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5 Most Important Environmental Issues Of 2017

From Paris to the White House to the wildlands of the Pacific Northwest, the environment was big news in 2017.

December 13, 2017

From Paris to the White House to the wildlands of the Pacific Northwest, the environment was big news in 2017. 

It was a year when a new president set the United States on a drastically different path. That's certainly true when it comes to the role of science and government policy in curbing greenhouse gasses and protecting wild places and imperiled species.

Some of the region's most important natural assets — including its salmon and its forests — were big stories in 2017. So were wildfires. And there was plenty of debate and decision-making about the role of fossil fuels like coal and oil in the Northwest's economy and energy mix.

We asked our EarthFix team for a list of the top five environmental stories of 2017. Here's what they came up with:

Salmon In Trouble

A court Monday upheld the federal government’s restriction on three pesticides to protect salmon like this Tule chinook.  Amelia Templeton/OPB

2017 wasn't a good year for the Northwest’s iconic fish. Low runs triggered a fishing closure for 200 miles of the West Coast and prompted calls for a disaster declaration.

Thousands of juveniles were released early because of wildfires and legal sparring intensified over the question of how to manage some of the salmon-impeding dams on the Columbia and Snake rivers.

But salmon weren't the only species in danger — Puget Sound's endangered resident orcas are also in trouble. Why? Because they depend on salmon to survive.

Oregon’s Elliott State Forest

A proposal to sell an 82,500-acre public forest to a timber company was finally dealt with, after years of debate: Gov. Kate Brown and her two colleagues on Oregon’s State Land Board elected not to sell off the Elliott.

The proposal had surfaced, with Brown’s assent as a member of the board, as one of the only ways to the state could meet its obligation to benefit public schools. The idea to privatize the forest surfaced after the state concluded it no longer could make money selling timber because of environmental laws. But in the end, the land board decided to come up with new strategies to meet wildlife protection requirements while still logging certain parts of the forest.

Hunters and other outdoor recreation-seekers and environmentalists cheered the decision to keep the land in public ownership. 


President Trump

The Donald Trump presidency ushered in a radical departure when it comes to federal agencies and rules that govern wildlife protection, public lands development, air and water pollution, and the role of science in informing policy decisions.

Trump withdrew the U.S. from the historic Paris global climate agreement, which set targets for reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The Interior Department elected to reconsider a previously adopted plan to save imperiled greater sage grouse, a bird whose numbers have plummeted across 11 Western states. And that was just the beginning.

Wildfires

Wildfires were especially severe in 2017, the most costly year in history when it comes to fighting wildfires nationwide. Not only did Oregon have the Chetco Bar Fire — at one time the nation’s top-priority wildfire — burning near the south coast, it also saw thousands of acres of one of the most popular recreation destinations burn as the result of fireworks set off by teenagers in the Columbia River Gorge.

Urban Northwest residents did not have to leave the big cities to be impacted by wildfires, thanks to the yellowish haze of smoke. The wildfires touched off public discussion of better ways to manage the land to avoid megafires and the beneficial role that fire plays on natural landscapes.

Fossil Fuels

2017 was not a good year for the fossil fuel industry in the Northwest. The last remaining coal export project, which would have brought 44 million tons of coal by rail to the port of Longview, was rejected.  Southwest Washington voters elected a port commissioner in what amounted to a referendum on a plan to build a massive oil-shipping terminal.

And Northwest utilities moved ahead with plans to reduce their use of energy from coal-fired power plants in the Rocky Mountain region.

But it wasn’t all bad news for fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. A once-rejected liquefied natural gas project on the southern coast of Oregon was revived by backers who saw the Trump administration as more willing to approve it than was the Obama administration.


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Coal like this from a Wyoming mine could be heading to Longview, Washington.

Katie Campbell, KCTS9

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