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 U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in a complicated groundwater case that could have implications for the Mountain West.

The case involves Mississippi alleging that Tennessee is unlawfully taking water from an aquifer that runs beneath both states. It’s also seeking $600 million in damages.

A white, vertical tower with a red siren on top. A blue sky fills the background of the composition.
Paul Boger / KUNR Public Radio

This story is part of the Mountain West News Bureau’s “After The Sun Goes Down” series. Listen to the full series at

The hike from the abandoned Central Pacific train tunnels to the petroglyphs overlooking Donner Lake in northeast California is relatively short. But it’s hot, and the trail is steep, so the going is slow for the roughly two dozen kids from the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California.

Google Maps will soon launch a new filter that shows the location of active wildfires. Beyond that, when you click on a blaze, it will show emergency resources related to it.

“It’s important to also pair that geospatial information with things like emergency phone numbers, emergency websites, evacuation information,” said Vanessa Schneider, who works with Google’s crisis response team that built this tool. “So whenever that information is available, we try to surface that within the Google Maps layer itself.”

Hydropower dips during western drought

Oct 1, 2021

The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that there will be a 14% dip in hydropower in the U.S. this year. The vast majority of that decline is in the West.

Drought reduces water and reservoir levels, which means less water to flow through hydroelectric dams.

News Brief 

UPDATED: Today, the Department of the Interior said it would begin the next step of the Federal Indian Boarding School Initiative by holding formal consultations with tribes. In a press release, the Department said, "agency staff are currently compiling decades of files and records to facilitate a proper review to organize documents, identify available and missing information, and ensure that records systems are standardized."

Six satellite images of Pyramid Lake are compiled to show the progression of an algal bloom, which changes the color of the water. The blue lake is surrounded by brown desert hills.
Courtesy / NOAA

Two separate times over the summer, the City of Reno in Nevada warned residents to avoid contact with local lakes and ponds where the explosive growth of cyanobacteria – also known as blue-green algae – had choked the water with green slime and released dangerous toxins.

News Brief

An Amtrak train derailment in rural north-central Montana on Sunday killed three people and sent several passengers to far-flung hospitals, further burdening ICUs full of COVID-19 patients.

The Benefis Health System hospital in Great Falls, Mont., is a bit over 100 miles from the wreck, and took in some of the people who were more seriously injured.

“We ended up receiving five patients from the accident,” said spokesperson Kaci Husted. “And all five of them are still in house here with us.”

A plane is flying over part of the Richard Spring Fire while dropping retardant. The sky is filled with smoke, casting a sepia tone over the image. There are several small structures surrounded by trees toward the bottom of the composition.
Courtesy of Phil Millett / InciWeb

A new report on wildfire risk uses demographic data to highlight counties around the West that may be especially vulnerable.

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.