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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.

Traveling through the drought-stricken West Monday, President Biden used his bully pulpit to sound the alarm about climate change and accompanying extreme weather events and worsening wildfires.

When Mimi Routh got orders to evacuate from the Tahoe Senior Plaza where she lives, she decided not to wait for the city bus like most of her neighbors who were also fleeing the flames of out of control Caldor Fire.

Instead, the 79-year-old Air Force veteran decided to head out on her own. She grabbed a few cherished essentials and drove herself to a shelter in Nevada about twenty miles away.

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

By the heat of the afternoon, smoke from the largest wildfire burning in the U.S., the Dixie Fire, drifts into Paradise, Calif.

"Quite literally, it's hanging over your head," says Dan Efseaff, director of the Paradise Recreation and District.

Most days by about 8 a.m., the gates at Arches National Park in Utah close because all the parking lots are full and the trails are at capacity.

Many tourists then spill out onto the surrounding federal public lands — those red rock canyons and river cut gorges that first put one of the West's adventure tourism capitals, Moab, on the map.

On a recent hot afternoon, swimming holes along a federal Bureau of Land Management trail east of town, usually a quiet hideaway from the bustle of Arches and nearby Canyonlands national parks, were humming.

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The number of new wildfires in the U.S. so far this year is at a ten-year high, according to federal data, prompting warnings of a long, potentially dangerous summer of fire.

One of the biggest areas of concern right now is the high desert Great Basin region in Utah, Nevada and eastern Oregon.

"When you have standing dead grass that's already out there and when we have high heat, that ignition potential raises dramatically," said Paul Peterson, a fire management officer for the Bureau of Land Management.

Shoppers and diners are slowly returning to Albuquerque's trendy Nob Hill neighborhood.

It's a welcome sign to Mike and Kathy Holmberg of Arizona, who are on their first visit back to New Mexico since the start of the pandemic. They typically spend summers here in the mountains where it's cooler. But the couple also noticed New Mexico feels much more cautious than Arizona. Restaurants here still require customers to give their name and phone number for contact tracing. Businesses still operate under strict capacity limits.

Long viewed as a relative backwater agency, the Bureau of Land Management actually has enormous sway over Americans' everyday lives: the agency decides who gets to do what on about a tenth of all the land in the U.S., from where companies can drill to where people recreate.

Jordy Rossman, who was hiking recently at a popular BLM trailhead near Boise, Idaho, said, "It's pristine land, it's just untouched."

Rossman uses these lands all the time to hunt, fish and hike.

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, Idaho's unemployment rate has been hovering around 3%. In the capital city, Boise, for-hire signs are posted at grocery stores and restaurants — and at Pete Amador's home health care agency.

His latest ad even offers a thousand-dollar signing bonus. Amador could easily hire 50 more people right now, if they would apply. There is a long waitlist of elderly clients.

"People are calling hourly asking for help," he says.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

With so much land under federal control in the West, it's long been said the secretary of the Interior has much more of a direct affect on most people's lives than the president. This experience could arguably be multiplied tenfold on reservations.

In her confirmation hearing earlier this year, Deb Haaland of the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico nodded to the fact that the department she now leads was historically used as a tool of oppression toward tribes.

In Washington state, federal aid is finally coming to a struggling farming community that was nearly decimated by a wildfire last Labor Day.

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NOEL KING, HOST:

As the violent mob broke into the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday, and livestreams showed pro-Trump insurrectionists defacing property and posing in the House Speaker's chair, here in the West, feelings of shock quickly faded to familiarity.

"There are years of warning signs," said Eric Ward of the Western States Center, which tracks extremism in Oregon and the West.

In the small town of Oak Creek, Colo., — a three-hour drive from Denver, assuming the roads are clear — Gene Bracegirdle, a firefighter and EMT in training, is getting his first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

"The fact that it is here is kind of mind-blowing, like, they care enough to reach out to the rural communities," Bracegirdle says.

These last few days have been chaotic at the Nimiipuu Health Clinic on the Nez Perce Reservation in Idaho.

The director, Dr. R. Kim Hartwig, is trying to manage testing and treating patients for COVID- 19 and other diseases, while also racing to get a plan in place to distribute a vaccine.

"It's not something that we have a timeline [for], it's like, I got a call and was told, 'You're gonna get a vaccine in two weeks, get a plan together,' " she says.

At first glance, the picturesque resort town of Sandpoint, Idaho, on the banks of Lake Pend Orielle can feel like an escape from all the troubles of 2020.

That is, until you talk to frontline workers who deal with the public in this mostly rural, pristine region of forests and beauty near the Canadian border.

At Bonner General Health, Dr. Morgan Morton recounts a patient she had the other day who wanted to wait until after November to schedule a needed procedure.

The Trump administration says it will comply, for now, with a federal court ruling that blocks William Perry Pendley from continuing to serve as the temporary head of the Bureau of Land Management.

A federal judge in Montana has ousted President Trump's top public lands official.

The ruling blocks William Perry Pendley from continuing to serve as the temporary head of the Bureau of Land Management, a post he has held for more than a year.

The judge ruled in response to a lawsuit filed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock who argued it's illegal for Pendley to lead the agency because he had never been confirmed by the Senate.

A white Omaha, Neb., bar owner who was recently indicted for his role in the fatal shooting of a young Black man in May during racial justice protests has died by suicide, according to the man's attorneys.

It's no surprise in an already polarized country that debate over what's causing the wildfires ravaging the West Coast would get partisan, especially with this being an election year.

Visiting California this week, President Trump again tried to put the blame on forest management, while his rival, former Vice President Joe Biden pointed to climate change.

Linda Oslin and her husband lost everything when the Camp Fire raced into their neighborhood in Paradise, Calif., in the fall of 2018.

She's in her 70s — he in his 80s — and they decided they didn't have it in them to try to rebuild. That could take years. So they found a place for sale out of the woods and farther down the mountain near Oroville, Calif., where they've started to rebuild their lives.

Except for one thing.

When firefighter Ahri Cornelius got the call that his Missoula, Mont., crew was deploying to central California, he had some reservations.

They'd be traveling from a rural state with a relatively low infection rate to California, a coronavirus hot spot. Cornelius also has a 3-year-old toddler back home with a preexisting lung condition.

"Coming down here and knowing that you're going to be around this many people in such a busy setting definitely stirred up quite a bit of anxiety for all of us," Cornelius said.

In front of City Hall, a crew shovels through debris, clearing a path to the front door. Bricks and broken glass from office buildings litter downtown. Gas station awnings have been flipped on their sides.

The best news in Lake Charles, La., in recent days: an announcement that 95% of the streets here are just now navigable, nearly a week after Hurricane Laura tore through the region.

Updated at 4:10 p.m. ET

Anti government activist Ammon Bundy has been arrested for a second time in two days at the Idaho State Capitol. State police gave Bundy a no trespass notice after he entered the state Senate chamber Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after he was hauled out of the building Tuesday and charged with trespassing and resisting and obstructing officers.

Todd Troyer retired as an ironworker in Milwaukee and moved to rural Wisconsin 15 years ago. The Vietnam veteran has diabetes and heart conditions and gets his prescriptions and insulin through the mail.

When his supply runs low, Troyer, 69, phones in an order to the pharmacy at the nearest VA hospital, in Madison more than an hour's drive away. He depends on the mail especially now during the pandemic, as cases in his region are continuing to rise.

"That's the thing I'm worried about: Is it going to make it here or isn't it? I don't know," Troyer says.

Amid pressure from Democrats and some Republicans, the Trump administration is planning to withdraw its controversial nominee to head the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The sprawling public lands agency, which manages roughly a tenth of the landmass of the United States, has not had a permanent, Senate-confirmed director for the entire Trump era.

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