Kirk Siegler

Kirk Siegler reports for NPR, based out of NPR West in California.

Siegler grew up near Missoula, MT, and received a B.A. in journalism from the University of Colorado.  He’s an avid skier and traveler in his spare time.

A large flock of sandhill cranes squawks overhead as Brenden Quinlan watches what's left of an early season snow storm roll off the massive Steens Mountain; the snow turning to sleet and then rain as it soaks the wetlands of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon.

"It's something I find that's medicinal [to] come and hang out here," Quinlan says. "It's quiet."

Just after dawn, on a rutted out dirt road west of Las Vegas, Nev., Bureau of Land Management Ranger Shane Nalen steers his four by four over a small hill.

"You never know what you're going to roll up on out here," he says, his dispatch radio squawking in the background.

A panoramic view of the rugged Nevada desert unfolds. But there's also something peculiar. The desert carpet is lit up with reflecting lights shimmering in the soft morning sun.

When 2 feet of rain fell, and the Vermillion River swelled its banks earlier this month, the mayor of Maurice, La., Wayne Theriot, got hit with a double whammy: He lost his home and his office. The two are just a couple hundred yards apart in this small town of about 1,000 people that straddles Vermillion and Lafayette parishes in a largely rural corner of the state.

"You're in City Hall — what's left of it," he says, pointing to the ruined furniture and computers in the tiny three-room building.

When a fast-moving, erratic wildfire ignites, firefighters right away try to save homes and steer the flames away from life and property. But experts say the real danger often occurs in the hours after the big wall of flames rips through.

You'd be hard pressed to find a more deeply red county within a deeply red state than Cache County in the mountains of northern Utah.

Eighty-three percent of voters in this heavily Mormon enclave went for Mitt Romney in 2012. So heads turned when Jonathan Choate and a colleague abruptly resigned from the Cache County GOP's Executive Committee after the party refused to publicly condemn Donald Trump.

Even with Cliven Bundy and many of his militia supporters in jail, anger toward the federal government is still running high in some parts of the West.

Clashes between ranchers and federal land managers over grazing rights are continuing. In southern Utah, things have gotten so bad lately that some local sheriffs have threatened to arrest federal rangers who try to close forest roads and cut off access to ranchers and other users.

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether Garfield County Sheriff James "Danny" Perkins is serious or pulling your leg.

Stanton Gleave hardly fits the stereotype of a modest, keep-to-himself Western rancher.

Standing in a collection of muddy pens taking a break from shearing sheep near his home in tiny Kingston, Utah, Gleave gives an earful about his frustrations with the Bureau of Land Management and environmental groups.

"That's who we're actually fighting with," says Gleave. "They've indoctrinated and got into this BLM and Forest Service 'til a lot of 'em are right up in the head positions now."

The out-of-control wildfire burning in northern Alberta has fire officials south of the border casting a nervous eye toward the summer.

The latest news that the Canadian blaze has moved into oil fields after destroying parts of an entire city comes as the U.S. Forest Service issues its annual wildfire forecast for the Western United States Tuesday.

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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit



The National Park Service wants you to get out into nature.

But the success of campaigns like the National Park Service's Find Your Park and others from state tourism offices has created a huge demand. Last year, a record 305 million people visited national parks. As the Park Service likes to point out, that's more people than went to every single Disney park, NFL, NBA and MLB game and NASCAR race combined.

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.

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.

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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.

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.

From the rim of Ecuador's Pululahua Geobotanical Reserve, it's at least a 45-minute drive (no, more like plunge) down a winding, bone-crushing dirt road to the floor of the crater. But it's well worth it. After all, how often do you get to say you've traveled to what's billed as the world's only inhabited, cultivated volcano?

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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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.

Swayambhunath — also known as the Monkey Temple, for its holy, furry dwellers that swing from the rosewood trees — is one of the oldest and most sacred Buddhist sites in Nepal's Kathmandu Valley, an important pilgrimage destination for Hindus as well as Buddhists. It was also one of the worst damaged by last month's earthquake.

Where is the aid?

That's what the people of the ancient city of Bhaktapur want to know.

The historic gate to old Bhaktapur is about the only thing still standing after the earthquake. The ornate temples have crumbled. Brick homes were reduced to rubble. People have lost everything, including loved ones.

People are living under tarps or out in the open, without running water or toilets. Some 70 people are living in an improvised hut. Flies are everywhere. People say they haven't had any help from the outside — no medicine, no food.