Feds eye more critical habitat for Pacific Northwest orcas

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Public input wanted: final decision due in 2017

Staff Report

FRISCO — Federal biologists will study whether more critical habitat could benefit an endangered group of killer whales that roams the ocean off the Pacific Northwest, from Puget Sound down to northern California.

Wildlife conservation advocates last year petitioned NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Service, seeking critical habitat designation for the whales’ winter foraging range off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. Documents related to the process are compiled here. Continue reading

New study touts wave energy potential

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Wave energy could help boost overall renewable energy supplies. bberwyn photo.

Wave energy seen as more reliable than some other renewable energy sources

Staff Report

FRISCO — Energy from ocean waves could fill a big gap in the renewable power grid because it is comparatively steady, dependable and can be integrated into the overall energy grid at lower costs than some other forms of alternative energy, including wind power.

By balancing wave energy production over a larger geographic area, the variability can be even further reduced, a group of researchers reported in the journal Renewable Energy. Continue reading

Climate: Pacific Northwest warming fast

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It’s hard to see what (some_ people don’t understand about this global warming graph.

‘At the rate the temperature is increasing, the next 1.3-degree bump will happen much more quickly’

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Climate scientists say they’ve been able to tease out the anthropogenic part of a long-term warming trend in the Pacific Northwest, where the annual mean temperature has warmed by about 1.3 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 100 years.

That has lengthened the freeze-free season by two to three weeks and is the equivalent of the snow line moving up 600 feet, said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University and a co-author on the study, published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate. Continue reading

Climate: Study suggests Pacific Northwest streamflow declines may be linked with waning winter winds

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Global warming may be changing westerly winds that drive weather patterns in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere.

Crucial water supplies under the gun from a changing climate

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Changes in runoff from winter snowpack have been widely documented across the West and most researchers attribute those changes to global warming. But along with the direct impact of warmer temperatures, there may also be a more subtle factor in play.

Recent Forest Service studies on high-elevation climate trends in the Pacific Northwest United States show that streamflow declines tie directly to decreases and changes in winter winds that bring precipitation across the region. The decrease in winter winds may be linked with natural climate variations and man-made climate change.

Other climate research on a larger scale suggests that circumpolar wind speeds may be declining as a result of melting Arctic sea ice —  the temperature gradient between the high- and mid-latitudes drives the wind, and that gradient is lessening. Continue reading

Global warming drives more nighttime heatwaves

Pacific Northwest researchers document startling increase in number of hot nights during the past few decades

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A NASA map shows an area of above-average temperatures hugging the Pacific Northwest coast during the spring of 2013.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A trend of more frequent nighttime heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest may not portend killer temperatures and withering crops, but it is another sign that  global warming will have a profound effect on regional climate and weather.

Scientists with the Oregon Climate Service at Oregon State University documented 15 examples of “nighttime heat waves” from 1901 through 2009. Ten of them have occurred since 1990 and five were during a four-year period from 2006-09. Continue reading

Global warming: Pacific Northwest study shows nuanced streamflow response to changing climatic conditions

Snow-fed rivers likely to see biggest impacts

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The mouth of the Klamath River in northern California. Photo courtesy Corps of Engineers.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As regional climate models improve, scientists in various disciplines have been able to fine-tune their projections of impacts to various ecosystems, including rivers. The Southwest is likely to get especially hard, with some studies showing a steep drop in Colorado River flows.

In other parts of the country, including the Pacific Northwest, the impacts will probably be more nuanced, with the biggest impacts on summer stream flows in basins fed by melting snow and ice in the high Cascades, according to study by scientists at Oregon State University.

Though these iconic rivers – including the Willamette, McKenzie, Deschutes, Klamath and Rogue – appear to have plenty of water, they also may be among the most sensitive to climate change, the study concludes. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Northern spotted owl gets more protection

Northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy USFS.

Latest critical habitat designation reverses politically tainted Bush-era plan

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Nearly four years after President Barack Obama took office, federal agencies are still trying to undo some of the environmental mischief from the Bush era. Last week, for example, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service designated more than 9 million acres of critical habitat for threatened northern spotted owls.

The designation, spread across federal lands in Washington, Oregon and Northern California, replaces a 2008 designation by the Bush administration that ignored years of scientific evidence showing that spotted owls in the Pacific Northwest needed more, not less, old-growth forest habitat protection.

The Bush-era critical habitat designation was based on a recovery plan for the owl that was widely criticized by the scientific community. Congressional hearings later showed that the plan was shaped by political interference designed to undermine the protective measures of the Northwest Forest Plan.

Conservation groups, represented by Earthjustice, challenged the 2008 plan, resulting in last week’s designation, which is a substantial increase from both previous designations. Continue reading

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