Ashley Ahearn

Ashley Ahearn

There are a lot of people who say cows are one of the biggest problems in the West — and are making life a whole heck of a lot harder for sage grouse. But cows are also a symbol of a way of life that many in sagebrush country feel is under attack.

Can we have beef and sage grouse? We meet scientists trying to answer this question — and a rancher in Idaho who grazes his cows in sage grouse country, and is finding ways to make it work.


Episode 3: Streamers

Sep 22, 2020
Ashley Ahearn

As the climate warms and invasive cheatgrass moves in, thousands of acres of sagebursh are burning across the West each year. And sage grouse are feeling the heat too, as the ecosystem shift destroys their habitat.

Caleb McAdoo is a biologist with Nevada Fish and Game. He's lived in sagebrush country his whole life — he loves this landscape — and now, he's watching it disappear before his eyes. What can we learn from wildfire?


Ashley Ahearn

Join Ashley on a frigid trek through the snow in search of sage grouse with a scientist who has been studying the bird for decades. Michael Schroeder takes us on a journey through the frozen sagebrush and back in time to learn some scientific and cultural lore surrounding this bird. Will we find any birds today? Why are they in so much trouble? Should anyone care?


Ashley Ahearn

A few years ago, Ashley Ahearn burned out on the urban rat race, quit her job at a top NPR member station in Seattle, and moved to 20 acres of big sky and sagebrush in rural Washington state to try to better understand this country, and do better journalism in the process. And, along the way, she got curious about a weird, troubled bird known as the Greater Sage-Grouse, that is native to the sagebrush ecosystem — and fits in a whole lot better there than she does. What the heck is a sage grouse and why does everyone get so worked up about this bird?


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.

China has closed its doors to all shellfish imports from an area that stretches from northern California to Alaska. The state of Washington says it's losing as much as $600,000 a week.

Among the shellfish not being harvested is the geoduck, a long-necked clam that can fetch up to $150 per pound in China. It's a major export for the Pacific Northwest.

Across the Western U.S., yearly areas of snowpack are decreasing, and researchers are trying to figure out what that means for everything that relies on the snowmelt — from farms to power plants to a little creature known as the Cascades frog.

Ashley Ahearn / Earthfix

Fishing nets are designed to ensnare fish. But when those nets are lost or abandoned at sea, they don’t stop catching fish.  Instead, they become ghost nets – floating death traps for the marine life that continue to get trapped in their mesh. Ghost nets are a problem internationally – but there’s an international response underway.  And some of the leaders in the movement are at work in the Pacific Northwest.

Doug Monk captains the 39-foot Bet Sea out into the waters of Puget Sound, just south of the Canadian border.  

Courtney Flatt / Earthfix

A coalition of tribal leaders and politicians gathered in Seattle Monday to announce the formation of a new group that opposes coal exports in the Northwest.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and State Representative Reuven Carlyle were among a group of Washington politicians and tribal leaders who announced the creation of the Leadership Alliance Against Coal. The group says it will work to “raise awareness about the damaging economic, cultural and health impacts of coal trains and coal exports”.

Marketplace/APM

A coalition of environmental groups that oppose exporting coal through terminals in the Northwest have announced plans to file a lawsuit against BNSF Railway and several coal companies.

The groups say coal that escapes from trains is polluting the water and should be regulated under the Clean Water Act.

Environmental groups have collected samples of black rock in waterbodies along train tracks in the Northwest and found that some of that rock is coal.

Climate change will affect different regions of the country in different ways. In the Southwest it may get warmer and drier. In the Northwest, however, climate models predict it getting warmer and wetter. That means less snow and more rain. It could also mean more stormy weather.

The Northwest is famous for its steady gray drizzle. But for violent storms and down pours? Not so much. But that might be changing.

Scientists at Washington University in St. Louis looked at rainfall data gathered at 13 sites around the U.S. over the last 70 years or so.

Marketplace/APM

For the last year EarthFix has been looking at the issue of coal being exported through the Northwest.

There are five proposed coal export terminals under consideration in Washington and Oregon. They would be built to transfer coal off of trains from Wyoming and Montana mines and on to ships bound for Asia.

Some coal dust will escape along the journey from the mines to the terminals.

The Black Thunder mine  located near Gillette, Wyoming is one of the largest open pit mines in the world.

Katie Campbell / EarthFix

There are now five coal export terminals under consideration in Washington and Oregon.
Environmental groups, businesses and communities along rail lines are asking questions about the potential impacts of transporting coal through the Northwest.

Some of those questions are about coal dust. How much of it will escape along the journey from Wyoming and Montana mines to the proposed export terminals on the West Coast? And how might the dust impact the health of people who live along the train routes?

Oceiana/Flic

That nice piece of fish you might order at a restaurant or pick up from the grocery store may not actually be the type of fish you think it is.

EarthFix

During the course of their lives some salmon travel thousands of miles - out to the open ocean to feed and mature. Then, after a few years, they head back to the exact river where they hatched, to spawn the next generation. Scientists don’t fully understand how salmon find their way home, but a new study might provide some more answers.

The answer is magnets - according to a new study in the journal Current Biology.

It's about 25 degrees on a clear Saturday morning when Gregg Treinish — executive director of Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, a nonprofit that puts volunteers to work gathering data for scientists around the world — gathers a small group of outdoor adventurers around him near the Duckabush River in the Olympic National Forest in Washington state.

Michael Werner / EarthFix

More than 2,000 people showed up Thursday to tell regulators what they think should be considered in the environmental review of a proposed coal export terminal near Bellingham, Wash. If built, it could be the largest such facility on the West Coast.

Katie Campbell / EarthFix

Regulators in the region are weighing the potential impacts of trains full of coal moving along the Columbia River and the shores of Puget Sound. Meanwhile, trains full of Oil are quietly on the rise.

The crude is being extracted from a deposit known as the Bakken shale formation – located in North Dakota and Montana mainly.  Some of that oil is now on its way to refineries in the Northwest.

Dale Jensen is the spill program manager for the Washington Department of Ecology. Oil trains are new concern for him.

Ashley Ahearn / Earthfix

If you’re a resident killer whale Puget Sound can be a busy and noisy place.

Some research shows that during the summer tourist season - when the orcas come into Puget Sound most regularly - they can be surrounded by an average of 20-25 boats.

Scientists are trying to figure out how pleasure boats and larger vessels may be affecting the behavior and recovery of this endangered species.

We get word that the whales are nearby soon after leaving the dock at Friday Harbor Labs on San Juan Island.

Washington Fish and Game

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has re-issued the kill order for four wolves in a pack in the Northeastern corner of the state.  Starting Wednesday marksmen will take to the field.

Ten cows have been injured or killed on the Diamond M ranch since July. Two more incidents were reported after the holiday weekend  The two calves had claw marks on their backs and bites along their hamstrings, confirming that the injuries were a result of a wolf attack.

Conservation Northwest, an environmental group that works on wolf recovery, agreed that wolves were to blame.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

State officials have called off orders to kill four members of a wolf pack in Northeastern Washington.

The Wedge Pack has had repeated run-ins with livestock on the Diamond M ranch.

Earlier this month officials with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife killed a female member of the pack in an attempt to prevent further cattle loss. Since then, one calf has been killed and another injured.

That prompted the Department to issue a kill order for four more members of the pack. Officials estimate there are up to 11 pack members total.

The drought that hit the West from 2000-2004 is not only the worst in 800 years, but it could be the new “normal”. That’s according to new research in the journal Nature Geoscience.

You’d have to go back to the middle ages to find a period as dry as 2000-2004 in the American West.

Snowpack decreased. Crop productivity in much of the west went down by 5-percent.

And that’s not the worst of it, the researchers say.

Few people know the orcas of Puget Sound as well as Ken Balcomb.

A researcher with the Center for Whale Research on Washington state's San Juan Island, Balcomb has been studying the whales for more than 30 years.

It takes Balcomb only a few seconds of listening to the squeaks and whistles of underwater whale recordings to recognize the different pods of orcas.

In one recording, Balcomb identifies the group known as the L Pod — the family many people in the area are talking about right now.

Public health officials have their hands full keeping your clam chowder and raw oysters safe. That's due, in part, to red tides.

Red tides happen nearly every year as coastal waters warm, killing fish and poisoning shellfish along U.S. coasts. They're not actually tides; they're huge blooms of naturally occurring toxic algae.