Environment

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

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Wildfire smoke has darkened skies and even scattered ashes in neighborhoods throughout the Puget Sound region. The orange-tinged light has an eerie glow that has many people wondering what on earth is going on? How bad is this year’s fire season and how is it different than previous years?

Courtesy Recreational Shellfish Program, Washington State Department of Health

Mild summer weather is nice for enjoying a day at the beach. But the sunny days also create favorable conditions for poisonous bacteria that can cause illness and closures for shellfish harvesting.

Numerous beaches in the central Puget Sound area are closed to recreational shellfish harvesting. The presence of Paralytic Shellfish Poison, known as PSP, resulted in a new closure extending from Seattle’s Alki Beach south to the Pierce County line, including Vashon Island. It spread there from Kitsap County.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Squid eggs and harlequin ducks are the latest signs of renewed life on the beach at the mouth of the Elwha River. They have only recently returned, some three years after the completion of the largest dam removal in the world, here on the shores of the Salish Sea.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

A big issue in the Salish Sea right now is concern about increasing oil tanker traffic. Plans by Kinder Morgan to expand its Trans-Mountain pipeline could more than triple the amount of crude oil arriving at the pipeline’s terminus in Vancouver, B.C.

There’s no way to know for sure how many fishers lived in the Cascades historically, because the small brown mammal was almost entirely eradicated by trappers by 1930.

But this week, there’s evidence that they are reproducing.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP Photo

This story was updated at 3:09 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25.  See correction below.

Along with cooling the air and dimming skies in the region, this week’s solar eclipse caused high tides. The resulting currents damaged a net pen and released unknown numbers of farmed Atlantic salmon into open waters south of the San Juan Islands.

The eclipse is here.

Up to 1 millions visitors have flocked to Oregon to watch the first total solar eclipse viewable from the contiguous United States in 38 years. 

Courtesy of Romeo Durscher/NASA

It is indeed dark during the day as a total solar eclipse makes its way from Oregon to South Carolina. Eleven states are in the path of total darkness. Follow the astronomical phenomenon's journey across America along with NPR journalists and others experiencing the eclipse.

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Matthew Brown, File / AP Photo

The public has one last chance to comment on a proposal to place the nation’s largest terminal for oil-by-rail in Vancouver, Washington.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Music that connects people to the land and sea has been with us for centuries. Recent singer-songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell have built on that tradition.

Here in the Puget Sound region, you can add another name to that list: Dana Lyons.

Two Air National Guard reconnaissance planes were called in Wednesday by the National Interagency Fire Center to help detect and map wildfires in the Pacific Northwest. The twin engine, turboprop RC-26 aircraft will be temporarily based at Spokane's Fairchild Air Force Base and at Eugene's airport. In the near future, their assignment may be carried out by unmanned aircraft. 

On Monday, the moon will completely eclipse the sun, and people all over the U.S. will watch.

For those who have been boning up on eclipse trivia for weeks, congratulations. For everyone else, here are the things you need to know about the phenomenon.

U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry toured the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Hanford site outside of Richland, Washington, Tuesday.

A heat wave broke and the air quality improved in the Northwest as a cold front moved across Oregon and Washington, but fire officials are still on high alert. They reported 24 new wildfires over the weekend.



Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

One day nearly a decade ago, a Canadian-born colleague came knocking at cartographer Stefan Freelan’s door.

Bert Webber, a professor of Geography and Environmental Social Sciences at the time, was trying to spread the word about a newly-named body of water. He asked Freelan to help him by making a map of the Salish Sea.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The success of solar power could mean it becomes less attractive for home users in the future. Utilities are reaching the threshold where, under state law, they can be less generous to solar customers.





A state of emergency, excessive heat and an extended period of dry weather are unlikely to pair well with an influx of up to 1.5 million visitors in Oregon in two weeks.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

You may have heard that new technologies in the clean energy sector are creating new jobs. But what does that really mean?

Researchers at the University of Washington have a $3 million grant to support emerging careers where energy science is combined with big data.  

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Bert Webber is the man who coined the phrase "Salish Sea." He is a professor emeritus from Huxley College at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Webber says while it may be easy to see the Salish Sea as separate waterways, those waterways actually make up one ecosystem that goes beyond political borders.

Evan Hoover / File photo

Hot weather could pose problems over the next week across western Washington.

The National Weather Service says temperatures in the Puget Sound region will push into the upper 90s by Thursday, maybe crossing above 100 degrees. The record in Seattle is 103, set in 2009.

When a massive tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan in 2011, waves of water overtopped sea walls, swallowed buildings and surged higher than anticipated. One thing those images prompted was a reexamination of the tsunami risk in the Pacific Northwest.

If Northwest fish were stand-up comics, the salmon would be the headliner. And the fish that gets “no respect” would be the lamprey, an eel-like creature that has been plying the Northwest’s rivers for 400 million years. 

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Residents of Western Washington and British Columbia likely recognize bodies of water like Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia. However, many people don’t realize that what were once perceived as individual waterways are now widely considered one ecosystem. That body of water is called the Salish Sea.

Normally by late June, wasps are a common nuisance at summer barbecues. But this year, entomologists have noticed a drop-off in Washington state and wasp populations are lower than usual.

Elaine Thompson / AP

A major earthquake-preparedness drill takes place this Saturday in Seattle. It’s called “Hubs and Spokes” and this time, the emphasis is on emergency communications.

Spokane voters will decide in November whether to allow the shipment of coal and oil by rail through the city. The city council voted in favor of a special election in November.

Olympic National Park is inching ahead on a plan to reduce or eliminate its population of non-native mountain goats. A draft plan released Monday for public comment includes options to relocate or kill the animals.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The failure of the legislature to pass a capital budget leaves Washington’s state forests with an increasing risk of catastrophic wildfires. 

The state department of Natural Resources says a recent survey showed it has about 2.7 million acres of forests in Washington that are in poor health.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

King County’s largest wastewater treatment facility has been operating on the edge of disaster for years and it’s ill-equipped to deal with the growing population in the region.

That’s one of the conclusions from the independent review of February’s catastrophic failure at the West Point sewage treatment plant in Seattle’s Discovery Park.

Spokane could become the next in a growing list of Northwest cities including Seattle, Portland and Bend, Oregon, to commit to a climate change agreement President Trump opted out of this spring.

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