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WSU researchers create gel to keep fields healthy during drought

WSU researchers create gel to keep fields healthy during drought

Washington State University researchers have created a product that could help farmers keep their fields moist during a drought.

Led by Associate Professor Jinwen Zhang, the group created hydrogel pellets similar to the super absorbent material used in diapers. The main difference is what they're made of. While diapers rely on petrolium based gel, WSU researchers have created one out of soy protein.

The pellets swell to hold 250 times their weight in water, and because they are made of biodegradable agricultural material instead of chemicals they leave no residue behind when they disintegrate in the ground. In fact, the soy protein can actually act as a source of nitrogen to help plants grow.

A soy-based product would also lessen dependence on foreign oil imports, and boos the local economy since the U.S. Produces half of the world supply of soy beans.

Washington sees largest growth in population since 2008

Washington sees largest growth in population since 2008

Is your neighborhood beginning to feel a little crowded? According to the Washington office of Financial Management, the state population has increased dramatically in the past year by an estimated 1.5 percent. That's 85,500 people!

Washington's population has been growing at an increasing rate, mostly due to migration. In 2013 the state saw a net gain of 49,200 people moving into the state, more than double the 21,600 from 2012.

Net migration accounts for 57 percent of the state's population growth this year, with natural increase (births minus deaths) responsible for the other 43 percent.

Seventy-five percent of the state's total population growth occurred in the five largest metropolitan counties: Clark, King, Pierce, Snohomish and Spokane who's economic activity continues to attract migrants.  

Wildfire fighters train for the season

Wildfire fighters train for the season

Wildfire season is underway but what does it take to brave the front lines and fight those fires?

Stepping up to fight wildfires is a bold move.

"You pretty much dedicated your summer if you decide to do this," said Veronica Naccarato, wildfire fighter.

Not to mention the danger. Veronica Naccarato has been fighting fires for five seasons.

Friday she helped train more than 30 new firefighters.

"I started what's called a practice fire, just kind of gets them prepared for going out in a real life fire," said Naccarato.

The live burn exercise is the last part to a week long intensive training program.

Veteran firefighters say it is the most important test of the week.

"Live fire exercises at these guard schools are extremely important because once they leave here training is over and as soon as tomorrow they could be on an actual wildfire," said Josh Tellessen, wildfire fighter.

The trainees are from agencies throughout the area. Their ages range from 18 to 60, some are college students and others are just passionate about the environment, but now they all have the same goal.

DNR predicting above normal fire season

DNR predicting above normal fire season

The Department of Natural Resources is expecting this year's fire season to be above normal and that while the number of fires they see might not change, the size of the fires probably will.

"We're expecting higher than normal temperatures so in certain areas, especially in the Spokane area, we're expecting a slightly above normal fire season," Guy Gifford with the DNR said.

The fire season usually hits its peak in September, however with dry conditions and higher than normal temperatures it means the fire danger is rising more rapidly than usual. For Eastern Washington this is expected to cause more large project fires.

"The thing is in Eastern Washington our normal fire season is 500 fires a year. That's normal. Of those we can usually expect six to ten of that many fires a year becoming a Type 2 which we call a project fire," Gifford said.

These types of wildfires span between 500 and 800 acres and require more outside resources to get them contained.

"More large fires means more homes threatens and more homes lost in a normal fire year," Gifford said.

Health Department begins West Nile testing

Health Department begins West Nile testing

From the Washington State Department of Health:


The Department of Health is again monitoring for West Nile virus through mosquito testing and collecting reports of certain types of dead birds. The virus is now well-established in some areas of the state. West Nile virus typically becomes active in the spring and summer during mosquito season when the insects feed on infected birds.

Wildfire season approaching in Spokane County

Memorial Day weekend is the kick-off to the summer season. People head outdoors to enjoy the warm weather, and that means camping.

"People leave their campfires unattended. We start dealing with that more and more as we hit this upcoming weekend with Memorial Day weekend," said Guy Gifford with the Department of Natural Services.

Gifford says many people are unaware of how many wildfires Spokane County sees on average.

"Our normal fire season is over 100 fires a year," said Gifford.

Gifford says each year at least one home is lost because of wildfires. That is considered to be a good season.

Earlier this month, the Washington Department of Natural Resources said this season is likely to be worse than average, making this weekend critical for safe fire practices.

"The key thing people don't do is put a trail around your fire," said Gifford.

Putting a trail or a ring around any fire helps prevent the fire from spreading.

Other things to consider?

Fungus, pests afflict Northwest's ponderosa pines

Foresters say pests and fungal infections are afflicting the region's ponderosa pines, and while they seldom kill the trees, they do worry landowners.

The Spokesman-Review reports that the unsightly appearance of the trees is being caused by fungal infections and tiny insects called pine scale that thrive during cool, moist conditions. Pine scale can look like paint spatters, while fungi are identified by black or brown splotches on the needles.

Steve McConnell, a Washington State University Extension forester in Spokane, says he's getting two to three calls per day from panicky landowners. But he says that if trees are otherwise healthy, they should recover no problem.

State Department of Natural Resources officer Guy Gifford says the outbreaks are typically not so widespread. This year, he's seeing acres of affected trees, and he says that is unusual.