Rae Ellen Bichell | KUER 90.1

Rae Ellen Bichell

In an open field in Longmont, Colorado, about a dozen people crouched in the tall grass, moving slowly and deliberately through mud that squelched underfoot. Some carried huge, serrated knives called hori-hori, a Japanese tool made specifically for gutting weeds. Others wielded gardening shears, saws or chemical sprays as their weapons of choice.

Between growing populations and changing climate conditions, our water sources are only expected to get more crunched. Communities in some very dry states have had to get creative about where to get their water, sometimes purifying sewage into drinking water. More western cities are beginning to get on board, too. But there’s a problem: the ick factor.

Dozens of young children were reunited with their parents yesterday after being separated at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. The government is still working to reunite many more children with their parents, some of whom are being held at a detention center in Aurora, Colorado.

One of the world’s biggest firefighting aircraft is based in Colorado Springs. But it's fighting fires in California right now, rather than in the Mountain West.

Public lands have been in the news a lot this year. They comprise much of the Mountain West, from around 30 percent of land in Montana and Colorado to more than 60 percent in Utah and Idaho. This summer, we’re taking you on a tour of some of our favorite public lands.

Nuclear testing during the Cold War sent radioactive fallout far away from the actual test sites. Politicians are moving to expand who can be compensated by the government for getting sick after exposure to that fallout.

A study in the journal Science says a lot more methane is leaking from oil & gas sites than previously thought -- about 60 percent more than the current estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The fossil skeleton of a carnivorous dinosaur recently found in Wyoming was just auctioned off in Paris. Paleontologists are worried the sale is part of a trend that will keep specimens from our region out of the hands of scientists.

Wildfire season is ramping up in the region. Fire teams are now working to quash one outside Durango, Colorado, and Utah recently stopped another. That state is now doing prescribed burns to reduce the chance of a bigger blaze.

Wildfire season is ramping up across our region. There are all sorts of people involved in waiting, watching and fighting them -- people you might not expect. We’re profiling some of them in a series, Faces Behind The Fires.


Over the last decade or so, states in the Mountain West region have used less and less coal to make electricity. Wind is one of the energy sources replacing it.

Colorado’s biggest wind farm is set to be completed by this fall — and it might even help keep a piece of state history intact.

The Interior Department wants to open up a quarter-million acres at national wildlife refuges for hunting and fishing.

The move would impact 21 states. In our region, it would expand hunting at a refuge in Utah  and another in Montana. It would also open Montana’s Swan River refuge to big game hunting for the first time.

The National Park Service has released a report on how sea level rise could impact its sites. The publication was delayed by about a year, and as we’ve reported, there were concerns over possible censorship in earlier drafts.

Maria Caffrey worked for years with the National Park Service researching and writing the report, only to wait for months for its actual release.

A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers kicked off an anti-gerrymandering campaign this month. They want to take redistricting decisions out of the hands of state legislators and put it into the hands of twelve voters.

Dan Salkeld doesn’t like plunging toilets, filling out tax forms, or clipping his children's toenails. But he loves collecting ticks in Colorado.

In a flurry of lawsuits stretching across the West, conservation groups are accusing the federal government of failing to protect a rare bird: the sage grouse. This week, the groups involved in one of those lawsuits came to a legal truce.

Old Faithful gets all the attention, but a geyser called Steamboat is the world’s tallest active geyser. And it’s acting a little odd.

The spring thaw is upon us, and parched western states will be watching closely as snows melt and rivers rise. Fancy satellites monitor water levels in the biggest rivers, but they don't spot the smaller streams and waterways that feed into them. Now, some Colorado scientists have hit on a new way of tracking those smaller streams — inspired, by Pokemon.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for an investigation into the National Park Service, pointing to a report they say follows a "pattern" of censoring scientists who study climate change. So I checked in with the scientist who wrote the latest report and is now worried about her future.

The tamarisk plant, also called saltcedar, is infesting waterways across the West. The scaly-leafed shrub can grow taller than a person. It sucks up a lot of water and spits out salt, making the soil around it too salty for other plants to grow.

“It’s very bad, yes,” says Alex Gaffke, a graduate student in land resources and environmental science at Montana State University.

States like Colorado and Wyoming require that new oil and gas wells be built at least 500 feet away from existing homes. But new research shows that might not be far enough away to protect people’s health.

The Chinese government has retaliated in what appears to be an escalating trade war. The government says it will slap tariffs on a long list of American goods including pork and fruit, a move that could put producers across the region in a bind.

China buys a lot of American pork. And while Iowa may be this country’s pig-producing colossus, tariffs would hit producers everywhere, including states in the Mountain West like Utah and Colorado.  

In parched states like Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, water is a big issue, especially with growing populations that constantly need more and more. But there’s a big question: How do we accurately forecast the amount of water that will be available any given year? It’s not easy. But some Colorado scientists think they’re onto a possible solution -- inspired by Pokemon.

Details are unfolding about how British data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica influenced national elections. Meanwhile, a newly surfaced document suggests the group also had a hand in our region -- and in one especially tight Senate race in Colorado.

For years, Western lawmakers have been trying to change the way we fight wildfires, or at least the way the government funds such work. Now, they may finally get that wish. Congress just passed a measure that would do just that, creating an emergency fund of $20 billion for the Forest Service to fight wildfires over the next decade. It's part of a sweeping new spending deal that the President signed on Friday.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has been pushing for years to make this change.

Chelsea Naughton / KUER

A new report says climate change is hurting the ski industry, and a climate advocacy group says the Mountain West is particularly vulnerable.

A fierce debate is taking place across the country right now: What to do about immigrants who came here illegally as children. Up until recently, they qualified for a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which protects them from deportation. But the Trump administration rescinded that Obama-era rule and Congress is debating what will take its place.  

We talked to three people affected by that debate right here in the Mountain West.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

In the first century, a doctor called Aretaeus of Cappadocia described the rotting smell of "Egyptian ulcers." Ancient Chinese medical literature mentions a disease called "children-killing carbuncle." In 17th century Spain there were references to an illness known as "the strangler."

Fake birth control pills. Cough syrup for children that contained a powerful opioid. Antimalarial pills that were actually just made of potato and cornstarch.

These are, according to the World Health Organization, just a few examples of poor-quality or fake medicines identified in recent years.

In early autumn, it became clear that something was not right in Madagascar.

The country often sees small outbreaks of the bubonic plague, which comes from an infection spread by a flea bite. The disease is now easily treatable with antibiotics.

But this time, the number of cases was growing quickly, and the bacterial infection was spreading in a different, more serious form.

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