplace behavior.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Roughly 40 percent of the nation’s coal production comes from public lands. Yet it’s been more than 30 years since the federal government did a formal review of the program.

Now, they’re calling on the public to provide feedback and ideas for reform. A hearing on the issue takes place in downtown Seattle on Tuesday.

courtesy Forterra

The Seattle-based environmental organization Forterra (formerly known as Cascade Land Conservancy) is getting into the urban land-banking business. Now, in addition to purchasing undeveloped open space, it’s buying property in Northwest cities, with plans to hold parcels until they can be developed as affordable housing. 

Climate change is a global issue. But for Betty Barkha, it's personal.

The 25-year-old grew up in the city of Lautoka in Fiji, a couple of minutes from the Pacific, amid the fish markets and flocks of tourists roasting on the beach.

Imagine being on a rural island when a major earthquake hits off the coast. After five minutes of shaking that registers 9.0 on the Richter scale, devastation is all around. Food, water, medicine and fuel are in short supply.  Along with power and phone service outages, all bridges and ferry connections are down.

Friday’s oil train derailment and fire comes as Washington state prepares to put new oil shipment safety rules into effect. In fact, the derailment in the Columbia Gorge happened just as the first public hearing on those rules was wrapping up in Vancouver, Washington.

Early this winter, skiers in the Northwest were excited. But then after about Christmas things turned dour. The once-epic snowpack is now long gone. In Washington state, it melted down in record time to less than half of average for early June.

And there hasn’t been much rain this spring either. The Cascades, Olympics and Blues are all hurting.

Since 2013, Braun has led a team putting together a military response plan should an earthquake and tsunami happen in Washington state, as part of federal, state and military preparation for the "Big One" along the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

A massive, four-day earthquake drill kicks off Tuesday in the Pacific Northwest.  The region is ripe for what officials say could be the biggest natural disaster the nation has ever seen. The exercise, called ‘Cascadia Rising,’ will test the readiness of responders at all levels of government.

courtesy Ted Griffin and Jason Colby

These days, the prospect of seeing the Pacific Northwest’s iconic orca whales in the wild attracts thousands of tourists annually to whale-watching boats or shore-side excursions.  But it wasn’t that long ago that these majestic endangered creatures were seen as a menace.

Minhae Kim didn't check air pollution levels before bringing her one-year-old to Seoul's Yongsan Family Park.

Perhaps she should have. On this day — and on most days this spring — the measures of the most dangerous kind of pollution in Seoul exceed the World Health Organization's recommended limit. And Korea ranks near the very bottom for air quality in Yale University's latest 180-country Environmental Performance Index.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Washington state’s Department of Ecology says the magnitude of threats from climate change are so severe, it needs to set limits on air pollution. The agency released an updated rule to cap carbon emissions that it says will be more effective than the draft Clean Air Rule it released in February. But the rewrite is controversial.  

Monarch butterflies are disappearing.

Populations of these distinctive black and orange migratory insects have been in precipitous decline for the past 20 years, but scientists aren't exactly sure what's causing them to vanish.

Ted S. Warren / AP

Mounting risks because of climate change are putting pressure on insurance companies. That has Washington's Insurance Commissioner worried. He’s hosting a climate risk summit meeting at the University of Washington this week.  

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