Kirk Siegler

As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers the urban-rural divide in America. A beat exploring the intersection between urban and rural life, culture, and politics, Siegler has recently brought listeners and readers to a timber town in Idaho that lost its last sawmill just days before the 2016 election, as well as to small rural towns in Nebraska where police are fighting an influx in recreational marijuana coming from nearby Colorado cities.

Based at NPR West's studios in Culver City, CA, but frequently roaming the country, Siegler's reporting has also focused on the far-reaching economic impacts of the drought in the West while explaining the broader, national significance to many of the region's complex and bitter disputes around land use. His assignments have brought listeners to the heart of anti-government standoffs in Oregon and Nevada, including a rare interview with recalcitrant rancher Cliven Bundy in 2014.

Siegler also contributes extensively to the network's breaking news coverage. In 2015, he 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. 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 near Missoula, Montana, and received a journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Updated at 3:22 p.m. ET

Federal land managers on Wednesday proposed sweeping rule changes to a landmark environmental law that would allow them to fast-track certain forest management projects, including logging and prescribed burning.

The U.S. Forest Service, under Chief Vicki Christiansen, is proposing revisions to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations that could limit environmental review and public input on projects ranging from forest health and wildfire mitigation to infrastructure upgrades to commercial logging on federal land.

The chief of the U.S. Forest Service is warning that a billion acres of land across America are at risk of catastrophic wildfires like last fall's deadly Camp Fire that destroyed most of Paradise, Calif.

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When the Camp Fire raced into the Northern California town of Paradise on Nov. 8, destroying nearly 19,000 structures and claiming 85 lives, Chris Beaudis narrowly escaped. He drove out of the Sierra foothills in his Ford Bronco with only his pit bull. He lost everything and has no insurance.

Taylor Walker is wiping down tables after the lunch rush at the Bunkhouse Bar and Grill in remote Arthur, Nebraska, a tiny dot of a town ringed by cattle ranches.

The 25-year-old has her young son in tow, and she is expecting another baby in August.

"I was just having some terrible pain with this pregnancy and I couldn't get in with my doctor," she says.

Six months after the deadly Camp Fire raced into Paradise, Calif., destroying thousands of homes and businesses, an estimated 1,000 or more families still haven't secured even temporary housing.

Just 2 1/2 hours from Los Angeles, it feels like another world, bouncing along an old jeep road in the remote Temblor Range.

"The rainbow that these hills were for the last month is pretty much gone," remarks my pal Michael Lee Jackson, a professional photographer and amateur explorer, as we drive.

It's his seventh trip to the Carrizo Plain National Monument since mid-March. That was the start of the "super bloom" that transformed Southern California's deserts and prairies into stunning mosaics of yellows, oranges, reds, purples and blues.

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.

It's the boom times in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., which is wrapping up a winter of record snowfall. Eager to take advantage of it, Donovan Sliman and his two young daughters are lumbering up a snowy trail on the outskirts of town, where the condos give way to National Forest.

"I like to get away from everybody else," says Donovan. "I like to hear the sound of the wind and the snow through the trees." "We're also going to go sledding," adds Grace, one of his daughters.

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.

Last fall's deadly Camp Fire has brought renewed questions about whether towns in high-risk areas like Paradise, Calif., should even be rebuilt.

Barry Long recently tried to squash those questions immediately as he kicked off a crowded town hall meeting at Paradise Alliance Church.

"One of the first questions we get is, 'Are they really going to rebuild Paradise?' " Long said. "And we say that's not a question. [The Town] Council made an immediate decision [that] we're going to rebuild Paradise."

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In Northern California yesterday, there was a somber community memorial for the 85 people who lost their lives in the Camp Fire.

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Three months have passed since the deadly Camp Fire devastated towns in the mountains of Butte County, Calif., leaving residents with burned-out properties covered with potentially toxic debris.

In the mountain hamlet of Concow, one ridge over from Paradise, folks say they're used to wildfires and cleaning up after them. They load up a pickup a few times and haul the debris away to the dump. At least that's how they remember it being in 2008 after the last wildfire; but this time around, the clean-up process is not the same.

Small Town Boom

Feb 8, 2019

There's a commonly-heard narrative about small towns in rural areas of the United States: that they are in a state of terminal decline. A recent NPR poll found that is simply not true. Some areas are in a slump, sure, but many others are seeing a resurgence, driven by resettlement from urban areas, government programs designed to regenerate disadvantaged towns, and advances in technology.

Paradise, Calif., the northern California town nestled in a pine cloaked ridge in the Sierra Foothills, had a population of about 25,000 until it was almost entirely wiped out by the Camp Fire nearly three months ago. It was the deadliest, most destructive wildfire in the U.S. in more than a century. Now, despite a massive effort to clean up, restore power and make plans to rebuild, the town remains largely uninhabitable.

The historic government shutdown is beginning to stir anxiety in and around Paradise, Calif. The town of about 25,000 people was almost completely destroyed by a deadly wildfire last November and almost everyone and everything directly affected is relying heavily on federal aid.

So far FEMA and Small Business Administration loans do not appear to be affected. But local officials say the shutdown is causing delays in more under-the-radar infrastructure projects, which could have serious, longterm consequences.

Editor's Note: NPR's Kirk Siegler is based temporarily in Butte County, Calif. Along with other reporters, he will be covering the cleanup and recovery effort in and around Paradise. If you want to share your story email natdesk@npr.org with "Paradise" in the subject line.

The quaint, college town and farming hub of Chico is clogged. People are living out of every hotel in town. Campers line neighborhood streets and the country roads that fan out into the walnut and citrus orchards. Every guesthouse and guest room is full.

When firefighter and Malibu town councilman Rick Mullen got the call last month for the Woolsey Fire, he set in motion a plan his family had long practiced. While he and his crew mobilized to the front lines, his son stayed home and defended their house, even though they were under evacuation orders.

His son and some friends were a small crew who knew what to do, had supplies to survive for days on their own, and they stuck to the plan.

From the air, the scale of the devastation in and around Paradise, Calif., is, simply put, alarming.

Whole neighborhoods and commercial districts are completely decimated, turned to rubble amidst the tall, orange-singed pine trees with blackened trunks. Deeper into the mountains, illegal pot plantations were suddenly exposed — and charred. Then there's the odd home on a ridge top or Rite Aid store that's been randomly spared.

"See how hot that burned, there's nothing left down there," says Dan Tomascheski, talking through a headset over the roar of the helicopter.

It's looking like the House and Senate could be finally coming to agreement on the sweeping Farm Bill. One of the latest big sticking points has been a provision that would limit public review and environmental analysis of forest projects on federal public land.

The Trump administration is pushing this in the wake of the deadly wildfires in California. In his second visit to Paradise, Calif., in as many weeks, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said on Monday that some of the disaster could have been mitigated if there had been more active forest management.

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We are following breaking news out of Thousand Oaks, Calif., this morning. Thirteen people are dead after a shooting at a bar there. That's according to the Ventura County sheriff. NPR's Kirk Siegler is on the scene. He joins us live. Hi, Kirk.

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At the confluence of the Gunnison and Colorado rivers, the town of Grand Junction, Colo., sits in a bowl of a valley ringed by tall mountains, desert mesas and red rock cliffs. For local residents like Victoria Mendoza, sometimes the setting makes her and others feel isolated.

"I know we can't really fix this because it's nature," says Mendoza. "I feel like people in our valley feel like there's only life inside of Grand Junction."

To explain why folks in rural Delta County, Colo. are feeling a lot less anxious than they were a couple years ago, consider the story of Johnny Olivas.

He's digging a line down a steep, dirt driveway, where he'll lay fiber optic cable into a home. His company, Lightworks Fiber, has begun installing badly needed broadband to this remote valley of deserts and aspen-cloaked mesas.

"I didn't know anything about fiber optic, but you catch on pretty quick," Olivas says during a break. "It's a hell of a lot easier than coal mining."

A Wyoming property rights attorney who's long criticized what she calls federal overreach over public land management will take a position as one of the U.S. Department of Interior's top litigators.

The DOI confirmed in an email Monday that Karen Budd-Falen will join the agency as deputy solicitor for parks and wildlife.

You can add Robert Rodriguez to a growing list of Angelenos living right on the brink of homelessness. Rodriguez shares his story, talking softly, as he leans on his walker outside his old apartment. He was evicted the day before.

"Everything is gone," he says. "It's all in storage."

When I was a kid, my family would take summer road trips to the Oregon Coast, where a favorite stop was always Haystack Rock on Cannon Beach. The 250-foot-high, grassy behemoth of an outcropping just off the coast is a prominent backdrop in old family photos.

What I didn't realize back then was just how important a sanctuary this rock was for rare seabirds. I discovered that while on a recent reporting trip in Oregon, when I had a few hours to spare and decided to make the nostalgic, winding drive on U.S. Route 26 from Portland to Cannon Beach.

In Redding, Calif., where the Carr Fire burned more than 200,000 acres and destroyed more than a thousand homes, there's a feeling of desperation. Something has to be done to clear the dense stands of trees and thick brush in the mountains around town, or the next fire will be even worse.

"It's not just global warming," said Ryan Adcock, who grew up here. She was forced to evacuate her home for five days due to the Carr Fire and was taking advantage of a rare smoke free morning walking with her kids along a river front bike path.

Across California and the West, where dozens of large wildfires are burning, public health agencies are urging people to seal off their windows and doors, change filters in air conditioning units and in some places wear masks if they have to go outside for any extended period.

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