Covering Your Climate: The Emerald Corridor — Impacts, fixes and rethinking everything

As the Pacific Northwest faces serious impacts from climate change, and moves to respond, the Society of Environmental Journalists provides a special in-depth report on how journalists can tell the unfolding story. The “Covering Your Climate: The Emerald Corridor” project, which launches this week with an extensive issue backgrounder, to be followed soon by tipsheets and a toolbox listing sources, documents and other material helpful to journalists of all beats covering climate issues.

What is the future of local news in Tacoma?

Hundreds of U.S. newspapers have closed, yet most Americans surveyed believe local news outlets are in good financial shape and relatively few pay for local news. InvestigateWest Executive Director Robert McClure spoke on a panel on “The Future of Our Local Press” at the University of Puget Sound, sponsored by the City Club of Tacoma and the League of Women Voters of Tacoma-Pierce County.

Changes at InvestigateWest

InvestigateWest is announcing some exciting new changes!With the departure next month of Executive Director and Editor Rita Hibbard, the InvestigateWest board is pleased to announce the Robert McClure, a co-founder as well as an award-winning environmental journalist, is succeeding Hibbard as acting Executive Director.At the same time, Carol Smith, a co-founder and acclaimed social issues and health journalist, is moving into the role of acting Executive Editor.“Robert will guide a growing, stable and exciting news organization into its next phase,” said Hibbard, who is leaving to pursue other projects long put on hold by the demands of a thriving nonprofit newsroom. “As a co-founder, he profoundly understands the importance of what we do, and is in a great position to push it forward.”InvestigateWest is an independent, nonprofit investigative news organization founded in 2009 and based in Seattle. It is staffed by journalists with a track record of producing in-depth stories that produce change in public policy and practice.  It has received funding from both national and regional foundations.InvestigateWest’s work resulted in three laws passed by the state Legislature in 2011, including two establishing worker safety and health rules after the publication of a story linking exposure of chemotherapy drugs to illness and death among health care workers, and another banning carcinogenic pavement sealant after InvestigateWest wrote about their widespread use. “Carol also will bring her investigative and narrative skills to the fore in her new role,” said Hibbard, who has been at the helm since InvestigateWest’s launch. “She’s a wonderful writer and journalist who will contribute hugely to the new organizational structure.”

Snake, Columbia rivers’ salmon recovery plan nearing approval

U.S. District Judge James Redden lauded the Obama Administration’s tweaks to his predecessor’s deficient plan for improving salmon runs along the dam-studded Columbia and Snake Rivers.

The Idaho Statesman reports Redden said just “a little bit of work” would be needed to win approval for the federal hydroelectric system’s salmon recovery plan along those rivers, whose power lights up most of the Pacific Northwest, after more than 10 years in court.

But Redden also said that the legality of the plan — known as the biological option or BioP — could be challenged unless the Obama Administration formally adds its changes to the plan or puts the science behind them through public review.  The Endangered Species Act forces the government to study and mitigate the impact of its hydroelectric system on salmon.

The state of Oregon, the Spokane and Nez Perce tribes and environmentalists disagree with the plan, which wouldn’t breach four Snake River dams that have ravaged salmon runs unless the salmon were right on the brink of extinction.  The states of Washington and Idaho and other tribes back the plan and its more than $1 billion in federal recovery efforts over the next decade.

The Oregonian reports the federal government is so intent on hording all the power produced by the dams that it doesn’t want to continue spilling water over the tops during peak salmon runs, despite their proven success at helping recover salmon runs by easing their downstream passage.

Will the California Condor come ‘home’ to the Pacific Northwest?

Read the Oct. 5 High Country News for Peter Beland’s tale of a researcher pushing for the re-introduction of the California condor into the Pacific Northwest. The condor was last seen in central Oregon in 1904, but Oregon Zoo biologist David Moen has spoken with a Warm Springs Tribal Elder who says he spotted condors near Oregon’s Mount Hood as recent as the 1960s.
Moen also studied Native languages and basketry for clues and learned that condors probably lived near the Columbia River in the Dalles area and on the Oregon coast, among other places. Then, in the summer of 2006, he consulted Steve Emslie, a paleoecology and avian ecology specialist at the University of North Carolina, on the most likely nesting sites.

Condors prefer fairly inaccessible caves near water and plenty of food, Emslie explained. Gridding out potential nesting spots and sifting meticulously through the dirt, Emslie managed to find prehistoric shell fragments and condor bones in the Grand Canyon in the ’80s, decisively proving that the birds had nested in the area and helping justify their re-release in Arizona.
Now Moen is waiting for tests being conducted in Denmark that will show whether the birds lived in Oregon as recently as 50 to 100 years ago. If so, researchers know the bird is more likely to do so again.

— Rita Hibbard

Old-growth forests rarely logged now

Quietly, the logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest has all but ground to a halt, Matthew Preuschwrites for The Oregonian. Only about two-tenths of 1 percent of the old-growth at the heart of the spotted owl battles of the 1990s was actually cut between 1994 and 2003, Preusch reports. The Obama administration seems poised to, if anything, restrict such logging further. So maybe the tree-sitters actually won?

Perhaps. One unanswered question: What happened during the final years of the Bush administration, from 2003 to 2008? The most recent figures aren’t in yet. During that time the Bush administration made a number of concessions to the timber industry,  which took legal action to boost harvest rates.