Thursday, August 30, 2012

Eyes Over Puget Sound for August 27, 2012

By Sandy Howard, communication manager, Environmental Assessment Program

This photo shows Sinclair Inlet in the central Sound.
Just out! New aerial photos from our marine monitoring program’s Aug. 27th overflight.

We saw extensive red-brown blooms in finger inlets in South Sound as well as Sinclair Inlet. Also, very green bloom in Quartermaster Harbor, macro-algae abundant in Central Basin.

And, we observed a spectacular Puyallup river plume in Commencement Bay extending into Tacoma Narrows.

Jellyfish patches are getting big in Sinclair Inlet and Budd Inlet.

Eyes Over Puget Sound” combines high-resolution photo observations with satellite images, en route ferry data between Seattle and Victoria BC, and measurements from our moored instruments.

Sign up to receive email notifications about the latest “Eyes Over Puget Sound” by subscribing to Ecology’s email listserv here.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Classroom Invaders – students and teachers unknowingly spreading invasive species

By Brook Beeler, environmental educator, Office of Communication and Education

I recently received a forwarded newsletter from a colleague with the introduction, “Darn science teachers!” What on earth could he be referring to? Science teachers are awesome!

The Columbia Basin Bulletin distributed a newsletter article about how teachers are inadvertently releasing invasive species into the environment. According to a study funded by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and conducted by Sea Grant, my colleague was complaining about a common issue across the U.S. and Canada. Of teachers surveyed one out of four educators who used live animals as part of their science curriculum released the organisms into the wild after they were done using them in the classroom.

Washington has only one native crayfish species, the signal crayfish (Pacifasticus leniusculus).  Invasive species have begun to appear in norhtwest rivers.
Researchers found as many as 1,000 different organisms used by the teachers. Many of these species are known or potential invasive species including elodea, crayfishes, amphibians, mosquito fish, red-eared slider turtles and other aquatic plants and snails.

So what does it mean to be an invasive species? Some non-native species are benign or may even be good for the environment. But populations of other non-native species explode after introduction, significantly harming the environment or human health. Invasive species may harm native species by competing against them for food, space or other resources. They can endanger human health by introducing parasites and pathogens. Once established, most nonnative species are impossible to eliminate.

In the northwest, the crayfish has been identified as a particular “invader of interest.”

Non-native crayfish frequently:
  • displace native crayfish,
  • reduce the amount and kinds of aquatic plants,
  • decrease the density and variety of invertebrates (animals lacking a backbone), and
  • reduce some fish populations.

You can learn more about the non-native crayfish in the Northwest from this Oregon Field Guide segment from 2011.

Oregon Field Guide: Crayfish Invasion Eastern crayfish invade Oregon rivers through a surprise route: 4th Grade classrooms.

Looking for solutions in Washington

Don’t forget, in my opinion, science teachers are awesome! In the same survey where teachers reported releasing invasive species they also told researchers they don’t want to be part of the problem. They want to be part of the solution.

In Washington several organizations have gathered together to come up with a solution. The University of Washington, Pacific Education Institute, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) have collaborated to get local, native crayfish into classrooms.

OSPI resources for teachers that use crayfish in the classroom include:

Having live species to observe and care for is an important component of student learning. It is much more engaging for students to see the “structures of life” first hand. Caring for an organism and learning about the proper components of its ecosystem, rather than watching a video clip or reading about it in a book, also increases student enthusiasm. As scientists and researchers undertake the multi-pronged approach to educate teachers and citizens, the message filters into the classroom. Our students aren’t just learning about crayfish; they are gaining an understanding of our environment.

What you can do

Learn more about invasive plants and animals in Washington and how they are being managed from Washington Invasive Species Education (WISE) webpage.

If you think you have spotted an invasive species you can report sightings:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Boots on the Ground: Washington Conservation Corps provides support for wildland firefighting efforts in Kittitas County

By Bridget Mason, WCC Coordinator, Washington Conservation Corps

Wildfire approaching windmills in Ellensburg.

WCC crew move fuel cans for use by firefighting equipment.
Photos by Ernie Farmer
Beginning at 6 a.m. on August 13, the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) deployed eight AmeriCorps members and two WCC Crew Supervisors to assist with efforts to contain the Taylor Bridge wildfire near Cle Elum, Washington.

The team has members from Bellevue, Ellensburg, Seattle, Wenatchee and Yakima. Upon their arrival, the crew worked to establish a base camp by setting up yurts, telephone lines, and supply trailers. After completing initial setup, the team began coordinating donations, serving meals, and coordinating equipment for the fire line.

WCC Supervisor, Ernie Farmer, has been impressed with the outpouring of community support explaining, “Over ten tons of donations have poured in from around the state and this same support is being demonstrated at the shelters and animal care facilities in the area.”

The team plans to stay as long as they are needed. Current estimates report the fire as 25 percent contained. The fire has burned 20,000 acres and destroyed over 60 homes.
This website has the latest report on the firefighting effort.

The WCC has 70 members and staff certified to fight wildfires that are available for this response, if needed. This certification is just one of several offered in the WCC program. We provide crews at a moment’s notice for disasters throughout Washington and the U.S., providing first-hand assistance to citizens in Washington and across the nation during floods, fires, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

Learn more about the Washington Conservation Corps.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fecal Matters: Has this brutal Washington heat wave got your swimsuit in a bunch?

BEACH Program Update

If so, hit the beach but stay healthy!
Avoid swimming related illness by keeping diapered kids out of the water and dispose used diapers in the trash.

Kids love to play in those cool streams that flow down to the beach, keep them out! Small streams and creeks often carry bacteria from upland sources down to the beach.

Remember that warmer water + crowded swimming areas can = high bacteria in the water.

Headed to a saltwater beach? The BEACH Program has you covered. Check coastal atlas for current swimming advisories or to find a beach!

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Julie Lowe is the BEACH Program Manager and can be reached at

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Good Yard Care Practices Help Protect Washington Waters

By Brook Beeler, environmental educator, Office of Communication and Education

Mulch or compost clippings and prevent them from
entering our waters causing pollution
Gardening season has kicked into high gear in Washington and with all that lawn care comes oodles and oodles of grass clippings and other garden debris. For many, managing all those clippings can be overwhelming. There are a few great ways to dispose of clippings and a few not so great ways. Proper disposal is important for protecting our water.

Disposing of grass clippings the wrong way can add up to big pollution problems. Really! Also, placing yard waste near storm drains or directly into local lakes, streams, wetlands, and bays is illegal. This practice can:
  • Block storm drains and cause flooding.
  • Lead to harmful algae blooms from excessive growth of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.
  • Smother spawning beds of fish and destroy habitat for other aquatic life.
  • Suppress native aquatic plants that support a healthy ecosystem.
  • Cause depletion of oxygen and provide an opportunity for non-native plants to grow in their place such as Eurasion Watermilfoil and Brazilian Elodea.
  • Lead to sickness in animals and humans if the clippings or yard waste is treated with fertilizers or pesticides.
Believe it or not we get several complaints each year of folks dumping their grass clippings and other yard waste directly into our lakes, rivers, and Puget Sound. You can report these activities or other environmental problems at our reporting portal.

Rather than dumping grass clippings there are many benefits of turning them into compost, which reduces waste. It also:
  • Builds healthy soil for plants and gardens.
  • Saves time and money by reducing the need for water, fertilizer and pesticides.
  • Builds rich soil that absorbs run-off and breaks down urban pollutants such as oil, grease, metals, fertilizers and pesticides that harm fish in urban streams or Puget Sound.
  • Improves landscape appearance.
If composting isn’t something you have the time or space to do, here are a few other options for disposing yard waste properly:
  • Place in curbside yard waste container provided by your waste hauler.
  • Drop off at a yard debris collection site. Contact your local public works or solid waste department for details.
  • Mow grass without a lawnmower bag and leave clippings to naturally decompose. Doing so will not produce thatch.
You can learn more about natural yard care and other ways to protect our waters on our Washington Waters website.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Beavers— Furry troublemakers or buck-toothed saviors?

By Jani Gilbert, Eastern Region Communications Manager

The beaver bill went into effect this summer in Washington state. The work of beavers was admired by Democrats and Republicans alike during the last session when they unanimously passed HB 2349. After all, beavers appear to be the best water managers around and they really don’t ignite quite the controversy that other forms of water management do.

The Lands Council Beaver team traps and relocates "nuisance" beaver.
That’s not to say there aren’t disagreements. Beavers tend to either charm their human landlords or drive them crazy. So the beaver bill makes it possible to catch beaver where they are not wanted and move them to a place where they are.

Why all the fuss for big, furry, flat-tailed rodents? Of interest to our water programs in the Department of Ecology (Ecology), beavers store rainwater, raise groundwater levels and create wetlands which retain snowmelt, while trapping sediment and making streams much cleaner. Find out more in this Beaver Solution video produced by the Spokane-based Lands Council’s Beaver Solution project that launched its efforts in 2010 with a $50,000 grant from Ecology.

The new law

The new law helps to improve the state’s water management infrastructure by relocating and maintaining healthy beaver populations.The beaver bill did three main things:

It authorized the Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to release captured beavers on land where the property owner agrees and where they are unlikely to get into trouble. It must be a place where beavers have lived in the past. But here are the most important criteria: They must only be released where beavers can make a difference in the health of the riparian area. Wildlife biologists will look at the gradient of the stream, the adequacy of food sources, the elevation, and the stream geomorphology as well as how the capture and release is done.

The bill required WDFW to maintain a website that reports where beavers are getting into “nuisance beaver activity” and information about beaver relocation efforts.

Finally, WDFW must convene a stakeholder's forum by the end of this year. The agency is planning to have the stakeholder forum in October. The date and location will be announced soon.

The Newport Miner weekly newspaper in Pend Oreille County ran a story on beavers this month. The article quoted Lixing Sun, a biology professor and beaver specialist at Central Washington University, who agreed that beavers can be nuisances but they do serve a valuable ecological function. Find out more about the benefits of beavers here.

The problem with the beaver

How can a cute beaver be a nuisance? Reporter Don Gronning with the Newport Miner wrote:

“Each year the beaver gets some attention at lake communities such as Sacheen and Diamond Lake. Mostly it isn’t good attention.

‘It seems like beavers have always been a problem at the outflow of the lake,’ Perry Pearman of Sacheen Lake said. ‘There are four to six dams that control the lake levels here.’

What beavers probably are best known for is building dams. The dams serve a variety of beneficial functions. But they also block the outflow for the lakes. That can cause the water to rise and flood basements, cause septic tanks to overflow and generally create problems for property owners.

Landowners whose property is negatively affected by beavers have a right to protect their property, says Severin Erickson, wildlife agent with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

‘There are several things people can do,’ he says. Erickson recommends people contact him before doing anything, however, as there are also several things people are prohibited from doing, at least without proper permits.”

Even before the Washington Legislature passed the beaver bill, important restoration work was being done in Eastern Washington by the Beaver Solution team. The organization educates the public about the vital role that beavers play in our environment, and, working with WDFW, conducts live trapping of entire families of “nuisance” beavers to safely relocate them to areas where they are needed.

The history of the beaver in Washington

Today, wildlife experts estimate the Washington beaver population at about 10,000. Agriculture and development have taken a toll on beaver habitat. The 10,000 estimate is down from tens of millions of the critters decades ago. According to the Lands Council, the number of beavers in Eastern Washington numbered just under half a million in 1810, when Europeans first settled near Spokane.

The Lands Council’s Beaver Solution Director, Amanda Parrish, said the beavers' abundance drew rival gangs of French, British and American trappers hunting for pelts. She was featured in a 2011Wall Street Journal article written by Joel Millman.

“Ultimately, over-trapping occurred, which upset nature's balance. Storage ponds that filled in behind beaver dams turned into marshes, then grasslands, which withered during summer and stopped supporting the willow and alder stands beavers require for food and building material.

‘Nowadays, you can pretty much bet in a place named Beaver Creek, or Beaver Pond, there are no beavers. They've been trapped out,’ says Ms. Parrish of the Lands Council.

Parrish offers some insight into what transpired in the area:

‘…in the Pacific Northwest beaver were trapped out for political reasons. The Hudson Bay Company in Canada thought that if beaver were trapped out completely from the Pacific Northwest the United States wouldn’t expand into the Pacific Northwest, because the land would be completely devalued, and so the Hudson Bay Company actually established a fur desert policy in this area around the Columbia River.’”


According to Mike Petersen, Executive Director of the Lands Council, the Beaver Solution team trapped and relocated seven families, 45 beaver, to appropriate habitat in 2010 and 2011. Also during the summers, the Lands Council studied the rate and extent at which beavers convert degraded land to functioning wetlands.

“We have established a few sites to monitor beaver activity and study the extent of disturbance and rate of wetland creation as a result of our management efforts,” explained ecologist Joe Cannon with the Lands Council.Cannon said one of the sites is California Creek, which runs into Hangman Creek and eventually into the Spokane River. California Creek is critical habitat for redband trout.

In 2010 and 2011 the Lands Council has relocated 45 beaver.
“We have taken preliminary stream assessment and vegetation data there,” said Cannon. “We also restricted beaver access to large diameter trees on the site, at the landowner's request, which will provide opportunity for us to study potential for long-term beaver habitation under such conditions. This is going to become the norm as our urban interface expands into the wild areas.

“We are observing that beavers are actually pretty good at getting by in marginal habitat, and are pretty comfortable near humans and developed areas,” Cannon said.

Mike Petersen said the beaver team also is working to address beaver related-damage before beavers are relocated. He said public outreach and education has changed landowner opinions.

“In 2011 we ran out of ‘nuisance’ cases because landowners we had been working with all year decided beaver removal was not the best option and asked for other means of damage management,” he said.
For example, Petersen explained, by installing flow devices, flooding can be stopped and the wetlands the beaver created can be saved. Proven, cost-effective devices and methods such as tree enclosures, Beaver Deceivers or Beaver Bafflers are available to control objectionable flooding and protect trees.

The roadblocks the Lands Council/Beaver Solution team has run into include the fact that landowners who want beaver don't always get them for a variety of reasons. Another challenge Petersen points to is that communication between agencies is missing.

“Many groups are working on different applications of beaver management throughout Washington,” Peterson said. “Before a comprehensive approach to beaver management can be determined, all interested stakeholders should have opportunity to give feedback.”

That will be the purpose of the Beaver Forum that is coming up in October, sponsored by WDFW.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Around the Sound: Irondale cleanup starts soon

By Michael Bergman, Public Involvement Coordinator, Toxics Cleanup Program

Preparations start the week of Aug. 13 for cleanup and restoration work at the former Irondale Iron and Steel site (shown in the photo). Here’s our news release on the project.

The site in Jefferson County is contaminated with metals and total petroleum hydrocarbons from the now-defunct smelter’s operations from 1881 to 1919. Cleanup will include removing contaminated soils, sediments, and slag; capping remaining contamination; and restoring the beach.

The engineering design report for the cleanup was finalized in May 2012, and a contractor was chosen at the end of June.

During this phase of the cleanup the Irondale Beach Park will be closed. However, you will be able to use the Chimacum Creek beach area to the north of the cleanup site. The Irondale Beach Park will reopen after the cleanup and restoration work has been completed.

We are timing work at the site so that it will take place when it will least affect fish. This “fish window” lasts through late October. However, upland work can continue past that time.

This cleanup is part of the Puget Sound Initiative, a state plan to restore the health of the Sound by 2020. One of the initiative’s objectives is to clean up contaminated upland and in-water sites within one-half mile of the Sound’s shoreline.

We’ll update the Irondale website as we have more information about the progress of the cleanup. You can sign up for the site’s email list on the website, too.

Around the Sound: Public comment period for Rayonier Mill legal agreement amendment

By Marian Abbett, Site Manager, Toxics Cleanup Program

Ecology is amending the agreed order (legal agreement) for the Rayonier Mill site to include cleanup work during the City of Port Angeles’ combined sewer overflow (CSO) project.

The proposed agreed order amendment and Materials Management Plan describe the interim cleanup action tasks. This includes Rayonier’s and the city’s roles and responsibilities during the part of the CSO project on the mill property.

Why are Rayonier and the city doing this work?

As part of the CSO project, the city is building a new system to reduce sewage overflows to Port Angeles Harbor. About one mile of CSO pipeline trenches will be on the former mill property.

Some soil and groundwater the city finds on the former mill property likely will be contaminated. The CSO project and interim action will reduce exposure to contaminated soil by replacing it with new pipe and clean soil.

What happens next?

Rayonier and the city may begin work during the comment period. Meanwhile, the public can comment on the agreed order amendment and materials management plan through September 5, 2012. We will respond to comments and questions at the end of the comment period. If it is warranted, Ecology may ask Rayonier to make changes to the planned interim action based on comments we receive.

How can I find out more?

We have a fact sheet that describes the comment period documents and interim action tasks. Our website  has links to the comment period documents and more background information.

We are holding an open house on Wednesday, August 29, 2012 at Olympic Medical Center at 939 Caroline St. in Port Angeles. The open house will be in Linkletter Hall from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m., with a presentation starting at 7:00 p.m.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Air Time: Okanogan health officials warn of smoke dangers

By Seth Preston, Communications Manager, Air Quality Program

Okanogan County Public Health has issued a health advisory warning people about the risks of breathing smoke from wildfires burning in neighboring Chelan and Douglas counties.

Here’s the text of the advisory:

August 7, 2012
To: Media Source
Subject: Forest Fire Public Service Announcement (PSA)

This Public service announcement is provided in response to the current fire conditions existing in Okanogan.

As smoke from two fires burning in Chelan and Douglas counties moves over Okanogan County, individuals most sensitive or susceptible to airborne particulates such as infants and young children, the elderly, pregnant women, diabetics or those with pre-existing lung and cardiovascular conditions may be experiencing considerable discomfort. Occasional periods of poor air quality are expected in Okanogan County this week with smoke-related particulates reaching a level considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. According to the latest Smoke Management/Weather forecast information available, these periods of poor air quality are expected to occur intermittently through the week.

To alleviate or mitigate some of the smoke’s effects take the following measures: Stay indoors with the windows closed. Use the recycle or re-circulate setting on your vehicle’s air conditioner. During hot weather if you do not have air conditioning then consider visiting a place that does, such as a friend’s house, relative’s house, or a public library. Don’t smoke and try to avoid physical exertion. Lastly, if you experience symptoms of cardiovascular or lung problems contact your health care provider. If you cannot reach your health care provider call 911.

More information is available concerning air quality and current fire conditions at the following websites:


Forest Service:

Should you have any questions regarding this matter please contact our office at (509) 422-7140. Our normal office hours are Monday through Friday, 7:30am to 4:30pm.

Friday, August 3, 2012

"Eyes Over Puget Sound" for July 31, 2012

By Sandy Howard, communication manager, Environmental Assessment Program

Check out the aerial photos from our marine monitoring program’s July 31st Puget Sound over-flight.

We saw extensive red-brown blooms in South Sound Inlets and parts of Central Sound. We also observed high algae blooming activity in most of Puget Sound. Jellyfish aggregations have grown in size and numbers in Budd Inlet. We also saw several large tidal eddies.

To the north, summertime is in full swing in the San Juan Islands! Salish Sea waters are very green right now with abundant growth of both micro and macro algae in many bays and passages.

“Eyes Over Puget Sound” combines high-resolution photo observations with satellite images, en route ferry data between Seattle and Victoria BC, and measurements from our moored instruments.

Sign up to receive email notifications about the latest “Eyes Over Puget Sound” by subscribing to Ecology’s email listserv.