Ashley Ahearn

Dan Dzurisin / Flickr Creative Commons

A couple of weeks ago, we shared an episode of a new podcast produced in partnership with Boise State Public Radio. “Grouse” looks at the prehistoric and controversial bird known as the sage grouse. 

Ashley Ahearn

In the final episode of Grouse, Ashley returns to a lek in Washington with biologist Michael Schroeder and finds it scorched by recent wildfire. Michael cries as he looks out over an area that was once home to one of the largest remaining pockets of sage-grouse in the state. But he says he’s not ready to retire yet — there’s more work to be done.

We’re all looking for hope right now, but what we really need is the courage to keep fighting, loving and dancing, as the sage-grouse have shown us. We may not save this bird, but that doesn’t mean we can’t cherish it and do our small part — whatever that may be — to try to keep these birds around.


Ashley Ahearn

In 2015 the Obama Administration hammered out a deal with leaders and land managers across the west that avoided listing the sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act.

It was a grand compromise that protected key sage-grouse habitat while allowing for continued access to sagebrush country for a diverse set of stakeholders — from ranchers to oil and gas to recreational users. There were pats on the back and photo ops with folks in cowboy hats next to folks in Patagonia.

And yet sage-grouse populations are still declining. Compromise may make us humans feel good, but does the sage-grouse have time for it?


Ashley Ahearn

Western Wyoming is home to many sage-grouse mating and nesting sites. And, in recent years, it’s also become a hub of oil and gas extraction.

Ashley Ahearn heads to oil and gas country to visit a lek with Matt Holloran, who did his PhD on sage-grouse and how natural gas drilling affects them. She also interviews Paul Ulrich, VP of Jonah Energy, who says there’s “more work to be done” and it will involve bringing people together to look for shared solutions to keep sage-grouse around.


Ashley Ahearn

The sage-grouse plays a big role in the cultural history of several western American Indian Nations. Wilson Wewa, an elder of the Northern Paiute of the Warm Springs Reservation in Oregon, still remembers the first time he saw a sage-grouse lek while gathering medicine with his grandfather.

Wilson shares a story from the Wasco Nation about a grieving woman who finds solace among the sage hens. We are losing these birds, Wilson says, but they provide important lessons about hope and joy in a world that is short on both.

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.

EarthFixMedia / YouTube

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 o

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.

From: EarthFix / 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.

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