The Mountain West News Bureau

Left to right: Matt Frank, Digital Editor (Missoula, MT); Rae Bichell, Reporter (Greeley, CO); Nate Hegyi, Reporter (Salt Lake City, UT); Kate Concannon, Managing Editor (Seattle, WA); Noah Glick, Reporter (Reno, NV); Ali Budner, Reporter (Colorado Springs, CO); Maggie Mullen, Reporter (Laramie, WY) and Amanda Peacher, Reporter (Boise, ID).
Credit MATT BLOOM, KUNC

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 MediaBoise 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.

This is the second story in the Mountain West News Bureau series "Elevated Risk," a project powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

Cole Stump was a Montanan, through and through. The 29-year-old citizen of the Chippewa-Cree Tribe was raised on the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation in the north-central part of the state and had family ties to the Fort Peck Reservation in the northeast corner. He was a loving father of five and a skilled ranch hand.

Some of the Mountain West's COVID-19 hotspots have been, and continue to be, areas with major ski resorts.



Rebecca Travers lives in Casper, Wyo. Until late last year, the 42-year-old had been working at a non-profit that helps volunteer organizations across the state.

This is the first story in the Mountain West News Bureau series "Elevated Risk," a project powered by America Amplified, a public radio initiative.

Last summer, parks and streets across the country filled with the sound of violins. They were played by people protesting the death of 23-year-old violinist Elijah McClain. The young black man was walking home from a convenience store in Aurora, Colo. when he was stopped by the police after someone called saying he looked "sketchy."

Courtesy: Shoshone-Bannock Tribes

 

Tribes in the Mountain West reached resolutions in two long standing environmental disputes this week. The victories for the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and the Navajo Nation could signal a shift toward accountability for corporate polluters operating on tribal lands.

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State lawmakers across the Mountain West are convening for legislative sessions that will focus largely on the fallout of the pandemic. But without significant precautions, statehouses could become hotbeds for COVID-19 spread.

Legislative sessions typically bring together hundreds of lawmakers, legislative staff, lobbyists, journalists, and members of the public. They travel to and from every corner of a given state and gather indoors, sometimes in cramped meeting spaces.

About a third of Americans living in rural areas say they probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to a recent analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation.


Last summer, I met up with Ben Barto outside the small town of Dubois, Wyo. He's a huge Trump supporter and we were having a conversation about where he thought America was headed. 

"Revolution," he said. "I think it's headed there."

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Some of the largest and most deadly COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in our country's prisons. The latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that incarcerated people be included in phase 1B of vaccine distribution. But most states in the Mountain West are breaking with that guidance.

The insurrection in the U.S. Capitol on January 6 stunned the nation and the world. Many lawmakers in the Mountain West played a role in this unprecedented moment in history – whether they have decried President Donald Trump's attempts to overturn a free and fair election or supported his baseless claims.

Prominent Republicans in the region including Sen. Mitt Romney from Utah and Rep. Liz Cheney in Wyoming have condemned the president's conspiracy theories.

A newly elected congresswoman from Colorado says she’ll carry a handgun on Capitol Hill.

 


Dulce Leyva is a bilingual contact tracer who lives in Reno, Nevada. Her job is to reach out to people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus and make sure they're self-isolating. And she tries to help them remember who they've been around and could have been exposed to the virus.

The Food Bank for Larimer County’s warehouse in Loveland looks like a factory assembly line. People are busy preparing and packing provisions for when the doors open in an hour.

"Cookies, protein bars, coffee – a little of everything," says volunteer Ruben Marez. "I kind of like to mix and match."

Every year Marez travels to volunteer with the Red Cross and help with disaster relief. This year, he decided he was needed close to home and began volunteering at the onset of the pandemic.

The office of U.S. House Rep. Deb Haaland


Soon after she was elected as one of America's first Indigenous congresswomen in 2018, New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland paid a visit to her constituents at the Pueblo of Sandia, just outside of Albuquerque. 

"She came to the Pueblo for one of our feast days," said Stephine Poston, a tribal citizen and advocate for Native women leadership. "And the young girls, a couple of them were following her around and she stopped to talk to them. It was an amazing thing to see and witness." 

Poston said Haaland may as well have been a celebrity to those girls, but she didn't act like one. 

"She's just that person who will stop and see you," Poston said. 

And she said that's how Pueblo people, and Indigenous people across the country, have been feeling since Haaland was nominated to lead the Department of the Interior: Seen.

The Sony Handycam, of all things, foretold what may soon be a massive mine on public lands in Nevada.

In the early 1990s, the camcorder became the first product to use lithium-ion batteries commercially. Since then, the technology has been used to power our laptops, smartphones, and now electric vehicles and homes.

It's been a tough year for gas and oil prices, but solar power has seen steady growth during this pandemic year. 

This week, the northern spotted owl and the monarch butterfly were denied protections under the Endangered Species Act, even though both animals qualify.

Panic buying has slowed down considerably since this spring, but one thing still lingering is higher demand for meat that's easier for people to cook themselves.


Indoor dining is allowed across the Mountain West. But new research shows that even with current social distancing guidelines, the coronavirus can spread easily inside restaurants.

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States across the Mountain West are receiving their first shipments of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. And the Moderna vaccine will be coming once it's granted emergency authorization by the FDA. But as distribution gets underway, other COVID-19 prevention measures including frequent hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing will still be necessary. 

The U.S. hit a horrific milestone this week: More than 3,000 COVID-19 fatalities in just one day. But rising deaths do not necessarily translate into rising concern.


On the heels of a federal judge’s ruling to fully restore DACA, advocates in the Mountain West are hearing from an outpouring of young people hoping to apply for the first time.

Adriel Orozco, an immigration attorney and executive director of the New Mexico Immigrant Law Center, says the majority of calls his law office is receiving are from potential first-time applicants.

He says the ruling brings some measure of relief after the uncertainty of the past few years, which have caused “heartache for our community.”

Anti-mask and anti-lockdown protesters are targeting public health officials and politicians in parts of the Mountain West – sometimes at their own homes.


New Mexico and Colorado put limitations in place back in the spring and summer, respectively. And Nevada recently tightened its capacity restrictions even further to 25%. 

Courtesy Silver Little Eagle

Karen Snyder has never been afraid to use her voice. She learned that from the women who raised her on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.

"I come from a very long line of strong women. Grandmothers, mothers, a very strong line of women that are very outspoken," Snyder said.

That came in handy in 2016, when she was elected as one of two women on the six-person Eastern Shoshone Business Council.

Evictions have cascading effects, and researchers have found they could be fatal during the COVID-19 pandemic. A new study draws the connection between a lack of stable housing and an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

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In April, Google and Apple launched software that state health authorities can use to build COVID-19 contact tracing apps. But fewer than half of U.S. states have taken advantage, and most people living in those states aren't putting the apps to use.

In the Mountain West, Colorado's Exposure Notifications app has had the most success, with about 20% of the state's population having downloaded it. But fewer than 3% of Wyoming and Nevada residents have downloaded their states' smartphone apps.

Governors across the West are asking for federal support to ensure that wildfire restoration becomes a priority, just like wildfire suppression and mitigation efforts.

On Dec. 10, the first COVID-19 vaccine will be evaluated by a Food and Drug Administration advisory group, made of external vaccine experts. They'll say - in a public meeting - whether they think the FDA should give emergency use authorization for the vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, and why.


States only have a few weeks left to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, which is spurring lawmakers around the Mountain West to pass major aid deals now.


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