Don’t be fooled by the recent rain and cooler temperatures. Most of Oregon and Washington are still experiencing severe or extreme drought.
With many of the region’s reservoirs and streams still far below normal and a warm winter on tap, experts are predicting this year’s drought will likely continue into next year.
On a conference call Thursday, Washington Department of Ecology Director Maia Bellon said her agency is preparing for the worst: another year of drought that will take hold earlier and take an even bigger toll on the state.
“This historic drought is not over, and we’re already planning for next year,” Bellon said. “We face winter with a huge water deficit. Rains are desperately needed to recharge these reservoirs and even that won’t be enough to get us through next summer. We need winter snowpack – what we call our frozen reservoir – and there’s growing concern we may not get it.”
Projections for this year’s winter temperature and precipitation relative to normal conditions from 1981-2010.
Courtesy of Washington Department of Ecology
Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond said there’s a 10- to 15-percent chance this winter will be just as warm and devoid of snow as last winter.
“There’s been recently some rain and cooler temperatures, but are we out of the woods?” he said. “The answer, I’m afraid, is no. El Nino is rearing its ugly head in the tropical Pacific. It’s of the magnitude and type that is strongly associated with warmer than normal winters around here, and warmer ocean temperatures off our coat, the blob, will be a contributing factor. All in all, the odds are strongly tilted towards another toasty winter.”
Oregon’s outlook is much the same, according to Kathie Dello, associate director of the Oregon Climate Research Institute.
“Nothing is pointing to us having a great winter,” she said. “The warmer-than-normal temperature prediction is the most disconcerting.”
With so many low reservoirs and rivers, Dello said, even slightly below-average precipitation this winter would leave the region with a water deficit going into next year.
A new American Indian/Alaska Native State Plan moves Oregon ever closer to making a Native American curriculum mandatory in all public school districts. When it happens, it will join a still way too short list of states, with neighboring Washington added to it this spring, to issue a similar directive.
The new two-year plan, developed over a nine-month period by the 26-member AI/AN Advisory Panel, which includes representatives from each of the state’s nine tribes, was adopted by Oregon’s State Board of Education in April. Under the plan, all 197 school districts will implement a “historically accurate, culturally embedded, place-based, contemporary, and developmentally appropriate AI/AN curriculum.” While ultimately it is up to Oregon’s legislature, the plan states that the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) will support and assist in the development of legislative language for a mandate in the 2017 session.
Under the previous plan, issued in 2006, school districts were “encouraged to implement AI/AN curriculum and instructional materials.” While some have, the information taught is often outdated or inaccurate. Tammie Hunt, education director for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians and a member of the AI/AN Advisory Panel, said about a year and half ago, she learned that schools in the Medford 549c district, where some Cow Creek students are enrolled, were teaching information from 1963 sources. In the 1960s, many of Oregon’s tribes were terminated. “They did pull the curriculum. They finished teaching it at the end of this year, from what I understand. They were supposed to do something this summer to update it,” Hunt said.
A few school districts, however, have made a good effort, albeit recent, to get it right. Hunt pointed to Salem Kaiser, which just developed an interactive curriculum that incorporates direct input from all nine tribes. In June, Hunt and representatives from other tribes spent the day in a classroom going through the curriculum as if they were the students.
Ramona Halcomb, education director for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and also a member of the AI/AN Advisory Panel, said Pendleton School District has come a long way. Not only did the district approach the Umatilla for assistance in developing a curriculum for a two-week Oregon Trail program, but teachers and administrators have attended cultural events, a few even participated in a sweat with Halcomb, and new teachers have orientation at the tribal museum.
“Ever since the boarding school heritage, developing trust and developing that time to connect with communities is what’s important and what’s so needed—and Pendleton does that extremely well,” Halcomb said.
Including the culturally relevant curriculum, the new plan contains 11 state educational objectives, ranging from increasing AI/AN attendance and graduation rates to meet or exceed state levels to districts recruiting a minimum of 5 percent AI/AN educators and ensuring that educators receive AI/AN responsive training at least once per year, to boost outcomes of Indian students. The plan contains strategies for each objective, though the finer details need to be worked out. “Now we are developing subcommittees that are taking each of the goals and developing action plans—the how this will actually unfold,” said ODE’s Advisor to Deputy State Superintendent on Indian Education April Campbell.
Undoubtedly, there will be challenges in meeting these objectives. Take the 5 percent AI/AN educator target. Halcomb called it a “lofty goal,” but with Native American students dropping out of Oregon public schools at a rate 6.8 percent (2013-2014)—the highest in the state—aiming high is better than aiming low. As Halcomb sees it, through collaboration with the tribes and other entities dedicated to increasing diversity in the education workforce, it is not an unachievable goal. For instance, she would love to see school districts matching tribal scholarships for students pursuing teaching careers.
They also need to brainstorm ways to promote teaching as a worthy profession to go into. Out of the 160 Cow Creek students currently receiving tribal scholarships, none are in teaching programs. “Going into teaching is really tough. You are so governed by rules and regulations,” she said.
Despite the challenges, Campbell is excited about the updated plan, which also provides for a full-time Indian education specialist. She said they took a look at what other states, such as Minnesota, Montana, and Washington, are doing and trying to learn from their successes.
“Our students are struggling, and so we need to do something for them,” Campbell said. “Our leadership recognized that. I think everyone is ready, ready to see something change for our students. It’s time. It’s overdue.”
Wyoming lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow the state to finance the construction of coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.
On Friday, Wyoming’s state legislature sent to Gov. Matt Mead a bill that would allow the state to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to help fund out-of-state projects, including coal export terminals.
Lloyd Drain, director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, said these projects would be good for Wyoming coal and the Northwest, too.
“If I’m looking at it with my Washington state or Oregon state hat on, I think there’s a lot more benefits to be had than any risk,” he said. Wyoming plans to send a delegation to Pacific Northwest later this spring to lobby Native American tribes for support.
Coal export projects are proposed on Puget Sound near Bellingham, Washington, and on the Columbia River in Longview, Washington. A third, smaller terminal on the Oregon side of the Columbia was rejected last August by state regulators. That decision is being appealed.
The projects have had trouble with financing. In late 2014 Ambre Energy sold its interest in terminals in Oregon and Washington to a private equity firm in order to remain solvent.
This was first reported by Inside Energy, a reporting team based in energy boom states.
But many Northwest tribes appear to be in no rush to go in the direction of Oregon and Washington voters.
The Department of Justice said it will treat Indian tribes that legalize pot with the same hands-off prosecutorial approach that it’s treated states with legal pot. That means there could be a potentially lucrative marijuana business on reservations even in states like Idaho, where pot remains illegal.
But it’s still up to the tribe.
Charles Sams of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation said drug law enforcement is a matter of public health.
“The tribe will continue to prosecute and cite those folks who are in violation of those laws,” he said.
In Washington, the Yakama Nation wants to ban sales both on its reservation and on millions of acres of surrounding land where it has treaty rights.
The Department of Justice decision came as a surprise to many tribes. The policy adviser for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe in north Idaho said legalizing pot hadn’t even been on the tribe’s radar.
In a growing number of Northwest prisons, inmates are rearing endangered plants, butterflies, turtles and frogs for release in the wild.
It started just over a decade ago at a minimum security prison near Olympia. Now inmates at four Washington prisons and three in Oregon are raising dozens of different types of plants, insects and animals to use in restoration, many of them rare or endangered.
“The inmates are capable of giving more attention to these organisms than anyone else because they have more time to commit to it,” Kaye said. “They can really nurture and take care of these animals. The same thing is true for these plants.”
In Oregon, inmates at the state prison near Ontario are growing sagebrush to support habitat restoration for the greater sage grouse. Inmates at a correctional center in Salem are rearing threatened golden paintbrush on the prison grounds for seed production. Female inmates at Oregon’s Coffee Creek prison grow the early blue violet, which provides sustenance for rare butterflies when out planted on the Oregon Coast.
Oregon Department of Corrections sustainability coordinator Chad Naugle said, “There is huge interest on the inside” to get these work assignments.
Kaye described gardening as a “calming” activity for inmates, who in addition can acquire vocational skills while they help to rehab the environment. “There are substantial gains on all sides,” said Kaye. “We’re able to get so much more done for ourselves in the mission we are trying to accomplish… it really helps us extend our capacity.”
Prison nurseries in the older program in Washington state have raised 64 different plant species for restoration of South Puget Sound prairies according to Sustainability in Prisons Project program manager Kelli Bush. The Washington program has also partnered with Northwest zoos and state and federal agencies to rear endangered animals as well.
“Since 2009, over 700 federally-threatened, state-endangered Oregon spotted frogs have been reared from eggs to adults at Cedar Creek Corrections Center,” wrote Bush via email from Olympia. “Frogs are released into Pierce County wetlands each fall. To increase the sustainability of this project, crickets are raised as a supplemental food source.”
The minimum security Mission Creek Corrections Center for Women near Belfair raises the endangered Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly from larvae for release into the wild.
The Washington prison program was co-founded by The Evergreen State College and Washington State Department of Corrections in 2003. Participating inmates are paid a nominal rate for their labor. Federal and foundation grants cover most of the program costs.
The developer of the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export project, as well as two project supporters, have appealed the state of Oregon’s decision to deny a permit for a dock on the Columbia River.
The state of Wyoming, the Port of Morrow and project developer Ambre Energy have all challenged the state’s permit denial by requesting a contested case hearing before an administrative law judge, according to Julie Curtis, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of State Lands. The deadline to request a hearing is Monday.
Leaders at the Port of Morrow and the governor of Wyoming have expressed support for the project in the past because of the economic benefits and jobs it would create.
The Morrow Pacific coal export project needs a permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands to build a dock for coal barges on the Columbia River. The project would ship nearly 9 million tons of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia. It would transfer coal shipments from trains to barges at the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, and load the coal onto ships at a dock downriver in Clatskanie, Oregon.
Last month, the state denied the company’s coal dock permit application, saying that the project conflicts with the state’s policy of protecting its water resources and fisheries on the Columbia River.
Everett King, president and CEO of Ambre Energy North America, explained his company’s decision to appeal the state’s permit denial in a news release.
“The permitting process for a rail-to-barge facility should be project-specific and not influenced by the commodities involved,” he said. “It’s pretty clear the politics of coal overshadowed this process from the beginning.”
In its appeal, Ambre Energy argues that the state did not fairly evaluate the company’s permit application and improperly elevated “special interests” above “long-standing” port industrial uses. It also argues that the state went beyond the scope of review it has done in the past for similar permits.
“DSL exceeded its lawful authority while ignoring its legal obligations,” the company wrote in its appeal. “The decision must be reversed.”
Gary Neal, general manager of the Port of Morrow, said the state’s permit denial could have negative implications for his port that extend beyond the Morrow Pacific project.
“Not only does this permit denial create a road block for the well-designed Morrow Pacific project – it sets new regulatory precedent that has the risk of shutting down future development opportunities at the Port of Morrow,” he said. “We are appealing so that this political decision does not limit economic opportunity in rural Oregon.”
Opponents of the Morrow Pacific project criticized the company’s decision to appeal.
“The State of Oregon and the people of Oregon overwhelmingly rejected coal export because we are choosing a better future,” Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said in a news release. “Ambre’s appeal is a last-minute and desperate attempt to just keep hanging on. Coal is too dirty and would degrade our salmon economy.”
The Oregon Department of State Lands allows anyone who participated in the public comment process and who would be adversely affected by the permitting decision to appeal. The Oregon Department of State Lands director will decide whether the appeals have legal merit before setting a hearing date before an administrative law judge.
The permit denial followed a dispute between Columbia River tribes and project developer Ambre Energy over tribal fishing at the proposed dock site. Members of four Columbia River tribes told the state they fish at the proposed dock site, and asked the state to deny the permit to ensure their treaty fishing rights are upheld. Ambre Energy disputed those claims and argued that the dock wouldn’t interfere with tribal fisheries.
The Morrow Pacific project is one of three coal export proposals in the Northwest. The two others would transfer coal from trains to ships in Longview, Washington, on the Columbia River and near Bellingham, Washington, on Puget Sound.
Oregon’s state Board of Forestry is working on balancing a healthy timber industry with healthy salmon runs.
On Wednesday, the board votes on taking the next step in developing rules governing how many trees must be left standing along streams to keep the water shaded and cool enough for salmon to survive.
It would be the first change to the riparian protections of the Oregon Forest Practices Act since 1994.
The question was raised by a 2011 study that found temperatures were getting warmer in salmon streams on state-regulated timberlands in the Coast Range.
The Department of Forestry is recommending the board go forward with analyzing the different logging prescriptions that would be needed to meet the cool water protection standards for small- and medium-sized streams with salmon, steelhead and bull trout, and their economic impact.
A final decision is months away and will take into account whether the changes create too much of a hardship on the timber industry.
Mary Scurlock of the Oregon Stream Protection Coalition says the study makes it clear that Oregon will have to start leaving more trees standing along streams to meet the cool water standard set by the state Environmental Quality Commissions, and some form of financial assistance for small landowners may be needed to soften the blow.
She added that Washington state logging rules use the same cold water protection standards set in Oregon, and the timber industry is viable there.
In testimony to the board over the past year, representatives of the timber industry have urged approaching the Environmental Quality Commission to change the cool water standards — a position opposed by the Department of Forestry — and raised questions about how long-lasting the effects are of logging on stream temperatures.
Katrina McNitt, president of the Oregon Forest Industry Council, said while the study showed water temperatures rose after logging, they never exceeded the standard for protecting salmon.
The RipStream study by the department and Oregon State University looked at 33 stream sites on state and private lands in the Coast Range dating to 2002. The study found an average increase of 1.26 degrees Fahrenheit after logging on private lands. There was no increase on state timberlands, where more trees are left standing along streams. The temperature increases were prompted by less shade thrown on the water by trees.
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) – An Oregon congresswoman wants federal recognition for the Clatsop-Nehalem Confederated Tribes on the northern Oregon coast.
A bill by Democratic U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici would restore federal benefits to the Indian tribe, but not fishing or hunting rights. Recognition wouldn’t require a reservation, but allows members to live in Tillamook and Clatsop counties.
The tribe has been seeking federal recognition for several decades.
More than a century ago, the tribe signed treaties with the U.S. government that were never ratified and left the tribe in legal limbo. The Indians were forced from their lands by white settlers and in 1954 Congress – “terminated” their recognition.
Bonamici introduced the bill in the U.S. House on July 28.
Benefits for federally recognized tribes include medical and dental care, education grants and housing programs.
The Oregon Department of State Lands cited disruption to waterways and harm to tribal fisheries among its reasons for the refusal, which makes future approval of the port unlikely but still possible if the company pursuing the project files a convincing appeal.
Tom Wood, owner of the Rivertap Restaurant and Pub in The Dalles, Oregon, called the news a “landmark victory for our community, as well as communities across the nation.”
About three years ago, Wood and his son, Aiden, then 9, were salmon fishing on the Columbia River. As they returned to their car, Aiden spotted small clumps of coal near some railroad tracks.
“We brought a pile home and lit them on fire,” Wood recalled. “You know, the fun things you do with coal.”
He soon realized that the coal likely came from the open rail cars that shuttle along the Columbia River to Canadian ports. That recognition helped push him to join with thousands of others across state, economic and political lines who have tried to thwart the proposed increase in the number of these coal trains rolling through the region. The mile-plus-long trains originate at mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana and head west to meet up with Asia-bound ships. Opponents, who have been protesting and signing petitions for a few years now, worry that more coal trains could ultimately lead to problems ranging from local traffic delays and health harms due to air pollution, to faster climate change as a result of more coal-burning overseas.
Proponents of the coal ports, meanwhile, contend that greater exports mean needed jobs and tax revenues for struggling Western towns and Native American reservations.
“We do have to balance the health of our community with the need for commerce,” said Wood. But he argued that the former is more critical in the long term, including for his son’s future. Referring to the permit rejection, he said, “The win is a testament to the power and dedication of countless Northwest families to assure that these dirty, dangerous projects don’t take root for short-term gains.”
The U.S. has seen a steady decline in domestic coal use in recent years thanks to tighter federal regulations and the expanded viability of natural gas and renewable energy. But the rise of coal-hungry economies in China, India and other fast-developing nations offers a promising alternative market for coal companies. If government agencies eventually grant approval to all three export terminals proposed for Oregon and Washington, up to 100 million metric tons of the combustible rock per year could soon pass through the Pacific Northwest. The Coyote Island Terminal on the Port of Morrow at Boardman, Oregon, would account for less than 10 million metric tons of that total.
Ambre Energy, the Australian-based company pursuing the project, told The Huffington Post in a statement that it disagrees with Oregon’s “political decision.”
“We are evaluating our next steps and considering the full range of legal and permitting options,” added Liz Fuller, an Ambre Energy spokeswoman.
With the door still open for the Coyote Island Terminal to be approved, as well as for the other two port proposals in Washington state, opponents are voicing somewhat restrained optimism.
“This is a relatively small amount of coal compared to the other proposals,” said KC Golden, senior policy adviser for the nonprofit Climate Solutions. But he added that the formal permit denial is still a “very big deal.”
“It’s a terrific affirmation of what, in some ways, ought to be obvious,” said Golden. “This is a profoundly bad idea for the Northwest and for the world.”
Among the most vocal opponents have been Native American tribes whose reservations lie in the coal trains’ path.
“Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated,” JoDe Goudy, the Yakama tribal council chairman, said in a statement Monday night.
On Sunday, the Lummi Nation, whose reservation neighbors one of the proposed ports in Washington state, launched a totem pole journey — a road trip with totem pole in tow — that they hope will consolidate tribal opposition to Big Coal and Big Oil.
“Such decisions are few and far between,” the tribe stated in response to Monday’s announcement. “This is important not just for the Yakama and Umatilla but all Indian fishing tribes. Together we can, and will, protect our way of life.”
Meanwhile, there are other tribes that could benefit from coal exports. As HuffPost reported in January after the Lummi Nation’s first totem pole journey, the Crow Nation of rural Montana argues that it desperately needs to develop its coal reserves to lift its people out of poverty.
Dr. Robert Merchant, a pulmonologist in Billings, Montana, who deals with the health problems related to coal mining near his city, acknowledged the dilemma.
“There are a lot of people that would stand to have substantial gain from the extraction industry,” he said. But he also sees the high public costs associated with the industry.
Montana, Oregon and Washington are among Western states battling forest fires this summer and suffering the resulting poor air quality. Scientists warn that such blazes are becoming more frequent and intense with the changing climate and that coal plays a significant role in this shift.
Then there’s the blowback of toxic pollution from Asia’s coal-fired power plants. “Plumes come right across the Pacific,” Merchant said, noting that they can further contaminate the West’s air and water with toxins such as mercury.
Perhaps of most immediate concern to many opposed are the trains, barges and ships themselves, which block roadways for emergency vehicles, belch diesel fumes and blow coal dust. Diesel exhaust is known to worsen conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and may even raise the risk of certain cancers. The extent of the threat from heavy-metal-laden coal dust is less clear, although evidence is building.
The governors of California, Oregon and Washington sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel on Thursday to stress that they don’t want the possibility of drilling off of the West Coast.
The Interior Department is developing an updated plan for its Outer Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, and the governors formally stated their opposition to the inclusion of any oil or gas lease sales off the coast as part of any new plan.
Govs. Jay Inslee, of Washington, Jerry Brown, of California, and John Kitzhaber, of Oregon, wrote that their three states “represent the fifth-largest economy in the world” and their ocean-dependent industries contribute billions of dollars to the region each year.
“While new technology reduces the risk of a catastrophic event such as the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, a sizeable spill anywhere along our shared coast would have a devastating impact on our population, recreation, natural resources, and our ocean and coastal dependent economies,” they wrote.
The governors, all Democrats, also stressed a commitment to develop a strategy to combat climate change.
“Oil and gas leasing may be appropriate for regions where there is state support for such development and the impacts can be mitigated,” they wrote. “However, along the West Coast, our states stand ready to work with the Obama Administration to help craft a comprehensive and science-based national energy policy that aligns with the actions we are taking to invest in energy efficiency, Oil and Gas Leasing Program alternative renewable energy sources, and pricing carbon.”
Inslee spokesman David Postman said that while there aren’t any current plans for West Coast leases, the governors want to ensure there aren’t any in the new plan.