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.

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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.

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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.

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It can feel like a parallel universe when you go from a city where kids are cooped up inside at home doing school virtually on their tablets to an isolated small town such as Bruneau, Idaho.

One afternoon this week, the bell had just rung and kids were emptying out of the small elementary school and into the snowy parking lot, almost as if it's 2019 and there is no pandemic.

No one appears to be wearing a mask, which is just fine with parents such as Cassandra Folkman.

"I don't make them wear 'em anywhere we go," Folkman says. "I don't wear one and they don't."

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.

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President-elect Joe Biden will be taking over a country that is even more sharply divided on urban-rural lines. One of the biggest reasons why the divide got bigger in 2020 may be the coronavirus pandemic.

For conservatives such as Judy Burges, a longtime state legislator from rural Arizona, President Trump did as well as he could have managing the response to COVID-19. As she waited in line to vote this fall, Burges said the economic fallout has been worse in small towns dependent on small businesses.

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Health officials in rural America are struggling under the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. In the Upper Midwest and Rocky Mountain states, they warn that hospitals are at or nearing capacity. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

Arizona, the Sun Belt state that produced Barry Goldwater and was a bedrock for a generation of Republicans and conservative-leaning snowbirds, appears to be voting Democratic in the presidential election for only the second time since 1948.

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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.

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Malden is a tiny farming town amid eastern Washington's "oceans of wheat fields."

Or it was.

When a wind-driven firestorm raced into town on Labor Day, James Jacobs and most of the town's some 300 other residents lost their homes.

"Everything's gone," Jacobs says. "Everything is completely lost."

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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People fighting wildfires in California face an extra safety concern; they have to work, eat and sleep in camps with other people in the middle of a pandemic. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports on the effort to keep them healthy.

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