Kirk Siegler

Kirk Siegler covers the western United States for NPR's national desk, a position he's held since December of 2012.

Based at NPR West's studios in Culver City, California, Siegler's reporting focuses on issues including the far-reaching environmental and economic impacts of the drought in California and the West. He also covers the region's complex – and often bitter – disputes around land use. On this beat, his assignments have brought listeners to the heart of anti-government standoffs in the region, including a rare 2014 interview with recalcitrant Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Siegler also recently took listeners to the front lines of wildfires while embedded with an all-Native American hot shot crew from Arizona. Siegler also contributes extensively to the network's breaking news coverage. Assignments have taken him from Newtown, Connecticut, to tornado-ravaged Oklahoma, to a pair of labor disputes that threatened to shut down West Coast ports.

In 2015, Siegler was awarded an International Reporting Project fellowship from Johns Hopkins University to report on health and development in Nepal. While en route to the country in April, the worst magnitude earthquake to hit the region in more than 80 years struck. 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.

Prior to joining NPR, 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. Siegler's work has also won numerous Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards in Colorado and Montana, where he landed his first reporting job in 2003 serving as Montana Public Radio's first statehouse bureau chief.

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 near Missoula, Montana, and received a journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is an avid skier and enjoys traveling and visiting his family and friends scattered across the globe.

In Utah, the Alta Ski Area gets to keep its slogan "Alta is for Skiers."

A federal appeals court has upheld the resort's long-standing snowboarding ban in a legal challenge brought by a group of local snowboarders.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Big Trees Lodge.

Visitors to Yosemite National Park could be forgiven for not recognizing those hostelries' names.

They used to be called — and were famously known as — the Ahwahnee and Wawona hotels.

"It's just really surreal," said Monica Hubert, a former manager of the Wawona. "I mean, it's a National Historic Landmark."

The hotels and other Yosemite landmarks have been renamed because of a contract dispute.

The defiant leader of the anti-federal lands movement, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, is now facing multiple felony charges — including conspiracy and assault on a federal officer — in the 2014 standoff at his Nevada ranch.

Bundy, who inspired the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, was arrested at the airport in Portland, Ore., Wednesday night, apparently on his way to Malheur.

In a 32-page criminal complaint, prosecutors allege Bundy and his co-conspirators led a massive, armed assault against federal officers in April 2014 near the town of Bunkerville, Nev.

Two days after law enforcement officers shot and killed one of the armed occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, the FBI released an aerial surveillance video of the incident.

Ever since a tense, armed standoff near Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch in 2014, a vast and sensitive piece of federal public land adjacent to the Grand Canyon has gone unmanaged and unpatrolled.

It's safe to travel into the area called Gold Butte so long as you're not in a federal vehicle, according to Jaina Moan of Friends of Gold Butte, which wants to see the area federally protected.

The last time there was any known federal presence was last summer, when scientists under contract with the Bureau of Land Management were camped here, gathering field research.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Nearly two weeks after members of a self-styled militia occupied the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in an apparent protest over how the U.S. government treats cattle ranchers in eastern Oregon, it appears things are no closer to a resolution.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Last year, snowpack across the Sierra Nevada was just 5 percent of average. Up and down the West Coast in fact, the 2014-2015 season was marked by late openings, early closings and some resorts not opening at all.

This year's strong start will be good news for farms and cities down the mountain later, but it's especially promising right now for people like Andy Wirth, the resort's CEO.

He took over in 2011, a record snowfall year, only to be followed by three dry years and then last year, the driest in 1,200 years.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

With two deadly mass shootings in California and Colorado in the past week, this country is again in a fierce debate over gun control.

After the massacre in San Bernardino, President Obama encouraged states to take the lead on preventing gun violence. Both California and Colorado have responded to mass shootings recently by passing tougher gun laws.

Protests over racial discrimination on college campuses are leading to some swift responses and pledges of reform by college administrators. Even as the protests themselves appear to be quieting down ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, activists are pledging a prolonged fight.

When cacao farmers like Emilio Rivera first heard of a government-backed initiative that would help them prune branches and leaves from their trees, they were skeptical.

After all, a lush cacao tree with more, not fewer, branches meant more profits, the farmers said. That's been the traditional way of thinking for generations of cacao farmers here in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Schools tend to be the center of the community in small towns across America. That's probably never been more the case for Middletown, Calif., than right now.

Last month, when a wildfire destroyed more than half of the town in the mountains north of San Francisco, the schools were miraculously spared. They've since reopened and are offering a respite from the sad, day-to-day struggles many students and staff are facing.

NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the#NPRreads hashtag. On Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you three items.

From NPR social media editor Lori Todd:

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Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

This has been one of the worst — and most expensive — wildfire seasons ever in the Northwest, where climate change and a history of suppressing wildfires have created a dangerous buildup of fuels.

With fires burning hotter and more intense, there are renewed calls to change how the federal government pays to fight the biggest fires.

"These large and intense fires are a natural disaster in much the same way a hurricane or a tornado or a flood is," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says. "And they ought to be funded as such through the emergency funding of FEMA."

On the northern flank of the Rocky Fire, the blackened forest floor is smoldering. The blaze, which ignited more than a week ago in Northern California, quickly engulfed miles of dry brush and oak forests, at one point consuming 20,000 acres in just a few hours. The land it's left behind is eerie, hot and powdery underfoot.

The iconic forests of the Pacific Northwest — with their towering, moss-covered fir and pine trees — have never been this dry. The grass underneath the ferns has already turned gold.

Of the five large wildfires burning in Washington alone right now, one has scorched more than 1,500 acres of a rainforest on the typically misty Olympic Peninsula.

The wildfire threat in the drought-stricken Pacific Northwest right now is extraordinary, and there are concerns that the region may not be prepared for a long summer.

A Wake-Up Call

Rural Tulare County, Calif., is now being called the epicenter of this drought.

That's because at least 1,300 residential wells have run dry, affecting at least 7,000 people. When your taps start spitting out air here, Paul Boyer and his team are who you call.

Under a punishing midafternoon sun, Boyer helps muscle down five of these hefty 400-pound water tanks from a semi-truck flatbed. He helps run a local nonprofit that's in charge of distributing these 2,500-gallon water tanks to drought victims.

Travel up and down California farm country, the Central Valley, and you hardly hear people lamenting the lack of rain or how dry this past winter was. What you hear, from the agriculture industry and many local and national politicians, are sentiments like those expressed by Rep. Devin Nunes:

"Well, what I always like to say is that this is a man-made drought created by government," the Central Valley Republican says.

Rudy Mussi is not the California farmer you've been hearing about. He is not fallowing all his fields or ripping up his orchards due to a lack irrigation water.

For Mussi and most of his neighbors in the bucolic Sacramento Delta, the water is still flowing reliably from the pumps and into the canals lining the fields.

"If you had to pick a place where you would say, 'Okay, where should I stick my farm?' You'd come to the Delta," he says.

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