Fire at Indian Creek site burns an acre

Aug. 22, 2014. Hood River. Saturday a fire burned about an acre on the east side of Tucker Road just north of Pacific Avenue. The blaze burned within 50 feet of Indian Creek.

The fire was quickly put out by Hood River and Westside firefighters.  A police spokesman said that at this time it is thought the fire was started when a kite hit nearby power lines causing them to arc and shower sparks down into vegetation. ODOT owns the land. This site is of special significance to Envirogorge as it our “Adopt a Landscape” site, a program of ODOT where businesses or citizens take care of section of ODOT’s land.  Envirogorge publishers Susan and Jurgen Hess began work on this site in 2000, planting the site with native plants for wildlife habitat and shading Indian Creek, which crosses the site midway. Indian Creek Trail, popular with walkers and runners traverses the site’s lower edge.
Fire remediation planning will start immediately–focusing on erosion control and re-vegetation. Photos by Jurgen Hess and Jodi Ashley.

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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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Nature Space Award: White Salmon Community Partners

Jewett Street plantingsA narrow garden extends several blocks along Jewett Street separating the shops, restaurants and offices from the street. Julia DeArmond nominated downtown White Salmon, Washington urban street garden.

“I enjoy the planting strips for the feeling of vitality it brings to the main streets of town,” Julia says. “I appreciate my city prioritizing beauty in this way.”

We at Envirogorge agree with Julia. The plantings create a colorful and welcoming atmosphere to the downtown. This street garden also stands out because of the partnership between community volunteers, businesses and the City of White Salmon. We’re awarding White Salmon Community Partners our second Nature Space Award.

The City originally planted the strip and even had a gardener who maintained it. Then  around 2009 the city hit a water shortage and discontinued caring for it.

“The plants went to pot,” says Lloyd DeKay. The trees survived but the flowers and shrubs were in sad shape.

When the city resolved the water crisis, he and Celynn VanDeventer stepped up to take over. “We wanted it to look beautiful,” he says, “so we decided we could do this.”

The volunteers and businesses that joined them formed into a group called Community Partners and went to work restoring the blocks-long five foot wide the planting strip.

Celynn VanDeventer and Lloyd Dekay tending Jewett Street plantings

Celynn VanDeventer and Lloyd Dekay tending Jewett Street plantings

The partners put in a drip irrigation system that the city provided. Downtown businesses and citizens donated money to buy new plants. Today, five years later, the plants are thriving. Bees, spiders, and birds use it—demonstrating the health of the narrow ecosystem.

Several times a year Lloyd and Celynn put out a call for a work day.

“The community takes care of it,” Celynn says, “even people 10 miles up Snowden help. We did this because we wanted people to see that White Salmon is a beautiful place to visit. We want it to be inviting.”

Community Partners added more projects: painted salmon in downtown crosswalks, hired an artist to paint murals on fencing that blocks a couple of empty lots, and bought colorful banners for the light poles.

“Over the past five years there’s been a massive increase in community pride,” Lloyd says. “The whole community has gotten much more excited about downtown White Salmon. The town is beginning to stand out as a little gem.”

 

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Recycling batteries

If you’ve ever tried to include dead alkaline (or other) batteries in your curbside recycling bin, and had them left behind by the collection crew, you probably share a common frustration.

You think: These things include chemicals, and metals, and they can’t be good for the environment. What can I do with them?

Dave Henne displays some of the batteries that people have dropped off over the last 5 months at Radio Shack on the Heights in Hood River.

Dave Henne displays some of the batteries that people have dropped off over the last 5 months at Radio Shack on the Heights in Hood River.

Options have grown. Several businesses in the Gorge are running their own battery recycling efforts. One – Radio Shack on Hood River’s Heights – is helping provide drop-off options for residents.

About a year ago, store owner Dave Henne started accepting drop-offs from customers. He’s got about five months worth of batteries awaiting transfer to the next hazardous waste collection date.

You and I could collect and deliver our own waste batteries, if we chose to (or could remember). But because there are only four hazardous waste collection dates per year, the year-round drop-off option at a place such as Radio Shack provides a lot of convenience for people with small volumes of batteries, according to David Skakel, program coordinator for the Tri-County Hazardous Waste & Recycling Program.

Next collection time. He says either he or Susan Hess (Envirogorge.com editor) will pick up the batteries from Radio Shack and drop them off at the transfer station on hazardous waste days. The next collection date is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 15 in Hood River, and the same hours Aug. 16 in The Dalles.

What goes where. Skakel says lead-acid batteries (the type typically found in cars, or uninterruptible power sources for computers) can be taken to the transfer station any day of the week.

“Anything that says PB on it stands for lead-acid,” he says.

Other rechargeable batteries such as nickel cadmium and lithium need to go through the hazardous waste collection.

Why the change in battery recycling. Skakel says manufacturing changes have reduced concerns about toxicity.

“The key issue now is with resource shortages,” he says. “Global companies are starting to sober up to this from a profitability motive. They’re running out of feedstock and materials for manufacturing.”

In short, it’s cheaper and easier to tap a recycled resource for rare earth metals than to seek and extract them from natural sources.

Because those metals are critical to defense and electronics applications, they also become a matter of national security. Recycled sources minimize pressures to militarily pursue natural resources.

Skakel applauds domestic battery manufacturers for taking the lead on recycling for the last 20 years. They even sought legislation in Oregon that would have mandated recycling – an effort to bring off-shore battery makers into the recycling fold — but push-back from the computer industry squashed that initiative.

Small batteries are worth money.

Small batteries are worth money.

Henne says Radio Shack used to have a national program of recycling batteries, but the requirements for packaging and shipping made it onerous on retailers, so he stopped taking part. The local program has been a nice alternative.

Skakel says alkaline batteries – the type we install in flashlights, smoke detectors and portable radios – don’t have much resource for recycling. He says Tri-County now collects them and sends them off for use as fuel in steel smelting.

Small battery market. Chris Strader and his wife, Julie, owners of Hood River Jewelers, have collected watch batteries for years. When he has four or five pounds, he ships them off to a refinery in Georgia, and they send him a check for the value of the reclaimed metals.

“The money is in the silver,” he says. “There’s a small amount of silver in the batteries. But it’s mostly stainless steel.”

Still, little bits add up. And, after all, it’s the thought that counts.

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Nature Spaces awards: 2014

Manja Warner's garden.

Manja Warner’s garden.

Every year in the house’s tiny front yard  a profusion of plants and flowers grow. It’s an old-fashion garden. It would be lovely anywhere, but it stands out here because it sits in the middle of a commercial strip on Hood River’s 12th Street.

This spot inspired me to start an award program for similar places: yards or gardens or farms where people are making an effort to create places for nature. Twice a month July through October I’ll be giving out a $25 cash or gift certificate.
The first award goes Manja Warner who creates the 12th Street garden. She receives a $25 gift certificate to Farm Stand grocery.

Manja says people often come up to her and say how much they like the garden. “The most frequent comment,” she says, “is that they love to watch the garden change from one season to the next and from one year to the next.” Some people ask for starts or give her a start from their own gardens.

Two bees in California poppy

Two bees in California poppy

In the back yard Manja developed a square foot garden. You step through a side gate and the busy street disappears into a lush landscape. Her gardens are popular with bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

This is the second award she’s won for her garden. In 2000 her garden won $2000 from the National Garden Association’s school garden program. At that time she had a preschool and the children developed a garden for the senses: taste, scent, texture.

If you’d like to nominate someone, email susanh@envirogorge.com. I’ll be looking for places with no or minimal lawn and giving preference for those using native plants.

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The Gorge Wilderness Areas: The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness

Eagle Creek Trail heading into Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Eagle Creek Trail heading into Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Jurgen Hess

The Columbia River Gorge is home to some of the most diverse and dynamic natural landscapes in the nation.

In it are  basalt cliffs,  grasslands at its east end,  temperate rain forests west,and holds a host of rare plants and animals.

Fortunately, its wilderness areas are just as distinct.

Gorge residents are spoiled with quantity – access to seven wilderness areas within close driving distance dappled throughout Washington and Oregon, mainly lining the Cascades. Washington’s gorge area wildernesses include: Trapper Creek, Indian Heaven, and Mount Adams. Oregon’s are: Mount Hood, Badger Creek, and Lower White River and Mark O. Hatfield.

Both states make the top 10 list of states with the most wilderness acreage. Washington beats out Oregon with 10% of protected land (4,463,093 acres) while Oregon contains 4% of its land in wilderness (2,476,115 acres).

Wilderness trail. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Wilderness trail. Photo: Jurgen Hess

Although acreage means more protected spaces of wilderness, it also means more places in which to feel truly detached from the industrialized world; helping to nurture an adventuresome spirit and provide true freedom and solitude in nature.

Mark Hatfield understood this better than some. He was instrumental in the preservation and expansion of one of Oregon’s most beautiful wilderness areas.

As an Oregon senator, he championed the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area Act through Congress in the 1980’s. The Scenic Area is recognized as a national resource and protects rare plants, forests, wildlife, farmland, ancient Indian rock art, as well as cultural and historic sites.

He also pushed for the expansion of the Columbia Wilderness from 1978-1984 which since has been one of the largest wilderness expansions. In 1996, Congress renamed the it the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness in tribute to him.

Tripple Falls In the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul.

Tripple Falls In the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul.

President Obama further expanded the wilderness in 2009, by signing a new wilderness bill into law creating new boundaries–stretching from Larch Mountain and Multnomah Creek on the west to Mount Defiance on the east.

The Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness is located east of Portland, Oregon and parallels the Columbia River. It features over 65, 822 acres of wilderness and some 200 miles of trails–including 14 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail.

The trail system can be accessed from the south at the Wahtum Lake trail head, Rainy Lake Campground, or Indian Springs in the Mt. Hood National Forest; or from I-84 in the Columbia Gorge via the Eagle Creek Trail, Tanner Butte, Herman Creek and Nick Eaton Ridge trails.

Because of its proximity to Portland and stunning location, this wilderness is a favorite of Portlanders, gorge residents and visitors. It’s popular for hiking, camping, horseback riding, and fishing. A true legacy of Mark O. Hatfield, this wilderness is cherished by all and a gift to future generations.

At the top of Chinidere in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul

At the top of Chinidere in the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness. Photo: Susan Saul

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Get your float on with earth friendly gear

When it comes to the environmental impacts – and benefits – of paddle sports products, John Hart has jumped into the river and bobbed downstream with some of the most innovative manufacturers in the industry.

Owner since 2000 of the Kayak Shed in Hood River, Hart once worked in product design and development with Patagonia. That brand earned early props for its work sourcing organic cotton, reducing waste and avoiding harmful chemicals.

Shortly after Patagonia bought Lotus Designs, a maker of paddle sports life jackets, Hart headed north, while the former Lotus owners three years later started Astral Buoyancy in North Carolina. They wanted to make water-play products with low environmental footprint.

John Hart shows off some recent shoe designs from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

John Hart shows off some recent shoe designs from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

These days, Hart is happy and proud to stock Astral life vests and shoes. He has watched as the company aggressively worked to move its vests away from polyvinyl chloride foams, which kick out toxic chemicals during production, and as they degrade.

Cheap, flexible, functional, PVC products often incorporate phthalates to impart flexibility. But pthalates have been implicated in a variety of health problems. The Centers for Disease Control, for instance, notes that phthalates can affect human reproductive activity, and developmenet of reproductive systems in children.

If you want the micro-detail, check out this summary from the Environmental Protection Agency about the different types of phthalates . Tests continue to assess possible carcinogenic properties.

Hart notes that Astral loops backward and forward in its design efforts. For instance, it moved from PVC to the natural fiber, kapok, in its vests. Kapok was the standard for shipboard life vests for most of the 20th century.

Although it molds well to the body, the supplies of kapok proved of inconsistent quality, so Astral moved on. Research led Astral founder Philip Curry to a Taiwanese company, Winboss , which makes Gaia NBR (nitrile butadiene rubber) foam.

Old-school foam vest (left) and the latest (right) from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

Old-school foam vest (left) and the latest (right) from Astral Buoyancy. Photo: Stu Watson

Gaia contributes far fewer volatile organic compounds to the atmosphere, and doesn’t involve the chlorine and phthalates associated with other foams.

“We are constantly working to find new methods and materials to make outdoor products more sustainable, so we can enjoy the outdoors for generations to come,” said Yonton Mehler, general manager at Astral Buoyancy.

We wouldn’t want to leave the impression that Patagonia and Astral are the only innovators and that the Kayak Shed is the only retailer celebrating earth-friendly design REI educates its consumers about flotation options), as does Mountain Equipment Cooperative.

Hart says the Astral folks are also evolving the materials used in their footwear. Next up? Use of recycled tire treads. Huaraches, anyone?

Stu Watson worked for more than 20 years for several Northwest newspapers and magazines, before starting freelance work in 1997.

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Wilderness Act. The 50th Anniversary

In 1964, the Wilderness Act was signed into law, creating one of America’s greatest conservation achievements and paving the way to provide 109 million acres of unspoiled lands for future generations.

Hiking in Badger Lake Wilderness looking at Mt. Hood Wilderness.

Hiking in Badger Lake Wilderness looking at Mt. Hood Wilderness. Photo: Jurgen Hess

While the word ‘wilderness’ may describe any undeveloped, wild or remote land, the word is defined in specific terms by Congress. Only federal land determined to meet certain standards can become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System–from Wilderness.net:

  • The land must be in natural condition: unnoticeable influence by humans.
  • It must contain above average opportunities for unconfined recreation and solitude.
  • It must be at least 5,000 acres of land.
  • It must contain “ecological, geological, of other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.”

Securing areas with these qualities provides future generations with places of freedom, solitude and an escape from industrialized society.

While the Wilderness Act has preserved over 750 wilderness areas from Alaska to Florida, there are also benefits to preservation such as habitat for threatened species, clean air, protected watershed, and outstanding natural recreation.

 

2014 marks the 50th anniversary of this historic achievement in wilderness protection.  Click the links: for more information about the Wilderness Act or The Wilderness Society.

 

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Green chemistry initiative: a slow build

What if fuel had so few pollutants that cleanup and recovery of a spill never made the news? What if waste water was so clean it took minimal processing to become drinkable? What if pesticides were stripped of dangerous chemicals so produce could be eaten without cleaning?

Green chemistry aims to do just that.

Gov. John Kitzhaber

Gov. Kitzhaber

The Oregon Green Chemistry Executive Order, signed by Governor John Kitzhaber in 2012, is a step forward in fulfilling the need for clean air, soil and water in the State of Oregon. The executive order intends to strengthen the demand for and use of products that have the lowest amount of toxic chemicals.

“The State has a big footprint in purchasing,” said Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Toxics Coordinator, Kevin Masterson. “Using the States purchasing power to influence the marketplace with the demand for greener, safer products means prices may drop and supply may increase.”

Oregon and Washington states jointly spend over $20 million on janitorial supplies annually. Organizations like the DEQ and Oregon Environmental Council (OEC) along with the governor’s office are focused on green janitorial spending to encourage market shift.

The State of Oregon also includes electronics, furniture and building materials in their green chemistry purchases.

Creating environmentally safe products is not the only goal of the executive order: Gov. Kitzhaber also hopes to boost the economy by creating demand for green products and design, as well as lower the cost of health care by decreasing chronic disease brought on by chemicals.

While state agencies are the main target of the executive order, local governments and public schools may also take advantage of the state’s price agreements.

Two years after the signing of the initiative, where is the state on implementing green chemistry?

Progress is being made, but slowly.

Kevin Masterson

Kevin Masterson

Business outreach is still in the beginning stages, says Masterson. The first effort out of the gate is state procurement. The DEQ, Department of Administrative Services (DAS) and Business Oregon are aiding purchasing managers from all state agencies in buying products that abide by the executive order guidelines.

Guidelines in the executive order for green chemistry include products which: avoid the use of hazardous chemicals, minimize toxicity to health, use renewable raw material or feedstock, break down into harmless substances, and minimize chemical releases, explosions and fires.

Officials hope to see lowered prices of green products and an increase of demand over the next few years.

Promoting green chemistry may lead to a future where toxics concern is a thing of the past, but for the present, Oregon leadership in green legislation furthers the goal of a cleaner state and a cleaner safer environment for all of us.

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