Ashley Ahearn

Ondřej Martin Mach / Wikimedia Commons

Washington’s largest electronics recycler has been fined almost half a million dollars for illegally disposing of electronic waste.

International leaders gathering in Paris to address global warming face increasing pressure to tackle the issue of "climate refugees." Some island nations are already looking to move their people to higher ground, even purchasing land elsewhere in preparation.

In the U.S. Northwest, sea-level rise is forcing a Native American tribe to consider abandoning lands it has inhabited for thousands of years.

Ashley Ahearn / KUOW/EarthFix

For more than a century, the snowmelt that fed the Dungeness River has provided water for farmers’ crops as well as for salmon journeying to the ocean and back.

It’s a system that’s worked well — except when there’s not enough water to go around. And now that this part of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is caught up in the drought that’s afflicting much of the West, interest in building a new reservoir is on the rise. 

Seth Book / Skokomish Tribe Department of Natural Resources

Marine life is struggling to survive in the oxygen-starved waters of Hood Canal.

Ashley Ahearn / EarthFix/KUOW

More than 1600 acres of old growth rainforest have burned in Washington’s Olympic National Park.

Firefighters are mounting a difficult response in a remote river valley.

This is the largest fire in the park’s history, but it’s not the first to burn in the rainforests of the Olympics.

Tyler Bell / Flickr

Pinto abalone were poached almost to extinction by the end of the 90s. The tasty meat of this shellfish, combined with its mother of pearl shell, made pinto abalone a target for illegal harvest, and a delicacy in Asia. Thousands upon thousands of them were taken from Puget Sound.

Washington Department of Ecology

Water managers had hoped late snows or heavy spring rains would help fill reservoirs and streams after a largely snow-free winter in the Northwest. But that’s not how things turned out. New data shows precipitation levels in the Northwest were 40 percent below normal last month, with snowpack pretty much  disappeared.
Backbone Campaign / Flickr


Seattle City Council members heard testimony on a resolution today.

The resolution urges the Port of Seattle to reconsider its controversial decision to host Shell Oil’s arctic drill rigs.

The resolution warns that allowing Shell to use Terminal 5 in West Seattle will cause: “disruption, division and direct conflict with the Port’s stated values and policies.”

At the hearing, environmentalists made their opposition to the Shell lease known. But others who testified felt differently.

Joshua Berger represents the Washington Maritime Federation.

Masaaki Tsuyuguchi / Flickr

Shellfish growers in Washington’s Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay are canceling plans to spray their shellfish beds with pesticides. The state granted the growers the permits to spray last month, prompting a public outcry.

Google Images

Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, is expected to arrive Friday in Port Angeles, Washington.

Shell has just received the necessary federal permits to drill for oil in the Arctic and will be staging its fleet in Seattle, despite a lawsuit filed by environmental groups and an investigation launched by the Seattle City Council.

Activists have warned of a flotilla of kayaks that would extend a less-than-warm welcome to Shell when it arrives at the Port of Seattle.

Michael Werner / EarthFix

A Puget Sound tribe filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court to stop oil trains from traveling through its reservation north of Seattle.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s train tracks cross the top of the Swinomish Reservation in Skagit County. In recent years they’ve been used to move oil from North Dakota to two refineries in Anacortes.

In 1990 BNSF and the Swinomish reached a settlement that required the railroad to regularly update the tribe on the type of cargo moving through the reservation. It also limited traffic to two 25-car trains per day.

Kristen Steele / Flickr

If you’re at the Seattle Mariner’s game Monday afternoon you might run into some folks with clipboards. They’re gathering signatures for a new initiative for 2016 that would tax carbon emissions.

Ashley Ahearn

The Port of Seattle will host Shell Oil’s arctic drilling fleet. That includes ships and drilling rigs. The Port signed a lease earlier this month that has caused a stir among some citizens and elected officials, who say the lease goes against the Port and city’s commitment to green leadership.

The room was packed when a group of graying ladies who call themselves “the raging grannies” took the microphone to sing their testimony.

Panda Poles / Flickr

The Northwest’s record-low snowfall has delivered a frustrating ski season this winter. And when summertime comes, the thin snowpack could make for low stream levels and tinder-dry forests.

But people who manage the Northwest’s biggest dams say they’re not worried.

"We’re doing just fine at the moment," Mike Hanson said.

Hanson is a spokesman for Bonneville Power Administration. It operates 31 federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers, and provides about one-third of the electricity for the Northwest.

Katie Campbell / KCTS9

The Lummi Nation of Northwestern Washington sent a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers Monday.

It called on the Corps to halt the permitting process for the Gateway Pacific Terminal. The terminal would be located near Bellingham and would transport up to 48 million tons of coal to Asia by ship each year.

pfly / Flickr

Richard and Marnie Fox wanted to build a new house on their land but they couldn't get a building permit. The Foxes took legal action and their case will go before a judge on Tuesday.

The state said there was not enough water in the area to support anymore new residences without endangering salmon, especially during the drier parts of the year.

Richard Fox walked out to his back field with his leather hat and raincoat on. A bunch of sopping wet cows looked at him, vaguely curious. His backyard was flooded. 


Orca enthusiasts rejoiced when a newborn calf was spotted seven weeks ago. But as of this morning the endangered killer whale calf has not been seen.

L120 was the first calf born in the past two years. Over the weekend, the calf’s mother was spotted three times, without her baby. Orca experts believe the calf is dead, though no carcass has been found and it's unclear how it died.

Joe Mabel / Wikimedia Commons

If you've ridden a train to or from Seattle you have probably passed through the heart of the city via the Great Northern Tunnel.

This month, the tunnel turns 110 years old.

Back in the fall of 1904, when it was finished, the mile-long tunnel was the tallest and widest in the United States.

Local historian Michael Sullivan tells the story:

Patrick M / flickr

Changing wind patterns are to blame for warming temperatures in the Northwest, according to the study. Climatologist James Johnstone was the lead author, and he says, "Basically all of the warming in the Northeast Pacific ocean has been wind driven."

Ingrid Taylar / Flickr

Scientists are using shellfish to conduct the broadest study of pollution levels in Puget Sound. Filter-feeders, like mussels, provide a snapshot of the contaminants along the shores of the Sound. And … in some areas, they’re pretty contaminated.

Mark Herren / Flickr

Coal has been transported around the country by rail for decades. But very little research has been done on what coal does to the environment when it escapes from trains.With two large coal export terminals proposed for Washington state, one federal agency is hoping to add good science to the debate over coal in the Northwest.

National Interagency Fire Center

Fire season in the Northwest is winding down for this year.

But scientific models suggest that with climate change, the region can expect more large wildfires in the future.

Ashley Ahearn / EarthFix

This week the Elwha River – on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula – will flow freely once again. Two dams blocked the river for more than 100 years.

But thanks to the largest dam removal project in U.S. history, the lower dam is completely gone and the last 30 feet of the upper dam should be blown up Tuesday.

Our EarthFix reporter, Ashley Ahearn, headed out to the Elwha and reports that the river is returning to life.

Roger Tabor (USFWS) / Flickr

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has just released a new plan to improve water quality in the state. One measure of how clean your water is, is how much of its fish you can safely eat.

Michael Werner / EarthFix

Crude oil shipments by rail increased by more than 80 percent, nationally, last year.

Most of it is coming from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. That crude is more flammable than other types of oil, and has been shown to catch fire and explode when trains derail.

More than 15 trains of Bakken oil move through some parts of the Northwest each week, en route to refineries and terminals in Washington and Oregon.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway transports the majority of that oil.

The company regularly touts its commitment to safety.

But an EarthFix investigation reveals some troubling patterns in the way BNSF Railway deals with whistleblowers – particularly those who voice concerns about safety.

Ashley Ahearn reports for EarthFix. EarthFix’s Tony Schick contributed to the reporting for this story.

David T. Hanson / EarthFix

The Obama administration’s new rules to cut CO2 emissions sparked some interesting conversation in Seattle this week. At a conference held downtown, leaders in the energy sector gathered to talk about the future of coal in the West. Ashley Ahearn reports for EarthFix.

The Oso Landslide highlighted a challenge that is not new to the Northwest: how to keep population growth out of risky areas.

Snohomish County has to make room for up to 220,000 new people by the year 2035, according to state requirements. And like many other parts of the Northwest, there are a lot of places where landslides pose a threat to current, and future, homeowners.

In part two of our series from EarthFix, Ashley Ahearn takes a look at development pressure and landslide risk in Snohomish County.

Bonnie Brown

The Northwest is a region prone to landslides.

That, of course, is on many people’s minds as the town of Oso, Washington recovers from the tragic slide that happened there this past weekend.

There is a lot of scientific data and maps showing where landslides have occurred in the past.

The question is whether or not it’s getting used.

Sierra Sansaver

Authorities have confirmed that the landslide on the Stillaguamish River in Snohomish County has killed 8 people and destroyed up to 30 homes.

KUOW's Ashley Ahearn turned to Dave Montgomery to find out what caused the slide. Montgomery is a geologist at the University of Washington.

More oil is moving through Washington state from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. That has many concerned about oil train safety. The oil has proven extremely flammable, causing several explosions in North America.

State legislators on both sides of the aisle introduced bills to address the concerns.

But the session ended last week without a compromise.