Pacific Northwest

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.”


InvestigateWest Copenhagen climate-treaty coverage points up need for independent journalism

Whew! Fifty-one posts -- all but three in just the last two weeks. Dateline Earth readers got to hear from an Arctic tribal elder, an Indian-turned-American nature photographer, Ethiopian political activists, native-rights campaigners from the Amazon and the grassy plains of Ecuador – as well as the European and American officials who dominate this country’s news diet.
rm iwest mugWe stretched. The InvestigateWest team’s coverage of the global climate treaty negotiations that just wrapped up in Copenhagen was a mammoth undertaking for our small start-up news agency – but one that amply demonstrated the need for independent journalism. It was an effort worth every bleary-eyed late-night hour, every marathon Skype session, every up-before-December’s-dawn morning.

It’s unlikely InvestigateWest will be dashing off to a lot of international meetings. We were fortunate in this case to have the assistance of four able young journalists who raised the funds to get themselves to Denmark. Then they went on to deliver journalism that wasn’t available from many – and in a few cases, any – of the thousands of other journalists who covered the talks.

They did this despite being denied access to the conference center where international delegates were meeting until the last day of the two-week conference.  

[caption id="attachment_7653" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="InvestigateWest photographer Christopher Crow is arrested for the second time. He was held for 10 hours.

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.

Rita Hibbard's picture

Will the California Condor come 'home' to the Pacific Northwest?

rita_hibbardweb6Read 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

Pacific Northwest salmon populations shift dramatically

As Vancouver, B.C., watches Fraser River stocks of sockeye fail, the count of steelhead passing the Bonneville Dam in Vancouver, Wash., is soaring. And while low Alaskan Yukon runs of king and chum salmon predict a devastating winter for subsistence fishermen, salmon are even making a comeback in the Seine, as InvestigateWest reported last week. What differences could account for these drastic population changes?

Multiple environmental factors could be affecting populations. Warmer weather can heat up rivers, especially those overdrawn by humans, and discourage the cold-water-loving fish from heading upstream. Shifting ocean currents or other predator influences could be altering food sources. Pollutants from stormwater can accumulate in the fish. Overfishing can deplete numbers. Sea lice from farmed salmon could be transferring to wild salmon, weakening them and increasing the likelihood of succumbing to disease or predators. Even superb returns from previous years could be problematic, as too many fish spawning and then decomposing could produce excess bacteria, possibly resulting in disease.

Tale of two Northwest sagas: Hanford dust-up may be over, while salmon suit marches on

There have been significant developments this week in two of the longest-running environmental sagas in the Pacific Northwest, both pitting locals against the federal government. One is ostensibly resolved, while the other looks like it might never end:

  • The mega-slow cleanup pace of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation has been the subject of years of fights between Washington and the federal government, with deadlines set and agreed upon, and then promptly broken. This week Energy Secretary Stephen Chu traveled to Washington and inked another deal, again with court-enforceable deadlines, appearing near Hanford with Washignton Gov. Christine Gregoire and Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski. The deal gives the feds another 20 years to get the job done, Scott Learn of The Oregonian points out. (Chu also announced -- and this seems like it should have gotten more attention -- the release of $343 million in stimulus money to build new transmission lines to help use the Northwest's rapidly increasing supply of wind power. Tip of the hat to Anna King of KPLU for covering this.)
  • Meanwhile, down in Portland, environmentalists and the state of Oregon have prosectued a yearslong court case against the Bush administration, claiming its plan to rescue salmon on the Snake and Columbia rivers is inadequate. The fish are protected under the Endangered Species Act, and many environmentalists say the only sure way to save them is to knock out four dams on the Snake. For a while speculation rose high that U.S. District Judge James Redding would step in and run the federal hydropower system on the rivers, but he seems reluctant to do so.

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.