Kirk Siegler | KERA News

Kirk Siegler

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers the urban-rural divide in America. A beat exploring the intersection between urban and rural life, culture, and politics, Siegler has recently brought listeners and readers to a timber town in Idaho that lost its last sawmill just days before the 2016 election, as well as to small rural towns in Nebraska where police are fighting an influx in recreational marijuana coming from nearby Colorado cities.

Based at NPR West's studios in Culver City, CA, but frequently roaming the country, Siegler's reporting has also focused on the far-reaching economic impacts of the drought in the West while explaining the broader, national significance to many of the region's complex and bitter disputes around land use. His assignments have brought listeners to the heart of anti-government standoffs in Oregon and Nevada, including a rare interview with recalcitrant rancher Cliven Bundy in 2014.

Siegler also contributes extensively to the network's breaking news coverage. In 2015, he was awarded an International Reporting Project fellowship from Johns Hopkins University to report on health and development in Nepal. While en route to the country in April, the worst magnitude earthquake to hit the region in more than 80 years struck. Siegler was one of the first foreign journalists to arrive in Kathmandu and helped lead NPR's coverage of the immediate aftermath of the deadly quake. He also filed in-depth reports focusing on the humanitarian disaster and challenges of bringing relief to some of the Nepal's far-flung rural villages.

Prior to joining NPR, Siegler spent seven years reporting from Colorado, where he became a familiar voice to NPR listeners reporting on politics, water, and the state's ski industry from Denver for NPR Member Station KUNC. He got his start in political reporting covering the Montana Legislature for Montana Public Radio.

Apart from a brief stint working as a waiter in Sydney, Australia, Siegler has spent most of his adult life living in the West. He grew up near Missoula, Montana, and received a journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

At Coquille Point along the remote and rugged southern Oregon Coast, the wind is tumultuous and the sea just as violent. Huge waves crash up against the giant, moss-cloaked rocks perched off the beach.

The sun is setting at a construction site on "the ridge," as locals call it. Towering pine trees with their bark still black from wildfire are lit up in orange. And Chip Gorley and some buddies are about to crack open cans of IPA to celebrate some rare good news.

His foundation inspection passed, meaning they can start putting up the walls on Gorley's new home. It's on the exact site of where he lost everything in the Camp Fire a year ago.

"It's my home," Gorley says. "I'm coming back."

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In the early 1990s, Wilmot Collins and his wife, Maddie, escaped the Liberian Civil War. Broke and starving, they ended up in Helena, Mont.

"Why do you think we fled?" Collins asked. "We fled because we wanted a second chance."

Soon after moving to their first home, a neighbor knocked on their door and alerted Collins to hateful graffiti outside his house.

"On my wall was 'KKK, Go back to Africa,' " Collins said.

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It's the first day of school in Missoula, Mont., and Elongo Gabriel, a Congolese refugee, is dropping off his young son and two daughters.

A proud father, he has a wide grin. "For me it's like a dream to get a chance for my kids to study here," he says.

Getting here, to a safe place, has been a long and traumatic saga. His family fled war in their home country where Elongo worked for a human rights NGO. They then spent six years in Tanzania in a destitute refugee camp, with little to no schooling available and on most days only cassava to eat.

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Tammy Waller thought she was one of the lucky ones after her home in Magalia survived California's most destructive wildfire ever, but her community remains a ghostly skeleton of its former self.

Hazmat crews are still clearing properties, and giant dump trucks haul away toxic debris. Signs on the water fountains in the town hall say, "Don't drink."

Waller remembers the day she came back home after the Camp Fire.

"When I first walked in, I went to my kitchen sink and turned on the water, and it was just literally black," Waller says.

About 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is at the heart of some of the most remote terrain in the lower 48. Famous for its red rock canyons, arches and fossil beds, the rugged land is punctuated by sites like Death Ridge, Carcass Canyon and Hell's Backbone Road.

Those names staked on the old maps by the region's first white settlers tell you all you need to know about how harsh, brutal and beautiful the land is.

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Updated at 3:22 p.m. ET

Federal land managers on Wednesday proposed sweeping rule changes to a landmark environmental law that would allow them to fast-track certain forest management projects, including logging and prescribed burning.

The U.S. Forest Service, under Chief Vicki Christiansen, is proposing revisions to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations that could limit environmental review and public input on projects ranging from forest health and wildfire mitigation to infrastructure upgrades to commercial logging on federal land.

The chief of the U.S. Forest Service is warning that a billion acres of land across America are at risk of catastrophic wildfires like last fall's deadly Camp Fire that destroyed most of Paradise, Calif.

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When the Camp Fire raced into the Northern California town of Paradise on Nov. 8, destroying nearly 19,000 structures and claiming 85 lives, Chris Beaudis narrowly escaped. He drove out of the Sierra foothills in his Ford Bronco with only his pit bull. He lost everything and has no insurance.

Taylor Walker is wiping down tables after the lunch rush at the Bunkhouse Bar and Grill in remote Arthur, Nebraska, a tiny dot of a town ringed by cattle ranches.

The 25-year-old has her young son in tow, and she is expecting another baby in August.

"I was just having some terrible pain with this pregnancy and I couldn't get in with my doctor," she says.

Six months after the deadly Camp Fire raced into Paradise, Calif., destroying thousands of homes and businesses, an estimated 1,000 or more families still haven't secured even temporary housing.

Five months after the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, the town of Paradise remains a disaster zone. Only 6 percent of the debris from last November's Camp Fire has been hauled away. Burned out skeletons of cars, piles of toxic rubble and blackened old-growth pine trees can still be seen everywhere.

Before the wildfire, the population of Paradise was about 26,000. Today, it's in the hundreds.

It's the boom times in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which is wrapping up a winter of record snowfall. Eager to take advantage of it, Donovan Sliman and his two young daughters are lumbering up a snowy trail on the outskirts of town, where the condos give way to National Forest.

"I like to get away from everybody else," says Donovan. "I like to hear the sound of the wind and the snow through the trees." "We're also going to go sledding," adds Grace, one of his daughters.

Last fall's deadly Camp Fire has brought renewed questions about whether towns in high-risk areas like Paradise, Calif., should even be rebuilt.

Barry Long recently tried to squash those questions immediately as he kicked off a crowded town hall meeting at Paradise Alliance Church.

"One of the first questions we get is, 'Are they really going to rebuild Paradise?' " Long said. "And we say that's not a question. [The Town] Council made an immediate decision [that] we're going to rebuild Paradise."

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In Northern California yesterday, there was a somber community memorial for the 85 people who lost their lives in the Camp Fire.

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Three months have passed since the deadly Camp Fire devastated towns in the mountains of Butte County, Calif., leaving residents with burned-out properties covered with potentially toxic debris.

In the mountain hamlet of Concow, one ridge over from Paradise, folks say they're used to wildfires and cleaning up after them. They load up a pickup a few times and haul the debris away to the dump. At least that's how they remember it being in 2008 after the last wildfire; but this time around, the clean-up process is not the same.

Paradise, Calif., the northern California town nestled in a pine cloaked ridge in the Sierra Foothills, had a population of about 25,000 until it was almost entirely wiped out by the Camp Fire nearly three months ago. It was the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century. Now, despite a massive effort to clean up, restore power and make plans to rebuild, the town remains largely uninhabitable.

The historic government shutdown is beginning to stir anxiety in and around Paradise, Calif. The town of about 25,000 people was almost completely destroyed by a deadly wildfire last November and almost everyone and everything directly affected is relying heavily on federal aid.

So far FEMA and Small Business Administration loans do not appear to be affected. But local officials say the shutdown is causing delays in more under-the-radar infrastructure projects, which could have serious, longterm consequences.

Editor's Note: NPR's Kirk Siegler is based temporarily in Butte County, Calif. Along with other reporters, he will be covering the cleanup and recovery effort in and around Paradise. If you want to share your story email natdesk@npr.org with "Paradise" in the subject line.

The quaint, college town and farming hub of Chico is clogged. People are living out of every hotel in town. Campers line neighborhood streets and the country roads that fan out into the walnut and citrus orchards. Every guesthouse and guest room is full.

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It's looking like the House and Senate could be finally coming to agreement on the sweeping Farm Bill. One of the latest big sticking points has been a provision that would limit public review and environmental analysis of forest projects on federal public land.

The Trump administration is pushing this in the wake of the deadly wildfires in California. In his second visit to Paradise, Calif., in as many weeks, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said on Monday that some of the disaster could have been mitigated if there had been more active forest management.

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