Our class compiled definitions pertaining to environmental issues surrounding the Pacific Northwest. The following definitions are for subjects we directed our attention to when visiting the Washington State History Museum, the Camp 6 Logging Museum, the Suquamish Museum, the Harbor History Museum in Gig Harbor, the Museum of History and Industry, and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Visitor Center.


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The removal of natural minerals and metals from the earth. Examples of regularly mined metals and minerals include gold, silver, diamonds, iron ore, aluminum ore, copper, tin, and much more. Some common minerals that have been mined in the Northwest include gold, silver, copper, coal, and lead.

Pros of Mining

Without mining, people would be without the luxuries of cars, trucks, and plumbing, among other things. Our food would go stale much faster without food refrigeration or modern storage and packaging. Without mining, we would be without airplanes, personal computers like the one before you, and other tools.

Cons of Mining

Mining can and does do a lot of harm to the natural world. Historically, mining and deforestation have worked hand in hand. This has meant that watershed health and water quality, as well as wildlife habitat, have not suffered lightly. Miners often use harsh chemicals, such as arsenic, to remove the mineral and metallic ores from rock. These processes often contaminate soils, rivers, streams and oceans. Mining contamination has led to disease and sickness in animal populations, including humans.

One example of a mining disaster, as noted in an editorial published originally in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, is the Midnite Uranium Mine on the Spokane Indian Reservation. This mine has wreaked havoc on the surrounding environment for quite a while, as “There have been numerous instances of contamination as a result of the now-abandoned operation, with toxic waste and heavy metals seeping into groundwater, polluting the aquifer below and nearby wetlands.” As this story shows, cleaning up an entire town’s water supply is timely and costly—but nothing compared with cleaning up hundreds of miles along an entire river such as the Danube in Europe.

Food For Thought

  • What would be some effects/side effects from mining?
  • How are some of these things used?

Some Websites To Examine


Agriculture can be thought of as the science and/or business of developing a land to raise crops for farming or livestock. We use agricultural products every day from the clothes we wear, to the food we eat, to the flowers we put on the table. Some smart farmers and scientists have even come together to invent a new fuel for cars that will let them run off of a corn-based fuel called ethanol.

The most common agricultural products in the Northwest are orchard fruits, including grapes (and the wines made from them), wheat, cut flowers, numerous varieties of vegetables, and animals and animal products.

The most commonly practiced form of agriculture is called Conventional Agriculture. It often involves huge tractors, machinery, and large irrigation systems. Machines plant seeds, water the land, and harvest a final product. Conventional Agriculture also uses chemical fertilizers and pesticides to grow a product.

Some museums that our class visited during the month, including the Washington State History Museum, discussed the role of agriculture in the region’s history.

Pros of Agriculture

Food keeps us alive and flowers smell great! Most Americans have an abundance of food available to them year round, meaning that we have a surplus that can be exported to other parts of the world. Some fruits and vegetables that were only meant to be grown in the spring or fall can now be grown year round, so that what used to be a “seasonal product” is now available to us all year long.

The same goes for flowers. Many of the roses and tulips you see all year round are part of a practice called floriculture, similar to conventional agriculture, whereby farmers grow flowers in large greenhouses. During the spring in the Northwest, particularly in Puyallup, we have daffodil farms that grow large amounts of flowers and bulbs enjoyed around the world.

Clearly, we all want food (and flowers when we can get them). Agriculture allows us to survive and to enjoy some of earth’s pleasures.

Cons of Agriculture

Even though we want our bread and our honey and our apples (and don’t forget those tulips!), some agricultural practices are destructive. Often, farmers only plant one type of vegetable or fruit on a big area of land (this is called monoculture). When disaster strikes in the form of a particular bug that really likes apples, for example, or daffodils, then an entire farm (and maybe even much of a county or a quadrant of an entire state) is at risk. Monoculture might make some economic sense, but a “natural” world is by definition usually heterogeneous, or mixed.

Food For Thought

  • What are some agricultural products?
  • How can we change this type of agriculture?
  • Are their different options or methods?
  • Is this the best way?
  • Or is it just the easiest way?

Some Websites To Examine

The Green Movement

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What we might think of as the Green Movement in the Pacific Northwest builds on a long history that goes back to the Conservation Movement in the 19th century. This was a time when “urban America” became more aware of the importance of nature as a whole. Since they breathed the coal smoke of cities and heard the clamor of steam engines, urbanites came to realize that the wide-open spaces (largely in the American West) needed to be “conserved,” and maybe even “preserved.” The United States Forest Service and the National Park Service grew from these movements.

The Green Movement, as defined today, implies a philosophy of awareness in how the choices you make individually effects the environment. Your every day choices have a hidden environmental impact whether you know it or not. The impacts range from the food you eat (what resources were used to grow and package this energy?), to the clothes you wear (what resources were used to make this, or to keep it clean?), to the type of transportation you use (walk, bus, bike, drive, skate?). The list can go on and on.

The power companies, along with some clever scientists have even come up with different types of energy choices for use in houses, so ask your parents what type of energy your home uses. Is it electric or gas, wind or solar, or even a mixture of all four? You may notice that the word energy has been used again and again in this section, so maybe being green means that you are really concerned with that big orange ball in the sky called the sun and with the blue waters in rivers.

Food For Thought

  • How can I help make a difference toward being better for the environment?
  • What do you think of buying local, organic products?
  • Is there a downside to this?
  • Can you think of other ways to be “earth conscious”?

Some Websites To Examine


Photo 3

Salmon have been an important resource in the Northwest since people have lived in the region, beginning thousands of years ago. Salmon have faced many problems, including dams, overfishing, and development, all of which have caused their populations to dwindle. As historian Joseph Taylor shows, in Making Salmon: An Environmental History of the Northwest Fisheries Crisis, by the end of the 19th century canneries processed tens of millions of pounds of salmon every year. Meanwhile, salmon habitat continued to dwindle due to dams and due to the siltation caused by mining and logging.

One of the biggest controversies surrounding salmon involved clashes between Native Americans and the state. Northwest tribes were promised fishing rights as part of their treaties in the 1850s, but over time, Euro-Americans systematically kept Indians from fishing. The greatest blows came with the dams that flooded traditional fishing sites, such as Celilo Falls. In 1973, a federal district court judge, George Boldt ruled that according to his interpretation of the old treaties, Northwest tribes could take half of the salmon run each year. There were then new measures put into place to limit fishing by non-Indians. This caused non-Native commercial fisherman to become frustrated, because they felt that they had an equal right to the fish.

Food For Thought

  • Do you feel that there should be more measures taken to protect the salmon? Why or why not.
  • Do you agree with the Boldt decision? Why?
  • What kind of affect do you think the Boldt decision had on the salmon population?
  • What do you think are the biggest challenges to salmon?

Some Websites To Examine


Photo 4

Hydroelectric power is the main way electricity is generated in the Pacific Northwest. Electricity is created when water flows through dams. According to the Washington State Department of Ecology a dam is an artificial barrier that can or does impound more than 10 acre-feet of water.

Dams were very important for the industrialization of the Pacific Northwest. Without dams like the Grand Coulee and the cheap electricity it created for building airplanes at Boeing and for welding together ships at Bremerton, not mention the plutonium production at Hanford, some have argued that the United States would not have won the Second World War. Dams have also given us a cheap and relatively “clean” energy source. There are some disadvantages to dams, of course. To create a dam, something is going to be flooded. Most importantly, dams make it difficult (impossible at dams like Grand Coulee that do not have fish ladders) for salmon to migrate.

Dams also keep rich sediments, normally carried by a swift moving river, from reaching the ocean. There are more than 1,000 dams in the state of Washington.

Food For Thought

  • List some pros and cons of dams.
  • Which do you feel is more important, green energy or protecting the salmon runs?
  • Why have dams been important to the Pacific Northwest?
  • How do you feel about building more dams in the future?

Some Websites to Examine

Land Speculation

Land Speculation is when buyers predict that land will be valuable in the future, purchase undeveloped land, and either wait until the land becomes valuable or they develop so that new growth will increase land values. As Murray Morgan’s history Tacoma makes clear, this is an old story around Puget Sound. Urban growth and suburban sprawl are usually less the products of demand than they are the results of boosterism.

Food For Thought

  • What are some risks involved with land speculation?
  • Would it be possible to ride a bike from your driveway to your school without every having to leave a sidewalk? Why do you think this is the case?
  • Should land speculators depend on the government to provide infrastructure?

Some Websites To Examine


Logging is the process in which trees are cut down for forest management and/or timber harvest. Timber is harvested to supply raw material for the wood products industry, including logs for sawmills and pulpwood for the pulp and paper industry. Logging is controversial due to its perceived environmental and aesthetic impacts, including deforestation and animal habitat issues.

Pros of Logging

Logging is the industry that supports and supplies consumers with many everyday wants and necessities, from housing to the paper and pencils you use in the classroom.

Cons of Logging

Hit and run unsustainable logging has disturbed natural habitats for hundreds of years in the United States.

Food for Thought

  • What would happen if we didn't have the logging industry to provide timber for us to use?
  • What would happen if we couldn't have paper, wood for furniture, or even toilet paper?
  • What are some ways we can conserve and preserve by reducing our use of these products?

Native American Land Use in the Northwest

The colonization of Native American landscapes by non-Indian societies exemplifies how social and cultural changes are hard to separate from ecological change in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. In taking over mountainsides as miners, waterfronts as builders of towns, rivers as fishermen, forests as loggers and trappers, and every space in between as farmers, Euro American land use patterns changed landscapes that Indians had known in fundamentally different ways. As the land became “less Indian,” Americans saw Native Americans as both in the way and as pitiful wards of the state who needed to be removed from places like Tacoma and Seattle. Of course, Indians never really left, but some did take up homes on reservations. Reservations were designed to isolate, concentrate, and "civilize" Indians in a more intensive fashion. Natives would be confined to a more restricted and rigidly defined space, supervised by white military and civilian officials. They were forcefully taught the English language, farming, “industry,” and Christianity.


The United States government chose a location in central Washington in 1943 for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The government forced area residents to move in order to build a plutonium production facility.

Few people knew before 1945 why Hanford was built. Some Hanford workers and area residents only learned that they had made plutonium when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Japan, ending World War Two.

The creation of plutonium leaves behind a great deal of radioactive waste. Much of that waste is still in the ground, not far from the Columbia River, in eastern Washington. Evidence suggests that the creation and testing of atomic weaponry poisoned some people in the American West.

Pros of Hanford

Hanford produced plutonium that helped America end World War Two and maintain an arsenal of firepower throughout the Cold War.

Cons of Hanford

People were moved from their homes in order for the plant to be built. People and the environment ended up being poisoned by radioactivity.

Food for Thought

  • What kind of ethics come into play in this situation?
  • How can we prevent environmental disasters like Hanford from happening in the future?

Some Websites to Examine

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