The Mountain West News Bureau

Left to right: Kate Concannon, Maggie Mullen, Madelyn Beck, Robyn Vincent, Matthew Frank, Savannah Maher, Stephanie Serrano-Escoto, Nate Hegyi, Amanda Peacher.

The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, 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.

The Mountain West News Bureau is a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico 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.

Young people have struggled to adapt to new realities wrought by the pandemic. That is especially true for LGBTQ youth.

A recent survey by the national nonprofit the Trevor Project found 42% of LGBTQ young people seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled that tribal police can search and detain non-Native people traveling on public roads through reservation lands.

Across Indian Country, a jurisdiction maze has meant that when a tribal police officer pulls over a non-Native person, the officer most likely can't detain them or even search them – even if the cop has a strong suspicion that the driver was committing a crime.

A massive hacking incident against beef processing giant JBS caused an estimated 20% of U.S. beef packing plants to grind to a halt earlier this week. JBS was quick to get things back online, but the attack raises questions about cyber security and market consolidation.

Cattle ranchers across the region have expressed concerns about certain companies getting too much power and affecting too much of the market. According to USDA estimates, only four companies control about 80% of the beef processing market.

At a recent rally in support of Palestine that drew hundreds of people to the Colorado state Capitol, Palestinian American women energized the crowd. They led call-and-response chants until their voices were hoarse. They also spoke of the realities their family members face living under Israeli occupation.

Savannah Maher

U.S. Highway 550 runs from Montrose, Colo., to Bernailillo, N.M. If you drive all 300 miles of it, you'll weave in and out of tribal land more than a dozen times.

One of the places you'll pass through is Zia Pueblo, where Gov. Jerome Lucero, who is also an officer with the Pueblo's police department, said a stretch of the highway running through the reservation gives his department trouble.

"We have a lot of jurisdictional issues on U.S. 550," he said. "When I pull someone over, I have to take into consideration whether they're Native or non-Native."

Douglas Holt / USFWS

The lesser prairie chicken could receive federal protections under the Endangered Species Act in parts of the Mountain West. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposal Wednesday to list the birds as endangered in eastern New Mexico, and as threatened in its northern reaches that include parts of southeastern Colorado.

With the FDA and CDC signing off on kids as young as 12 receiving Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine, young people around the region tell the Mountain West News Bureau about what's motivating them to get the shot.

Ezra Visser, 14, Laramie, Wyoming

"I wanted to get [the shot] pretty much right away. Because that way I knew I had at least some type of protection against COVID. And that way I could see friends more freely and, eventually, not have to wear a mask in most places."

Communities across the West typically have wildfire plans. They lay out how to evacuate, where to send people and what to do. But those may need an update.

“We need to step up and start planning for worse scenarios than we’ve planned for in the past,” said Thomas Cova, a University of Utah geography professor.

An upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case could result in some states in the Mountain West moving to severely limit or even ban abortions.

The high court will examine a disputed Mississippi law that would ban abortions after 15 weeks, challenging a precedent that goes back to Roe v. Wade. That 1973 Supreme Court case protects a woman’s right to an abortion.

At the Early Care and Education Center at the University of Wyoming, there's a lot of what one would expect to see at a daycare - toys, books, and cubbies for tiny shoes. And that's not all.


COVID-19 vaccine supplies are now abundant – nationally about 60% of adults have had at least one shot.

“At least here in Casper, (Wyo.), you can go to the clinic and pick one of the three vaccines. It’s like a menu: I want Moderna, I want Pfizer, I want Johnson & Johnson. We have that much vaccine now,” said Mark Dowell, an infectious diseases physician and Natrona County health officer.

We’ve heard a lot about wolf reintroduction in our region, but that’s not the only carnivore environmentalists want to bring back.

Christopher Gauntlett was incarcerated at the Washoe County Detention Facility in Nevada for 525 days, waiting for his trial.

“A lot of stuff happens in there that’s not right, but there was nothing I could do about it, so I had to stay in there,” he said. “It hurts.”

Delays came from pandemic lockdowns, but also when a witness got COVID-19. They kept telling Gauntlett he’d go to court soon, and it kept getting pushed back.

“It was kind of miserable, you know?” he said. “A lot of stress, a lot of pain.”

At the same time, he said COVID-19 was all around him.

Several wildfire projections for this summer aren’t looking good. And the Mountain West is facing a number of water shortages, according to Mojtaba Sadegh, who leads the Hydroclimate Lab at Boise State University.

“We are down on river flows, we are down on dam storage, we are down on soil moisture. It’s hotter. Everything is converging,” he said.

itakdalee / iStock

The term "critical race theory" has made its way into public debates over education in the Mountain West, and how students should be taught about race and racism. But it's not clear that any K-12 schools in our region actually employ the decades-old academic framework. And as right-wing officials portray it as radical, those who study critical race theory say its meaning is being misconstrued.

Critical race theory is, in short, an approach to understanding structural racism in the United States.

Four states in the Mountain West are opting out of the federal government's $300-a-week pandemic unemployment compensation.

The Republican governors of Idaho, Utah and Wyoming announced their decisions this week. They follow Montana, which last week became the first state in the nation to drop the unemployment supplement that the American Rescue Plan extended into September.

The governors cite labor shortages and point to their state's low unemployment rates. The added payments will end in the second half of June.

A rare but serious COVID-19-related condition has disproportionately affected Hispanic and Latino children in the Mountain West.

That group makes up nearly a third of Utah's 74 who were diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C. At the same time, only 14% of Utah’s population is Hispanic or Latino, according to the Census Bureau.

Similar disparities recently showed up in Idaho, where Hispanic and Latino kids accounted for nearly a quarter of its 26 recorded cases.

Courtesy of Dine College

President Biden has laid out his vision for the future of public education, which includes a nationwide community college tuition waiver for all Americans who want to take advantage.

That waiver would be especially impactful in states with the lowest levels of higher education attainment, including several in the Mountain West. In Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming and New Mexico, fewer than 30% of adults over 25 have a bachelor's degree.

Elaine Maestas remembers her sister, Elisha Lucero, going out of her way to help people.

“Even if it was like the last of her money, the last 20 dollars, and she knew you needed gas to get to work, didn't matter if you were a friend, a family member or somebody that she just met, she would help you out,” Maestas said.

Inside Eastridge Shopping Mall in Casper, Wyoming was once a Macy's. And signs of that department store life remain — a lot of mirrors, the old beauty department counter, and what used to be changing rooms to try on the latest fashions. Now, this building is a well-oiled, pandemic-fighting machine, with no customers.


Little Shell Tribal Health

 

Many tribal leaders are used to stretching every dollar that comes their way. Last year, they were faced with a different problem: millions in badly needed aid money, and not enough time to spend it.

"The money came at us quick, and it was a flurry," said Karen Snyder, who coordinates pandemic response for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe in Wyoming. "We had to act fast in order to get it out the door."

As the economy reopens, restaurants remain far from pre-pandemic employment levels.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is easing restrictions on one of the most effective treatments for opioid addiction.

That medication is buprenorphine, and the change makes it so healthcare professionals don’t have to get extra training to offer the medication to as many as 30 patients with opioid addiction.

In Colorado Springs, The Place is a shelter for young people experiencing homelessness. The pandemic has only increased the number of individuals who are unhoused, but in the early days of lockdowns, The Place’s outreach team had trouble finding youth.

In 2020, the press was filled with stories about droves of wealthy out-of-staters fleeing cities and the pandemic and moving to the Mountain West. Two new reports complicate that narrative.

We often hear about efforts to support and conserve rare species, like the spotted owl or Joshua trees. But new findings argue that some very ordinary plants and animals deserve our attention, too.

How far has America come in enacting meaningful police reform since George Floyd’s death nearly one year ago? That question faces renewed scrutiny with the rare verdict against ex-police officer Derek Chauvin. On Tuesday a Minnesota jury found Chauvin guilty of murdering Floyd after he pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes — captured in a video that spurred a global awakening.

Nearly 1,000 miles from Minnesota, criminal justice experts say Colorado has set a bold example for the entire nation when it comes to impactful police reform.

Rex Wholster / Shutterstock

 

The Indian Child Welfare Act still stands, with some of its key provisions weakened by a sharply divided U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals this month. The 325-page opinion has no immediate impact on child welfare cases in the Mountain West, but it's likely to be challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Savannah Maher

The Biden administration will restore the White House Council on Native American Affairs, an interagency initiative that coordinates federal services and policies that impact tribal nations. The council was first launched under former President Obama, but went dark for most of the Trump years.

After more than three years, Vicky Chavez took her first steps of freedom outside the church that gave her sanctuary.

Chavez is an undocumented immigrant who fled political unrest and an abusive relationship in Honduras back in 2014. Her initial request for asylum was denied in January 2018.

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