Governor’s renewed salmon strategy faces decisive period in the current Legislature

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State legislation designed to enhance salmon habitat by requiring protective buffers along streams has been set aside pending further discussions over the coming year. Meanwhile, several other salmon-protection measures proposed by the governor could move forward with decisive funding from the Legislature. The buffer bill (HB 1838), named the Lorraine Loomis Act, would prohibit degradation of streamside habitat while encouraging restoration within prescribed “riparian management zones” on both public and private lands. Such requirements would apply to farmland, areas destined for development and even properties undergoing redevelopment. The bill is […]

North Pacific expedition gets underway aboard four ocean-going research ships

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A North Pacific research expedition is underway, with projects said to be bigger, bolder and more scientifically sophisticated than cruises in 2019 and 2020. Four research vessels carrying more than 60 scientists from various countries will span out across the Pacific Ocean to increase their understanding of salmon — including migration, environmental stresses, availability of prey and risks from predators. Researchers aboard a U.S. ship operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration left from Port Angeles this morning. There has never been a research cruise as involved as this […]

Scientists look for answers in methane bubbles rising from bottom of Puget Sound

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In 2011, sonar operators aboard the ocean-going Research Vessel Thomas G. Thompson inadvertently recorded a surprising natural phenomenon, as the 274-foot ship traversed through Puget Sound while returning to port at the University of Washington. At the time, researchers on board were focused on a host of other projects. They might not have known that the ship’s multi-beam sonar was even turned on. They certainly didn’t realize that the sonar was picking up images that would later be interpreted as multiple plumes of methane bubbles rising from the bottom of […]

Ecology, EPA now under the gun to adopt new water quality criteria for aquatic creatures

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Long delays in updating state water-quality standards to protect orcas, fish and other aquatic species appear to have finally caught up with the Washington Department of Ecology and its federal counterpart, the Environmental Protection Agency. In a court ruling this week, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman of Seattle found that Ecology has “abdicated its duties” to update certain water-quality standards, as required by the federal Clean Water Act. Meanwhile, she said, EPA has failed to meet its legal oversight obligations to ensure that adequate water-quality standards are protective of aquatic […]

Understanding the cold-water needs of salmon and helping them to survive

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Salmon need cold water. This general statement is something I’ve been hearing since I first began reporting on these amazing migrating fish years ago. Cold water is a fact of life for salmon, known for their long travels up and down streams, out to saltwater and back. But colder is not always better. Questions about why salmon need cold water and how their habitat might grow too warm or too cold led me into an in-depth reporting project. I ended up talking to some of the leading experts on the […]

Recovery of Puget Sound species could hinge on better understanding of ecosystems

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A recent report from the Puget Sound Partnership helps us understand the difficulty of restoring the Puget Sound ecosystem. What caught my attention in the State of the Sound report was that after 20 years of protecting and restoring streams, wetlands, shorelines and estuaries, we have not increased overall fish and wildlife populations, and some remain in a downward spiral. (Our Water Ways, Nov. 3). Several reasons have been given for the disappointing findings, including ongoing habitat losses from an increasing human population in the Puget Sound region. Clearly, there […]

Puget Sound fish and wildlife populations fall short of 10-year recovery goals

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A final report on the 2020 ecosystem-recovery goals for Puget Sound outlines habitat improvements for some streams, shorelines and wetlands, but it also describes ongoing declines among fish and wildlife populations that use those habitats. The latest State of the Sound report, released this week by the Puget Sound Partnership, summarizes the status of 52 individual ecosystem indicators used to measure the health of Puget Sound. While 11 indicators point in a positive direction, suggesting that conditions are getting better for Puget Sound, 22 indicators tell us that things are […]

Puget Sound meets 2020 bulkhead-removal goal; new indicators will chart the future

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In a turnabout that offers hope for Puget Sound’s nearshore ecosystem, old bulkheads are now being removed faster than new bulkheads are being constructed, according to permit figures provided by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. In fact, officials with Puget Sound Partnership recently announced that the agency’s 2020 goal for reducing shoreline armoring had been reached — just barely — by the end of last year. Specifically, the goal, or target, was to remove more bulkheads, seawalls and other armoring (measured in length) than what was added from […]

Orca census shows some improvement, but many whales still die before their time

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The annual census of the endangered Southern Resident killer whales, submitted yesterday to the federal government, shows three births and one death from mid-2020 to mid-2021. Along with the new census report, Ken Balcomb of the Center for Whale Research sadly confirmed the death of L47, a 47-year-old female named Marina, who has been apparently missing since early summer. Marina was last seen by CWR biologists on Feb. 27 in Swanson Channel, north of the San Juan Islands, Ken told me. She was later missing from observations by Canadian biologists […]

Plunging into a jungle of weather statistics to find the footprints of climate change

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“Augusts in Seattle are getting hotter, leading to a change of 3.5°F since 1970.” This was the sentence that caught my eye while reading an email from Peter Gerard, director of communications for Climate Central, an organization that prides itself on helping news reporters tell an accurate story of climate change. I wondered immediately: Is there something special about the month of August? It turns out that there is, at least for Seattle and most areas around Puget Sound, but I needed to see the evidence for myself. Thus began […]

Discovery of tire-related chemical that kills coho salmon sparks widespread response

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Scientists, legislators and manufacturers are responding in various ways to the recent groundbreaking discovery of a deadly chemical derived from automobile tires, a chemical that can rapidly kill coho salmon swimming in urban streams. Researchers are trying to better describe the chemical signature and biological function of the newfound chemical, 6PPD-quinone, along with related compounds. One major goal is to find an alternative chemical that can prevent dangerous cracking in tires without poisoning the environment. Tire manufacturers acknowledge that they had no idea that 6PPD-quinone even existed, although the chemical’s […]

Can biologists estimate the massive loss of shellfish caused by low tides, high temps?

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The putrid smell of rotting shellfish on some beaches in Puget Sound and elsewhere along the West Coast were a clear sign that large numbers of clams, mussels, oysters and other intertidal creatures were killed from exposure to extreme low tides, record-breaking temperatures and a blazing hot sun. The total losses of shellfish that perished late last month may be difficult to estimate, but experts are beginning to piece together evidence from shoreline residents, state and tribal biologists, and commercial shellfish growers. Their goal is to describe what took place […]