Mountain West News Bureau | KUER 90.1

Mountain West News Bureau

Matt Frank, Digital Editor, Missoula MT, Rae Bichell, Reporter Greeley CO, Nate Hegyi Reporter Salt Lake City UT, Kate Concannon Managing Editor, Seattle, WA Noah Glick Reporter, Reno, NV Ali Budner, Reporter, Colorado Springs CO, Maggie Mullen Reporter, Laramie WY and Amanda Peacher Reporter, Boise ID
Credit Matt Bloom, KUNC

    

The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Our mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues of the Rocky Mountain West.

From land and water management to growth in the expanding West to our unique culture and heritage, we’ll explore the issues that define us and the challenges we face.

Contributing stations include Boise State Public RadioWyoming Public MediaKUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Amid nationwide testing shortages and backlogs, one county in our region is offering COVID-19 tests to everyone. A local couple is bankrolling the effort. And it’s not the usual nostril swab. It’s a blood test. 

As the U.S. Forest Service prepares for the wildfire season, it must also confront COVID-19.

Already the agency's put a stop to prescribed burning. And it says it will continue fire suppression and other activities with guidance from the CDC.

Jake Billington has worked at the livestock auction at the Twin Falls Livestock Commission in southern Idaho for 28 years.


Your Questions About COVID-19, Answered 

Our reporters are working hard to answer your questions about COVID-19. These responses are curated by the Mountain West News Bureau and our public media partners at America Amplified

“The snow’s going sideways, it’s swirling,” said Billy Barr, from the abandoned silver mine he lives in almost 10,000 feet up in the Rocky Mountains.

We’re all social distancing these days, and it’s unclear when exactly that will end. But Barr has been doing this for almost 50 years. He’s the only full-time resident of Gothic, Colorado. 

“I'm the mayor and chief of police,” he said. “I hold elections every year but I don't tell anybody when they are, so it works out really well.”

Ethel Branch is the former attorney general of the Navajo Nation. A few weeks ago, when she went grocery shopping in Flagstaff, Arizona, she noticed that the shelves were already pretty bare. That worried her. For shoppers from the nearby Navajo Nation, a grocery store can be hours away.

Photo of trees and a cliff side at Zion National Park
Nate Hegyi / KUER

On a recent cold and rainy morning at Zion National Park in Southern Utah, Andrew Smith and Blake Cubria throw a blue tarp on top of their tent to keep the water out. They’re in the midst of an impromptu vacation out West that began after they both lost their restaurant jobs in Chicago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walk into many grocery stores these days, and you’ll see two things: crowds and empty shelves. You may also notice narrow aisles and checkout lines that make it hard to practice the social distancing recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While many businesses are shutting down to help stop the spread of COVID-19, grocery stores don’t have that luxury. And grocery workers like cashiers don’t make that much - at most, around $15 an hour. But like health care workers, they’re considered essential.

Sometime around Valentine's Day, a box arrived at a lab on the western edge of Fort Collins, Colorado. It contained vials full of coronavirus and it was just what Lindsay Hartson and her colleagues had been waiting for.

"We were really excited because it meant we could start doing the work," said Hartson.

A photo of the houses
Alena Mozhjer via iStock

The National Congress of American Indians warned reporters in a press conference Friday that COVID-19 is a “recipe for a disaster” for tribal nations. 

Photo of park entrance.
Claire Jones / KUER

The Interior Department has announced it’s temporarily waiving entrance fees for recreation areas, national monuments and national parks. Secretary David Bernhardt said he wanted to make it easier for people to recreate on public lands.

Photo of empty chair on a ski lift
Chelsea Naughton / KUER

Restaurants, bars and major ski resorts have begun to temporarily shut down across the Mountain West this week in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. But economists said it’s still too early to fully understand the breadth of how these closures will impact the region’s booming tourism economy.

Renee Bright / KUER / for the Mountain West News Bureau

This is a concerning time but don’t panic — we are here for you. Do you have a question about the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you worried about you or your family’s health? What does this mean for your job, your home and your town’s economy? Drop it here and our reporters will dig deep to find the answers.

Support for our series Private Prisons: Locking Down The Facts came from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a non-profit news organization that partners with journalists and newsrooms to support in-depth reporting and education around the globe.

When architect Kavan Applegate was designing Ravenhall, he made sure to include things like native plants, a playground, meeting rooms with nooks to display local artifacts — even an outdoor fire pit where people could gather on special occasions. The goal, he says, was to help people “feel positive” and “embrace the opportunity for change.” 

But Ravenhall is not a yoga retreat. It’s a prison — Australia’s largest, in fact. And it’s run by the GEO Group, a private prison company based in the U.S.

Support for our series Private Prisons: Locking Down The Facts came from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a non-profit news organization that partners with journalists and newsrooms to support in-depth reporting and education around the globe.

Support for our series Private Prison: Locking Down The Facts came from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a non-profit news organization that partners with journalists and newsrooms to support in-depth reporting and education around the globe.

Support for our series Private Prison: Locking Down The Facts came from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a nonprofit news organization that partners with journalists and newsrooms to support in-depth reporting and education around the globe.

It was the early 2000s, and the largest prison in Idaho was run by the private company Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA. The state had also started sending prisoners to a private facility in Texas run by GEO Group.


Image of detention center mockup.
Courtesy CoreCivic

Support for our series Private Prison: Locking Down The Facts came from The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a non-profit news organization that partners with journalists and newsrooms to support in-depth reporting and education around the globe.

Photo of Steve Bullock
Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Updated 9:40 a.m. MST 3/10/2020 Former presidential candidate Steve Bullock is officially running for a Montana Senate seat, making the Mountain West region a big player in Democrats’ push to flip the U.S. Senate.

Photo of a water tower and power lines
Michael Cramer / Flickr

New Report Spotlights The Rural West’s Connectivity Gap 

A report published this week by the National Association of Counties found that more than 75% of rural counties had internet and cellular connections that fell well below minimum government standards. The problem is especially acute in the Mountain West. For the most part, only wealthy enclaves like Jackson, Wyoming, have good broadband, the study’s connectivity maps show.

Photo of mushrooms on the ground
Candace Bever / Agricultural Research Service

Wild mushroom foragers in the Mountain West may soon have a new and easy way to tell if their pickings are poisonous. 

Photo of the truck at the mine
Peabody Energy

The Trump administration controversially reopened public lands to new coal leases on Wednesday, saying the move won’t significantly impact the environment — a finding conservation groups call laughable. 

Photo of a room crowded with people holding campaign signs and listening to pete buttigeig speak on a stage in front of an American flag
Nate Hegyi / KUER

It’s a Monday night in Salt Lake City and thousands of people are gathering to hear Democratic presidential nominee Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speak at a convention hall downtown. Parker and Chloe Woods have just driven an hour and a half from the university town of Logan, Utah, to be here. 

Photo of pigs on a farm
Pxfuel

It looks like President Trump’s partial trade deal with China won’t bring in the promised $40 billion or so worth of agricultural trade for the U.S. this year. 

It’s no secret that Michael Bloomberg is spending a lot on his Democratic presidential campaign, from Super Bowl ads to social media influencers. But he’s also spending a lot of that money to hire staff in the Mountain West. 


A warming climate is already causing river flows in the Southwest’s largest watershed to decline, according to a new study from federal scientists. And it finds that as warming continues it’s likely to get worse. 

Photo of a gray wolf.
U.S. National Park Service

A Utah Republican state lawmaker is pushing a resolution condemning its neighbor, Colorado, if voters there decide to pass a November ballot initiative to reintroduce gray wolves into the southern Rockies.

Photo of two people looking out at a vista.
Bureau of Land Management

Listen to this story here.

After congressional Democrats voted this week to give one of their own the power to subpoena the Trump administration, U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt dismissed the move as a “witch hunt.”

Photo of a man hiking
Nate Hegyi / Mountain West News Bureau

Southern Utah’s red rock desert is home to towering canyons and the clear, shallow Escalante River. It’s also home to many ancient petroglyphs. Jonathan Paklaian is trying to find one along the banks of the river. He scrambles along a cliff wall until he spots it — a petroglyph he says was drawn more than 800 years ago by the Indigenous Fremont people. 

Photo of Bears Ears Buttes.
KUER File Photo

Updated 2:24 p.m. MST 2/6/2020

In the face of ongoing litigation from tribes and conservation groups, the Trump administration has finalized plans to expand drilling, mining and grazing across southern Utah — including within the former bounds of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments. 

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