Transportation Quiz

Lot’s of things pass through The Gorge every day.  See if you can guess how many.  We will hold a drawing of top scorers, the winner will receive a gift certificate for lunch for two from the Blue Elephant Indian food truck in Hood River.

Drawing will be held Friday February 20th.

How many trains run through the Gorge per day?

How many vehicles drive in the Gorge per day: cars, trucks, motorcycles?

How many barges go through Bonneville Dam locks per day?

How raptors migrated through Columbia Gorge last autumn?

How many fish swam up the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam in 2014?

How many lamprey suckered their way up the lamprey ladders at Bonneville Dam in 2014?



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Mary Lou Soscia and the Columbia River

The Columbia River is a highway for salmon, steelhead, lamprey. The quality of it’s water is critical for them. One of the key players working on just that is Mary Lou Soscia. SEH

Remember that kid who was always talking in class?  Maybe it was you or maybe a friend or classmate. Extroverted and driven to connect with others—they keep talking.

Mary Lou Soscia

Mary Lou Soscia

Mary Lou Soscia was one of those kids. Luckily, she never stopped.

These days, talking it out between, tribal, state, and federal governments is what she does best. “Its hard work,” Soscia says. “I’m the person that tries to put all the pieces together toward working for a common goal.”

After more than 30 years in watershed and river management, Soscia is more than qualified. Her goal: to create healthy rivers.

“I want to figure out a way to be near rivers and interact, but also do the right thing—undo the damage that has been done, and create a healthy, useable ecosystem.”

A champion with a cause, Soscia has positioned herself as a river guardian. She’s a woman of many titles: Region 10 Columbia River Coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency, leader of the Columbia River Toxics Reductions Strategy and Toxics Reduction Working Group.

She is a board member for WaterWatch of Oregon and the World Salmon Council. Fish aren’t the only ones with Soscia on their side: she was a leader in the past collaboration of the Oregon Water Quality standards human health criteria and is currently leading the collaboration with Idaho Tribal Governments to address human health criteria revisions. Whew!

But these titles have come with time and experience. Soscia believes it’s all about the connections you make. “You get to know people who are dedicated to this work,” she says. “You create a great network of people who care about rivers and that connection helps.” You also need to know what you are talking about. Be an expert. When people ask questions, have answers.

Mary Lou gave Lyndal Johnson of NOAA Science Center a Columbia River Hero Award

Mary Lou gave Lyndal Johnson of NOAA Science Center a Columbia River Hero Award

For Soscia, her network began at school.

After earning her B.A. in Sociology and B.S. in Geography, Soscia began grad school to pursue a Master’s Degree in Geography at the University of Maryland. While in grad school, she began work on environmental policy. She was interested in locally based watershed work rather than a future in the federal government. Specifically, Soscia wanted to work on watersheds within the Chesapeake Bay area.

Grad school started to fuel that spark; “I had wonderful mentors,” says Soscia. Working with individuals like Gilbert White—geographer, environmentalist, and pioneer in flood plain management—Soscia gained greater interest in water systems and floodplains, eventually landing a position with the State of Maryland working on floodplain management.

Past co-worker Lisa Jackson, former head of the EPA, also inspired her and later became a mentor. Soscia fondly remembers a speech Jackson gave to a group of teenage school girls in Portland, Oregon. Jackson stressed the importance of studying science, especially in a field dominated by men. Jackson passionately spoke about women contributing to the world through science. Soscia was moved to tears, “She was a beautiful speaker.”

Soscia agrees that there are not enough women in her work place. While feminist isn’t a title on her list, Soscia leads by example. “I’m egalitarian,” she says. “I want fairness for everyone.” Soscia now mentors others and tries to stay in touch. Keeping the network alive and well involves a commitment to reaching out.

It’s no surprise that Soscia was one of the first at EPA to get the community involved in social media. EPA Northwest regularly tweets on environmental news and eco-tips. While she was one of the first, EPA is now represented on multiple platforms.

A current project for Soscia—one that has taken much time the last four years—is working with Columbia Gorge tribal communities and making sure their issues are included in the Columbia River Basin Treaty negotiations. The agreement between Canada and the United States was created in the 1960’s to regulate the operation of dams for power, flood control, and economic benefits. A lot has changed since the treaty’s creation, and Columbia River tribes are now focusing on ecosystem restoration through rivers.

“It has been a real challenge,” say Soscia. “A lot of issues and money are at stake. International diplomacy is at stake. For the first time in many years the Columbia River tribes are coming together with the First Nations to move in a positive direction for the Columbia River basin’s environment.”

Another difficult task: protecting high consumers of fish, like the Native American population. Soscia is working with Idaho tribes to gather data, through surveys and interviews with tribal members about fish consumption. The process takes time and Soscia’s team has completed eight months of a 12 month interview process with tribal fish consumers. She hopes the surveys will more accurately reflect current consumption.

Oregon DEQ staff testing for toxics in the Columbia River

Oregon DEQ staff testing for toxics in the Columbia River

Work on Columbia River toxics has to be done on a tight budget, but Soscia keeps a bright perspective. “You have to work hard to communicate with people and look for opportunities to solve problems in a positive way.” It takes energy for this work, but passion is at the heart of Soscia’s motivation.

“I’ve always loved and grew up around rivers,” says Soscia. Growing up near the Chesapeake Bay inVirginia Beach, she recalls memories of a childhood in the water—a gift she wants to give back to future generations, like her daughter Molly.

Molly is as extroverted and as environmentally conscious as her mother. “Everyone says ‘she’s just like you’,” says Soscia. She feels that letting Molly learn and grow to love the environment is an important step. “I want to let her be free,” says Soscia. She adopted Molly in 2007 from China. She had a difficult early life, but today Molly is described as a happy and outspoken child. She claims, “Mama, I taught you everything you know about the Columbia River!”

“I’ve come to love the Columbia River,” says Soscia, “It has a fabulous ecosystem, and I love the tribal people and their culture.” A love for rivers, the environment, and the people who live in the Columbia River Basin keeps Soscia talking.

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The Walk-Instead Challenge. Are you in?

Transportation: trains, cars, boats, bikes and of course walking–the object of a challenge we have for you this month. Till the end of January 2015, we’re challenging you to walk instead of driving to one of your usual destinations. Who’s in?

Why do we care? Well it’s the environment. Think one person can make a difference? Here’s a chance to prove it. Share your stories or photos of where you walked instead.  Comment here or post to Facebook, tweet or Instagram @envirogorge #walkinstead

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Moving into the New Year

With the New Year we always think of change—what we’re going to do; where we’re going to go. Our theme this first quarter of 2015 is transportation. We’re going to focus on things that move through the Gorge. The Gorge is a corridor. Up and down this narrow passageway travel: fish, barges, vehicles, trains, goods, people, animals, birds, and energy. How are they moving and what is the result?

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Gifts, gifts, gifts

Langston Kriel and John Hart at Kayak Shed with gifts for water lovers.

Langston Kriel and John Hart at Kayak Shed with gifts for water lovers.

Check out our list of enviro-gift ideas. Last year we visited Gorge retailers for ideas. Those items from paper pads to cars are still sold. If you live outside the Gorge, see if the store ships or check out stores in your area.

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Quercus garryana: East Meets West in the Columbia River Gorge

Quercus garryana

Quercus garryana

Tradition has it that east and west can never meet. Turns out that’s not true. In the Columbia River Gorge east and west meet in a fascinating blend of ecological features, and there is one adaptable tree that thrives in both wet and dry Gorge habitats: The Oregon white oak, Quercus garryana.

Not only does the Oregon white oak take good care of itself wherever it gains a foothold, but it also provides a rich array of benefits for everything ranging from jays and squirrels to turkeys and truffles. The species’ modern range extends from Vancouver, British Columbia to near Los Angeles and on the eastern slopes of the Washington and Oregon Cascades. Oaks occur along the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean to about Goldendale, Washington.

In the Pacific Northwest, Oregon white oak is far better known west of the Cascades, especially in the Willamette Valley, large swaths of which were formerly covered with oak savanna. Today these areas are much reduced but can still been seen in parts of the valley, particularly around Salem amid rolling hills, fields and vineyards. In Salem, Bush’s Pasture Park maintains an elegant stand of the oaks, which also shelter native camas along the park’s eastern border. Before Europeans arrived, the Kalapuya Indians managed the oak stand and camas using controlled burns.

Oak in winter

Oak in winter

But if you go looking in the Gorge for oaks like the ones in Salem, you might not find them. Q. garryana is something of a shape-shifter. Where it is grouped together with others of its kind, it grows tall and develops a canopy reminiscent of a champagne flute. Where it is sparser, growing in more open areas of scrub and grassland, it takes on a mushroom shape. And in the Gorge’s more severe habitats like cliff-faces and ridgetops, it becomes gnarled and low-growing.

The Columbia Land Trust’s oak restoration project on the lower Klickitat River in Washington is a good place to see oaks in their various shapes, says Lindsay Cornelius, the Trust’s Gorge and East Cascades Stewardship Lead. Along Dillacort Creek there is a short hiking trail (although with a lot of poison oak, she cautions) and plenty of places on State Road 142 to pull over and survey the landscape.

Oregon white oaks have historically been something of a poor relation to trees considered more valuable. Douglas fir is probably the richest relation, being much more desirable for timber. On the east side of the Cascades, oaks have at times been specifically removed to grow conifers for this purpose. Since fire has been suppressed, many oaks in natural mixed

Douglas Fir is shading out the white oak. U.S. Forest services plans to thin the firs to release the oaks.

Douglas Fir is shading out the white oak. U.S. Forest services plans to thin the firs to release the oaks.

stands with Douglas fir have been stunted or killed because the latter grows much faster and cuts off the light. The difference in perceived value between the two species may have led people to discount the loss of the oaks.

Agriculture, development, and various uses for the wood have also contributed to the oaks’ decline throughout much of their range. Invasive plants like Scotch broom and Himalayan blackberry interfere with oak seedling survival. Along the Columbia, oaks were burned to produce steam for sternwheelers in their heyday, says Cornelius, and people still burn Oregon white oak in wood stoves. The wood is also sometimes used for flooring and furniture.

But these days the virtues of Q. garryana are starting to be better understood. While west-side groups have been working to restore oak habitat for many years, it’s a relatively new idea for Gorge and east-side conservationists.

“A number of individuals and agencies are starting to have a general conversation, a growing interest and appreciation of white oaks,” says Dan Richardson, watershed resource technician for Washington’s Underwood Conservation District. Oregon white oaks are “just about our most important wildlife tree,” Richardson adds. “Insects, birds, even large mammals like bobcats will find places to den because oaks tend to lose a limb from time to time and open up a hollow. There is a lot of cavity nesting.”

Q. garryana is also hollow inside, says Cornelius, which means that in addition to providing “all the benefits of a living tree” –leaves, acorns, mycorrhizal fungi to supportthe roots, and insects – “it also functions as a snag would function” in the way Richardson describes. And speaking of fungi, the white oak is often host to numerous species including truffles, a favorite food of the threatened western gray squirrel, which prefers Oregon

Western gray squirrel

Western gray squirrel

white oak habitat, especially in the Gorge. Some 200 vertebrate species have been associated with oak ecosystems. Balch Lake, located in a mixed oak and pine savanna east of White Salmon, is critical habitat for one of two natural western pond turtle populations in Washington.

Mature trees that have room to spread out are particularly good for birds, including acorn woodpeckers, downy woodpeckers and scrub jays. Lichens and bryophytes on older trees host insects and other invertebrates favored by wrens, vireos and nuthatches. One bird that has almost completely disappeared along with the oak savanna is Lewis’s Woodpecker, but it has been spotted as recently as March 12, 2014 in Gorge oak habitat in Lyle, Washington by Lyn Topinka.

Oaks’ adaptability and hardiness bode well for their capacity to adjust to future disruptions, of which climate change is a major concern. Oaks are surprisingly drought-resistant, and the east end of the Gorge in particular is likely to become drier. Oaks’ deep taproots allow them to find groundwater other trees may not be able to reach.

They also tolerate fire well, another advantage in a hotter climate regime.

“If an oak is burned intensely and the whole top of the tree is killed, it will sprout back from the base quite profusely,” says Andrew Bower, a geneticist with the U.S. Forest Service. Bower is studying the genetic differences between oak populations on either side of the Cascades. “A fire may kill all the leaves from this year” he adds, but “a lot of times they’ll resprout from the trunk or branches next year.”

While projects to encourage white oaks in the Gorge may not actually be returning the landscape to a pre-European configuration, there is little disagreement that fostering healthy white oak habitat is a good idea. The multiple ways Oregon white oaks provide SONY DSCfood and habitat for many different species suggest that they can probably help stabilize ecosystems at risk from the stresses of climate change and further development.

“What I often ask,” says Cornelius, “is whether it’s important to go back to what it was, or is it [more] important [to know] what’s resilient, what’s likely to survive in the face of looming changes?”

If past evidence is any guide, Q. garryana will be able to blend the best of both worlds, east and west, wet and dry, to flourish in a future Gorge landscape.

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Methane Digestion: A Use for all that Poop

Growing up in Lynden, Washington, ensured that I spent most of my childhood nearly immune to the smell of dairy farms. Cow manure permeated the air throughout the entire town; anyone who couldn’t develop a resistance was doomed to rank misery. I did what children do, and adapted. The cow pies became part of the background scenery, only noticeable when the frozen dung bruised my bottom during the slippery parts of winter.

untitled-0122To my nose’s disappointment, I lost that particular skill after moving to the Gorge. Now, when I visit Lynden (or any other dairy community), I smell what any visitor would smell: thousands of pounds of poop.

It’s a mind-boggling amount of manure, far too much to throw into a compost bin. Because of this overwhelming quantity of dung, dairy farms face the same problem faced by all human communities: what to do with waste. Animal waste fills our sewage facilities and farm lagoons; trash waste fills our landfills, basements, and garages. It’s not difficult to imagine a WALL-E-esque future in which the world is overrun with human waste.

We live in a society that can split atoms, where everyone has cell phones that make the science-fiction Star Trek communicators look passe and sleek electric cars and solar panels give us hopeful images of alternative energy. Yet our households, our farms, and our factories still produce an embarrassment of waste.

Many facilities are looking to a much older bit of science to deal with this waste: anaerobic digestion, the breakdown of organic material into a burnable gas. In the coming months, Envirogorge will publish a series of stories on this lesser-known source of alternative energy.

Several facilities in the gorge area utilize “anaerobic digesters,” and we plan to explore their use at the Finley Buttes Landfill, the Roosevelt Regional Landfill, and Threemile Canyon Dairy Farm. We will be examining how effective they are as a source of alternative energy, as a cleanup strategy for very messy industries, and as a long-term money saver for all parties involved.

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Old Growth Growing, an essay by Bonnie New

Trapper Creek forestI meandered recently in a shady old growth forest of the Olympic peninsula and felt the awe of the BIG – the extent of forest, the size of the trees, the arc of time and biological process, the shaping forces of wind and temperature and water, the whole orchestral magnificence of life cycles and elements. At my feet was a world of a mesmerizing detail. Here were tiny slick mushrooms, furry banks of moss, splotchy leaves falling to the ground, insects scurrying and burrowing – vibrant pieces of the woodland orchestra.

I know the feeling of SMALL, even insignificance, in the presence of this BIG. I have wished to be more, to build with bigger blocks, to create a bigger impact, to leave a bigger footprint in this needy world. But the impressive universe of the forest is a working pile of pieces – little pieces – spent leaves, hungry decomposers, tailored enzymes, hopeful seedlings. There is a place for each, indeed a need for each. Remove one and the forest is less, and different, and moving forward into a changed future. So too for me and my kind. I should remember.

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Rosauers’ solar power 3 years in

Owning a business is expensive and energy is often a big part of the cost of doing business.

Hood River Rosauers solar panels. Mt. Adams in background.

Hood River Rosauers solar panels. Mt. Adams in background. Photo: courtesy of Rosauers Supermarkets.

Three years after installing solar panels on the roof of their Hood River, Oregon store, Rosauers Supermarket is on its way to saving money, providing sustainable energy, and maintaining customer approval.

In 2011, Rosauers installed a 15,000-square-foot solar panel system—enough to cover three small city lots. The panels cover about 60 percent of the store’s roof. The Hood River store was first of Rosauers 22 stores to install solar panels and first in the Oregon to use Oregon’s Solar Incentive Program.

“The local reaction has been incredible!” said Rosauers Supermarkets Director and Facilities Manager, Ken Groh. “Positive comments about the solar panels during our re-grand opening have continued to the present time.”

Positive feedback may be attributed to how Rosauers keeps customers informed about the system’s performance.

The dashboard. They installed a large in-store solar dashboard on a flat screen monitor near the checkout area. A dashboard, like a car dashboard, gives performance information. Rosauers solar dashboard gives updated information on how much energy the solar panels produce hourly, weekly and monthly – and with historical comparisons. “Our customers enjoy looking at the dashboard,” said Groh. Customer satisfaction is just one of the benefits.

How much energy. On average, U.S. grocery stores use 52.5 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per square foot annually and pay upwards of $200,000 in energy costs, Energy Star reports. The Rosauers Hood River store is just over 50,000 square feet. Groh says the solar panels currently produce about 98,000 kWh per/year.

We can guess that the panels generate around 4 percent of supplemented energy, which amount to around $80,000 per year savings.

Solar power is one of the fastest growing alternate energy sources available. After all, sunlight is free and will continue to be so until the sun burns itself out.

The payback. Groh declined to say how much the initial investment was, but he says the panels will pay for themselves in 10 years. To some, that may seem like a long time to wait for return on investment, but as electricity prices increase, solar electric systems will save the store more money over time.

Federal tax incentives in tax credits help pay for commercial systems. Solar panels are likely to maintain their value. Once they purchased, the operation and maintenance costs are low.

Solar Nation installed Rosauers system. Solar Nation is no longer in business. Hire Electric in The Dalles now does any maintenance on the solar panels.

More energy saving. Besides solar panels, Rosauers recycles paper and plastics, has energy management systems in their stores, and recycles their deli and produce waste. The store buys energy efficient lamps and LED lights.

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Rowena Fire

untitled-8450Photos by Jurgen Hess.
Aug. 8. At 9:30 a.m.  Gov. John Kitzhaber flew in and was briefed by Rowena Fire incident commanders.  The fire started Tuesday night and has grown to 3,372 acres. Gov. Kitzhaber said he was impressed with speed the fire moved. John Buckman, Incident Commander, said the fire moved 3 miles in 3 hours. It is currently 35 percent contained. 659 firefighting personnel are at the fire.

untitled-7919 The fire is the number one priority fire in the nation, Mitch Taylor spokesperson for Oregon Dept. of Forestry, told media representatives because it is threatening The Dalles.One ranch outbuilding was burned and a single-wide mobile home was damaged by the fire. 740 residences are threatened at this time.

Today to help control the fire, a  helicopter crew dropped fuel ‘pingpong balls’ to move the fire down a slope toward Hwy. 30. “We are fighting fire with fire,” Taylor said.

Helicopter crew drop pingpong balls with chemical fuel

Helicopter crew drop pingpong balls with chemical fuel

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