Mountain West News Bureau | KUNR

Mountain West News Bureau

KUNR Public Radio is a proud partner in the Mountain West News Bureau, a partnership of public media stations that serve Nevada, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming. The mission is to tell stories about the people, places and issues of the Mountain West. 

Contributing stations include KUNR in Nevada, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, Nevada Public Radio, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana and Wyoming Public Media, with support from affiliate stations across the region.

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

The proposed federal infrastructure bill would allocate $350 million over five years to build more wildlife bridges and tunnels across the nation’s highways. The investment's intended to reduce the number of expensive and deadly wildlife-vehicle collisions – an issue that's especially acute in more rural Western states. In Wyoming, for example, 15% of all crashes involve wildlife, according to the state's Department of Transportation.

News Brief

There's growing evidence that the traditional public health advice of staying indoors during smoky days is not enough to stay safe. Smoke and its particulate matter are getting into our homes, schools, and office buildings.

Idaho entered crisis standards of care Thursday, becoming the first state in the region to do so.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect Idaho's decision on Thursday to expand "crisis standards of care" statewide.

A couple of weeks ago, Ed Crosby’s brother-in-law suffered a bad fall in North Idaho. He was airlifted to the region’s biggest hospital, the 330-bed Kootenai Health in Coeur D’Alene. He needed intensive care, but when he got there he had to wait.

Higher elevations like mountain tops usually have more moisture, and fires historically hadn’t burned there very often. But that’s changing rapidly.

The Dixie and Caldor fires in California are the first and second wildfires ever recorded to cross the Sierra Nevada crest and burn down the other side, according to Boise State University researcher Moji Sadegh.

Sadegh said fire managers used to let fires moving up mountain sides burn because they’d eventually reach an area wet enough that they stop progressing.

The U.S. Interior Department is expanding access to hunting and fishing on about 2.1 million acres of Fish and Wildlife Service land – an area nearly the size of Yellowstone National Park.

News Brief

The stakes have risen sharply to get rental assistance aid to struggling Americans on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ends the national eviction moratorium. As eviction proceedings resume, states in the Mountain West are scrambling to approve hundreds of millions of dollars allocated through recent federal pandemic relief packages.

“Eviction courts are now open for business,” said Colorado attorney Zach Neumann, co-founder of the nonprofit COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project.

More rural Americans are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 as cases and deaths from the delta variant continue to surge across the West. Vaccination rates have increased by two-thirds over the past three weeks, according to an analysis of CDC data by the Center for Rural Strategies.

Some Republican political leaders in the Mountain West are casting doubt on the effectiveness of wearing masks in schools, drawing condemnation from the medical community as the COVID-19 delta variant drives case counts to their highest levels in months and children under 12 remain ineligible to get vaccinated.

A black helicopter swoops past a group of wild horses running across western Utah’s high desert. It’s mid-morning and already hot.

Lisa Reid, a public affairs specialist for the Bureau of Land Management, is watching the action while sitting on a blanket under an umbrella. The chopper swoops past the herd again, trying to move them towards a corral.

“The helicopter works like a sheepdog,” she says. “It works the horses from side to side, guiding them in the direction it wants them to go.”

Last of three parts

In the high-stakes fight against fentanyl-induced drug deaths, one remedy is fairly simple: blue and white strips of paper.

Fentanyl test strips work like a pregnancy test. One line shows up if there’s fentanyl in a solution. Two lines if there’s none.

“Fentanyl test strips are a very basic level of prevention,” said Erin Porter, a public health analyst who works for a program that targets drug trafficking in Oregon and Idaho.

Second of three parts

Jonathan Ellington grew up in Covington, Kentucky. His dad, Dave Ellington, said his son never met a stranger, was a good student and loved playing sports like soccer.

When Jonathan was a junior in high school, though, he had a knee injury, his dad recalled.

“Long story short...through the medications that were prescribed, oxycodone, he became addicted to painkillers,” Dave Ellington said.

Vaccination rates remain low in many parts of our region, especially Wyoming and Idaho. But public health officials hope the FDA's full approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine will encourage residents who are hesitant or unwilling.

Alex Hernandez is talking over Zoom about how hot her apartment in Denver is. But she's not there, because it's too hot. She's across the street at Finley's, where there's air conditioning - and cold beer.

"It's a pub, super teeny weeny, but it's super cute," she says.

This is Alex Hernandez's first summer living in Denver. She moved in the spring from Wyoming, and one of the biggest adjustments has been dealing with the heat.

"I feel like it's just, like, a matter of strategy," she says. "Like you're planning your whole life around these extreme temperatures."

Rex Steninger began his speech with some blunt words.

“I’m at a very sad point in my life right now because I do not believe a single thing our government tells us,” he said to applause. “They have proven themselves to be liars over and over again and the media covers for them.”

A federal judge in Nevada has struck down a law that targets some immigrants who come to the country illegally.

Section 1326 in U.S. law says if you were denied entry to the U.S. or were deported at some point, simply entering the country becomes a crime.

Nevada district court judge Miranda Du struck it down, saying it violates the Constitution because of its racist, anti-Mexican origins in the late 1920’s, even though the law was reenacted under a different name in 1952.

Federal Wildland Firefighters Get Pay Boost

Aug 21, 2021

Starting this week, base wages for federal wildland firefighters will increase to at least $15 an hour, a raise that applies to roughly 15,000 firefighters employed by the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department. It was previously $13.45.

As of this week, the National Park Service is requiring everyone – regardless of vaccination status – to wear masks in national park facilities, public transport systems and in crowded outside areas.

Denise Germann is with Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. She said that means masks are needed anywhere there’s a tight crowd.

News Brief

Tourists travel from around the world to experience the Mountain West’s dark sky parks and Idaho’s dark sky reserve. From these remote landscapes, you can see stars you couldn’t over bright city lights, and remember how small we are in the grand scheme of things. That is, until wildfire season.