Algae toxin found in West Coast fish for first time

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A series of Landsat 8 images captures the scope of the algae blooms off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Photo courtesy NASA Earth Observatory.

Global warming is poisoning the seas

Staff Report

Warm ocean temperatures in the Pacific led to what researchers now are calling an unprecedented bloom of toxic algae along the west coast of North America in 2015. The algal toxin domoic acid was found in samples from a wide range of marine organisms — and for the first time, in the muscle tissue of several commercial fish species.

Scientists from the University of California, Santa Cruz led the investigations into the spread of the toxin through the marine food web, finding that it persisted in Dungeness crab months after the algal bloom disappeared from coastal waters.

Domoic acid is a potent neurotoxin produced by a type of microscopic algae called Pseudo-nitzschia that occurs naturally in coastal waters. Blooms of the toxic algae along the California coast typically occur in the spring and fall and last just a few weeks. This year, however, unusual oceanographic conditions (unrelated to El Niño) led to the largest and longest-lasting bloom ever recorded. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Spotted owl populations in steep decline

Spotted owl.

Spotted owl. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Climate change may bolster spotted owl survival in the future

Staff Report

Northern spotted owl populations continue to decline across the Pacific Northwest, researchers said in a new study showing that competition from barred owls, along with habitat destruction and climate change are all factors in population trends.

According to the research, published in The Condor, spotted owls are in decline across all of their range. The findings are based on data from 11 study areas Washington, Oregon and northern California, with a rangewide decline of nearly 4 percent per year between 1985 to 2013. Continue reading

Drought dries up frog ponds in Pacific Northwest

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Current drought offers window into future climate conditions.

‘More years like 2015 do not bode well for the frogs …’

Staff Report

LINZ — This year’s fierce drought in the Pacific Northwest has given researchers a chance to see how climate change may affect the region long-term, and the outlook is not good for amphibians.

The low winter snowpack and long, hot summer have left some frogs high and dry as their mountain ponds dry up and disappear. Those conditions could be the norm in another 50 years, said Se-Yeun Lee, research scientist at University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group and one of the lead authors of the study published last week in PLOS ONE.

“This year is an analog for the 2070s in terms of the conditions of the ponds in response to climate,” said Se-Yeun Lee, research scientist at University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group and one of the lead authors of the study. Continue reading

Drought spurs emergency fishing ban in Olympic National Park

Stream temps reaching levels lethal to salmon

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Tough times for salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Photo via USGS.

Staff Report

FRISCO — With water temperatures approaching lethal levels for salmon, the National Park Service is enacted an emergency closure of recreational fishing on most rivers and streams in Olympic National Park.

The closure is aimed at protecting fish during the severe drought in the region. Current conditions have made Pacific salmon, steelhead and bulltrout exceptionally vulnerable because of low stream flows and high water temperatures, park service officials said. Continue reading

Feds eye more protection for northern spotted owls

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Can northern spotted owls survive in the Pacific Northwest? Photo courtesy USFWS.

Logging and post-fire salvage, along with competion from barred owls, still seen as key threats

Staff Report

FRISCO — Dinged by a double whammy of continued habitat loss and interspecies competition, the Pacific Northwest’s northern spotted owl may get even more protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week said it will launch a review to decide if the spotted owl should be reclassified as endangered rather than threatened.

The population of the northern spotted owl is declining across most of the species’ range. The most recent data show a 2.9 percent range-wide population decline per year, although declines as high as 5.9 percent per year have been observed in some areas. Continue reading

Environment: Logging industry fails yet again to strip Pacific Northwest protection for marbled murrelets

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Marbled murrelet in a moss nest. Courtesy USFWS.

Fifth lawsuit rejected by courts

Staff Report

FRISCO — Marbled murrelets along the Pacific Northwest Coast will continue to benefit from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, as a federal appeals court last week rejected yet another logging industry attempt to open more coastal old-growth forest to logging.

The robin-sized birds feed at sea but nest only in old-growth forests along the Pacific Coast, laying their eggs (one per female) on large, moss-covered branches in old growth Douglas fir, Sitka spruce, western hemlock, and redwood trees.  Continue reading

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

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