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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.

The past seven months have been a big strain on families like Mandi Boren's.

The Borens are cattle ranchers on a remote slice of land near Idaho's Owyhee Mountains. They have four kids — ranging from a first grader to a sophomore in high school. When the lockdown first hit, Boren first thought it might be a good thing. Home schooling temporarily could be more efficient, plus there'd be more family time and help with the chores.

In the Idaho mountain town of Grangeville, population 3,200, signs in windows on Main Street advertise that Border Days "is on."

The annual Fourth of July celebration boasts street dances, Idaho's longest-running rodeo and even the world's largest egg toss. Like in a lot of small towns, Grangeville's economy has been struggling throughout this pandemic.

Border Days planners decided to go ahead with an altered, if slightly scaled back version of the festival this year amid worries about a possible spike in coronavirus cases.

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.

A county judge in Oregon has refused to vacate his ruling rejecting that state's stay-at-home order, though Gov. Kate Brown's restrictions will remain in place pending a review by the Oregon Supreme Court.

The case is one of several challenges launched recently by conservatives in mostly rural areas from Illinois to Wisconsin to Oregon. They've upended or threatened to upend statewide public health restrictions in place to curb coronavirus infections. They also appear to be bringing the divide between urban and rural areas into sharper focus.

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.

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.

The small city of Barstow, Calif., sits in the remote Mojave Desert between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. It's rural, yet hardly isolated, at a major crossroads with a lot of people coming and going. An outbreak of the coronavirus could overwhelm its 30-bed hospital.

Five months after the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history, the town of Paradise remains a disaster zone. Only 6 percent of the debris from last November's Camp Fire has been hauled away. Burned out skeletons of cars, piles of toxic rubble and blackened old-growth pine trees can still be seen everywhere.

Before the wildfire, the population of Paradise was about 26,000. Today, it's in the hundreds.

Experts who monitor hate groups say the attacks on Friday at the mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, follow a sharp rise in violent white extremism around the globe and especially in the United States.

"They operate in an ideological world of people that reinforce each other's ideas but may never actually meet each other in person," says Kathy Blee of the University of Pittsburgh, who studies white extremism.