Kirk Siegler | KERA News

Kirk Siegler

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.

His beat explores the intersection and divisions between rural and urban America, including longer term reporting assignments that have taken him frequently to a struggling timber town in Idaho that lost two sawmills right before the election of President Trump. In 2018, after the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, Siegler spent months chronicling the diaspora of residents from Paradise, exploring the continuing questions over how – or whether – the town should rebuild in an era of worsening climate-driven wildfires.

Siegler's award winning reporting on the West's bitter land use controversies has taken listeners to the heart of anti-government standoffs in Oregon and Nevada, including a rare interview with recalcitrant rancher Cliven Bundy. He's also profiled numerous ranching and mining communities from Nebraska to New Mexico that have worked to reinvent themselves in a fast-changing global economy.

Siegler also contributes extensively to the network's breaking news coverage, from floods and hurricanes in Louisiana to deadly school shootings in Connecticut. In 2015, he was awarded an international reporting fellowship from Johns Hopkins University to report on health and development in Nepal. While en route to the country, the worst magnitude earthquake to hit the region in more than 80 years struck. The fellowship was cancelled, but 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.

Before helping open the network's first ever bureau in Idaho at the studios of Boise State Public Radio in 2019, Siegler was based at the NPR West studios in Culver City, California. Prior to joining NPR in 2012, 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 in Missoula, Montana, and received a journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

More than three months into the pandemic, it can still be tough to get a coronavirus test, especially if you live in some of the country's more remote tribal communities.

Montana is finally trying to change that with "mass surveillance" testing events.

Until recently on the state's Flathead Reservation, you could only get a test if you were showing COVID-19 symptoms. So Eric Van Maanen was grateful to hear of a free day-long testing event in the parking lot of Salish and Kootenai College.

At a free mass testing site on Montana's Flathead Reservation, hundreds of people are queued up in idling cars. They're waiting an hour or more for the irritating nose swab test for the coronavirus, but most, like Francine Van Maanen, are just grateful to finally get one.

"We enjoyed the fact that they had this testing available to us, so why not get checked," she says, while waiting in line with her husband.

Twenty-nine-old Morgann Freeman's right eye is still alarming to look at. It's blotched bright red after a hemorrhage from exposure to tear gas. She's come back to the scene of where protests over the police killing of George Floyd turned violent in her hometown, Omaha, Neb.

The top prosecutor in Omaha, Neb., will request a grand jury to take a second look at the shooting of James Scurlock, a 22-year-old African-American man who was killed by a white bar owner Saturday night as George Floyd protests in the city turned violent.

Douglas County District Attorney Don Kleine had released the shooting suspect Jake Gardner from custody on Monday, ruling that he acted in self defense.

It's been more than two years since Cliven Bundy left the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas a free man.

His arm around his wife, Carol Bundy, the Nevada rancher was defiant.

"We're not done with this," Bundy told reporters in January 2018. "If the federal government comes after us again we will definitely tell 'em the truth."

Billed as the oldest operating hotel in West Yellowstone, Mont., the Madison is a short hop from the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park. With its original pine log siding and thick wood beams, the historic hotel sits on a street squeezed with camera stores and trinket shops hawking Old Faithful t-shirts, wooden grizzly bears carved by chain saws and paintings of the iconic Yellowstone Falls.

Normally these sidewalks beneath the old western facade would be humming with tourists. But obviously nothing about anything we're living through is normal.

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, conservation groups allege the Trump administration's continued use of temporary appointees to lead large federal lands agencies is a violation of federal law and the Constitution's "advice and consent" clause.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The month of May marks the beginning of wildfire season. And this year, firefighters are facing an additional challenge - how to do their jobs while also protecting themselves from a deadly virus. NPR's Kirk Siegler has more.

As the COVID-19 crisis took hold and schools in Lockhart, Texas, had to close and shift to remote learning, the school district quickly conducted a needs assessment.

They found that half of their 6,000 students have no high-speed Internet at home. And despite being a short drive south of Austin, a third of all the students and staff live in "dead zones," where Internet and cell service aren't even available.

None of this was surprising to Mark Estrada, superintendent at the Lockhart Independent School District.

Utah is one of only a few states without statewide COVID-19 restrictions. Still, Eric Moutsos, a former police officer who now works in solar energy, says the economy has ground to a halt anyway.

He says in his business, sales have virtually stopped. Also, projects that are in the pipeline are stalled because cities in the region aren't sending out inspectors or issuing many permits.

"All of those jobs have completely stopped business to where we can't be paid now," Moutsos says.

Ammon Bundy, who led an armed occupation of a federal wildlife refuge in Oregon in 2016, hadn't been drawing much attention from news cameras or social media lately, until COVID-19.

By this time next week, Decatur County, Tenn., will have lost its only hospital, Decatur County General, which has been serving the rural community of about 12,000 people along the Tennessee River since 1963.

The hospital's human resources director, Melinda Hays-Kirkwood, has already begun laying off people, and she says by next week only a skeleton staff will remain.

"It's hard on these employees that have been here a long time. I've got people who have been here for 30 years," Hays-Kirkwood says. "For some people, this has been their only job out of college."

For the past two weeks, Nathan Tetreault of Lillian, Ala., has suffered through likely COVID-19 symptoms: dry cough, fever, waking up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe.

"I don't know if I have it. However, chances are pretty darn likely," Tetreault says.

Doctors wouldn't test him last week because he didn't meet the required criteria early on: He's not someone who's over 65 and showing symptoms, and he hasn't traveled outside the U.S. or come into contact with anyone he knows of who has tested positive.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

To hear year-round Sun Valley, Idaho, residents like Justin Malloy tell it, town right now is as crowded as you'd expect to see it in the peak Fourth of July or Christmas seasons. The small airport is packed with private jets. And then there's the parking lot at the Atkinsons' Supermarket, one of only two in town where bread and essential cleaning items are particularly hard to come by.

"We've been seeing a lot of Washington plates, a lot of California plates, their cars just full of all of their stuff that they've brought from out of state," Malloy says.

In Grangeville, Idaho, population 3,000, Syringa Hospital has just 15 beds, an emergency room and a clinic. As is common in rural medicine, the chief medical officer, Dr. Matthew Told, is also a family practice OB and, on a recent evening, the on-call ER doc.

"We don't have ventilator services, we don't have respiratory therapy," Told says during a break between seeing patients.

When the icy wind blows off the Spokane River, the temperature can routinely plunge below zero on this city's worn streets near downtown and the I-90 freeway. Trying to survive without shelter out here is almost impossible.

Just ask Mariah Hodges.

"The first night I came here I was almost frozen to the sidewalk," Hodges says.

The Bureau of Land Management's new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., is a long 1,900 miles away from Washington, D.C.

In the small western Colorado city, it's impossible to ignore you are surrounded by federal public land: the towering mesas, red rock canyons and the Colorado National Monument.

This past fall, Idaho officials took the extraordinary step of closing the Clearwater River to salmon and steelhead trout fishing, leaving guides like Jeremy Sabus scrambling to find other work.

"It's six weeks of my favorite time of the year, you get to shake hands with 3-foot trout," Sabus says.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

Updated at 1:40 p.m ET

The Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal in a case originating from Boise, Idaho, that would have made it a crime to camp and sleep in public spaces.

The decision to let a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stand is a setback for states and local governments in much of the West that are grappling with widespread homelessness by designing laws to regulate makeshift encampments on sidewalks and parks.

It's billed as one of the most livable places in the country with its good schools, leafy streets and safe neighborhoods. That's what makes Boise, Idaho, an odd backdrop for a heated legal fight around homelessness that is reverberating across the western United States and may soon be taken up by the Supreme Court.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

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.

This particular stretch of the Oregon coastline is famous for being pristine and wild. But train your eyes down a little closer to the beach and sand as Angela Haseltine Pozzi so often does, and even here you'll find bits of plastic.

"I think the most disturbing thing I find is detergent bottles and bleach bottles with giant bite marks out of them by fish," she says.

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."

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

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.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

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.

Pages