News Bites

This article was originally published in January 2023

Reef net fishing

Salish Sea reefnets

Only 12 commercial fishing captains still hold permits to go reefnet fishing in the Pacific Northwest out of a fleet that once numbered in the hundreds. The distinctive fishing technique dates back thousands of years as an Indigenous method to catch salmon. Its practitioners today say the gear should proliferate as the preferred way to harvest healthy salmon runs while avoiding fragile stocks. (

Cascadian Farm land donated

General Mills announced it is donating the Cascadian Farm Home Farm in Skagit Valley, Washington to new owners, Rodale Institute. The Home Farm is a working organic farm started in 1972 by Cascadian Farm founder, Gene Kahn, who believed that organic agriculture could make a positive impact on the health of the planet. “We are excited to bring Rodale Institute’s renown research, education and consulting capabilities to the Pacific Northwest via the Home Farm and create a lighthouse in the region for all farmers, producers and consumers. We look forward to welcoming people to the Rodale Institute Northwest Organic Center at Cascadian Farm in the near future,” said Jeff Tkach, chief impact officer at Rodale Institute. (

Climate amendment approved

With broad bipartisan support, the Senate ratified by a 69-27 vote a global treaty that would sharply limit the emissions of super-pollutants that frequently leak from air conditioners and other types of refrigeration. The treaty—known as the Kigali Amendment to the 1987 Montreal Protocol—compels countries to phase out the use of the potent hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are hundreds to thousands of times as powerful as carbon dioxide in speeding up climate change. The United States became the 137th country to ratify the amendment—and negotiators said the move would encourage the remaining nations to follow suit. (

Climate-Smart Wood

A proposal led by Sustainable Northwest and partners was awarded a more than $25 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for a project titled “Building the Climate-Smart Wood Economy.” The grant, Partnership for Climate Smart Commodities, will bring together tribal, small family forest and nonprofit wood producers with data scientists and the design and construction industry to manage and restore tens of thousands of acres with an initial focus in Oregon, Washington and northern California. The project will quantify the positive impacts of climate-smart management on carbon sequestration, wildfire intensity, and cultural values, and will also develop new resources for leaders in the architecture, engineering, and construction communities to understand the importance of climate-smart forestry and to find sources of climate-smart wood through pre-design, design, and construction phases of development. (

tart cherries

Tart cherry industry

Imported tart cherry products have flooded the domestic market in the past decade, upending the U.S. industry’s competitive balance and leaving it with few options to stem the tide. The Michigan Cherry Committee, funded by an $89,000 federal grant, is studying the feasibility of using a geographical indication (GI) to brand domestically produced Montmorency tart cherry products. If approved by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a GI label will help differentiate U.S. Montmorency products from international competition, said Julie Gordon, MCC’s executive director and president of the Cherry Marketing Institute. (

Sustainable flour

King Arthur believes it can fully revamp its supply chain over the next eight years, but it knows the arduous task of doing so will require collaboration, both with farmers and other industry leaders. The flour company released a set of sustainability goals it aims to hit by 2030, which it believes will lessen the overall carbon footprint of its wheat operations. Specifically, King Arthur is targeting the emissions generated in its supply chain—100% of the flour in its bags will be milled from regeneratively grown wheat, and its facilities will use 100% renewable electricity. (

Sagebrush loss

Every year, the West loses 1.3 million acres of its iconic sagebrush steppe, according to the newest report from a multi-agency group working to conserve this important ecosystem. That’s roughly 2,000 square miles—an area about the size of Grand Canyon National Park, or four times the sprawl of Los Angeles. The largest terrestrial biome in the Lower 48, sagebrush rangeland spans 13 states and once covered a third of the continental U.S. (

Paraquat dangers

For decades, the Swiss chemical giant Syngenta has manufactured and marketed a widely used weedkilling chemical called paraquat, and for much of that time the company has been dealing with external concerns that long-term exposure to the chemical may be a cause of the incurable brain ailment known as Parkinson’s disease. Syngenta has repeatedly told customers and regulators that scientific research does not prove a connection between its weedkiller and the disease, insisting that the chemical does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier and does not affect brain cells in ways that cause Parkinson’s. But a cache of internal corporate documents dating back to the 1950s reviewed by the Guardian suggests that the public narrative put forward by Syngenta and the corporate entities that preceded it have at times contradicted the company’s own research and knowledge. (

Seaweed farms

There’s a rising tide of interest in opening seaweed farms in the Pacific Northwest. If even half of the current applicants succeed, it would more than double the small number of commercial seaweed growing operations in Oregon and Washington state. According to the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, there are now five prospective seaweed farmers with pending aquatic lease applications before the agency and another four more in the wings, for a total of nine in various stages of permitting. (

Solar power grants

King County’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions includes investments in clean, renewable solar energy—and new grants from the Washington State Department of Commerce will fuel a sustained expansion of the county’s solar power generation capacity. Totaling nearly $135,000, the recently announced grant funding will result in 200 kilowatts of total solar power generation capacity at the Solid Waste Division’s Shoreline and Bow Lake recycling and transfer stations. This announcement follows action earlier this year by the Solid Waste Division to install a new solar panel array at the Vashon Recycling and Transfer station that will generate about 172,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year—enough to meet the annual needs of the transfer station, or about two dozen single-family homes. (

Upcycling peanut skins

Ondulla Toomer, a research chemist with the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at the agency’s Food Science and Market Quality and Handling Research Unit, is studying a range of food and livestock feed uses that could potentially open the door to new, value-added markets for peanut skins. Instead of landfill waste, Toomer sees untapped nutritional potential in the paper-thin skins, which are chock full of protein, carbohydrates, fats, fiber and minerals and vitamins. Peanut skins also contain bioactive compounds, including antioxidants that help neutralize cell-damaging molecules in the body called free radicals. (

Factory farm lawsuit

Dozens of advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), claiming the federal department has failed to come up with a plan to regulate water pollution from factory farms. The suit claims the agency has yet to respond to a 2017 legal petition from more than 30 environmental groups demanding that the EPA tighten its Clean Water Act enforcement for factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), where thousands of animals are sometimes confined. The agency has never explained how it plans to crack down on water pollution that often contains manure, antibiotics and chemicals, the groups argue. (

Fighting plastics plant

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s philanthropic organization took an aggressive stance against the plastics industry with a new campaign to stop proposed petrochemical plants from becoming a reality. Bloomberg Philanthropies’ $85 million Beyond Petrochemicals campaign aims to “turbocharge” ongoing efforts from grassroots groups to stop the construction of new plastic production facilities in Louisiana, Texas and the Ohio River Valley. These already-industrialized areas have been slated for dozens of facilities, and experts and environmental advocates are concerned that further development will only exacerbate the regions’ disproportionate public health problems. (

Endangered Species Act

A key U.S. conservation law lacks the resources to help most imperiled species fully recover, according to a study published in the journal PLOS. The study suggests that the failures of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which remains one of the strongest conservation measures in the world, stem from insufficient funding and a tendency to offer protection too late, when population sizes have already severely diminished. While thousands of species have been listed by the ESA since it was passed in 1973, only 54 have recovered to the point where they no longer require protection. (

Cactus crops

Often treated as a weed, nopal or prickly pear cactus has great potential as a crop. A sustainability superhero, declared by the United Nations as a food of the future, cacti are drought resistant, can improve soil health and, because they reach maturity every six months, can be harvested faster than many other crops. But nopales are not a mainstream crop—at least not yet: Farmers, researchers and companies across the U.S. and Mexico are working to create a larger market for cacti. (

Also in this issue

The weight of new Lunar New Year traditions

Cookbook author Hsiao-Ching Chou has seen traditions change for her favorite holiday.

Pink Moon Farm preserved

A Filipinx-owned farm helped Angela Garbes reclaim the recipes of her childhood.

Secrets of shopping the bulk bins

Bulk bin buys are a great way to save money, and offer other benefits for your kitchen and home.