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.

As record numbers of COVID-19 patients — most of them unvaccinated — show up for treatment in Idaho hospitals, it’s often nurses and doctors who bear the brunt of the emotional toll.

Ashley Brown is a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center. After a couple of her shifts last week, she recorded her thoughts for us.

Editor's Note: We highly recommend listening to the audio version of this story. Press the play button above to listen.

Thursday, Sept. 2, 8 p.m.

News Brief

The Biden Administration’s moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal lands is coming to an end.

A federal judge recently pressured the Biden administration to start reopening the leasing process in some areas, or face being in contempt of court.

The government is now accepting public comments on thousands of acres of potential leases.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

In the spring, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a law that prohibits discrimination based on vaccination status – the only such law in the country.

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.

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.

I started reporting this series on fentanyl months ago, and I expect to continue following it for months – or years – to come.

Here’s the short version: Pills that are laced with fentanyl or contain nothing but fentanyl are coming into the Mountain West via the border with Mexico. About a quarter of the fentanyl pills seized by the DEA have had enough fentanyl to kill.

Fentanyl is an extremely potent and cheap man-made opioid. It’s effective for pain management and is used in hospitals every day. But without proper equipment, it’s hard to measure and easy to overdose on.

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.

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.

News Brief

Researchers say the Biden administration’s plan to permanently boost the food aid program SNAP, announced this week, is a significant step in addressing the Mountain West's deepening economic inequality.

Beginning in October, people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits will see an average increase of $36.24 per month, or $1.19 per day, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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."

Federal Wildland Firefighters Get Pay Boost

Aug 20, 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

The Las Vegas Raiders are one of the first NFL teams to require fans to show proof of vaccination if they want to attend home games this season. Unvaccinated people can also get a first shot on site and wear a mask at games until they are fully vaccinated.

“It’s not just about you. It’s about the person sitting next to you,” said Raiders owner Mark Davis at a press conference Tuesday. “That’s who we are trying to protect as well.”

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.

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.”

News Brief

The U.S. Census Bureau released more data from the 2020 U.S. Census today, including diversity numbers. There were large increases to many non-white races and ethnicities, which they attribute to simply asking better questions.

The agency says there was a 276% increase in people reporting that they were multiracial, up to nearly 34 million people.

However, some are still concerned that a proposed citizenship question and pandemic-related challenges still led to an undercount of certain populations.

At least 19 people have died in tribal jails overseen by the federal government since 2016, according to an investigation by NPR and the Mountain West News Bureau. As part of our ongoing coverage of mistreatment of inmates on reservations, the bureau is highlighting some of the victims and the circumstances around their deaths, which reflect decades of mismanagement, neglect and poor training.

Two Western cities registered the poorest air quality in the world over the last week as smoke from wildfires in northern California turned the skies over the Rocky Mountains into a chalky white abyss. On July 7, Denver’s air was the worst among international cities, according to IQAir.com. Salt Lake City was No. 1 the day prior.

University of Utah atmospheric scientist Derek Mallia says such pollution levels in these Mountain West cities is “unprecedented.”

At least 19 people have died in tribal jails overseen by the federal government since 2016, according to an investigation by NPR and the Mountain West News Bureau. As part of our ongoing coverage of mistreatment of inmates on reservations, the bureau is highlighting some of the victims and the circumstances around their deaths, which reflect decades of mismanagement, neglect and poor training.

At least 19 people have died in tribal jails overseen by the federal government since 2016, according to an investigation by NPR and the Mountain West News Bureau. As part of our ongoing coverage of mistreatment of inmates on reservations, the bureau is highlighting some of the victims and the circumstances around their deaths, which reflect decades of mismanagement, neglect and poor training.

News Brief

A U.S. astronaut on the International Space Station has recently launched a new project. Megan McArthur is photographing the West’s iconic national parks. She grew up visiting places like Yosemite, Grand Canyon and Zion – and now she’s shooting them from 250 miles above the surface of Earth.

At least 19 people have died in tribal jails overseen by the federal government since 2016, according to an investigation by NPR and the Mountain West News Bureau. As part of our ongoing coverage of mistreatment of inmates on reservations, the bureau is highlighting some of the victims and the circumstances around their deaths, which reflect decades of mismanagement, neglect and poor training.

It’s obvious that gun owners and non-gun owners often disagree on gun policy, but recent Pew Research surveys show they share some opinions, too.

The divisions are where you might expect them: Pew found that most gun owners oppose bans on assault-style weapons or on high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. Most non-gun owners support those bans.

If you’re trying to stock up on ice for a backyard get-together or river trip, you may have to plan ahead. Stores in states including Idaho, Colorado and Montana are having ice shortages and capping how many bags you can buy.

Some ice companies are doing just fine. But many others are struggling to keep up with demand.

When you call the national chain Reddy Ice, a robotic voice tells you, “Due to unprecedented demand and nationwide labor shortages, you may experience longer than average hold and delivery times.”

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