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.

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.

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It used to be conventional wisdom that if you win Phoenix and surrounding Maricopa County, you probably win Arizona.

But this is 2020 and all bets are off. President Trump and his campaign advisors apparently see a path to victory in Arizona without picking up the state's most populous county.

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Arizona is in the news a lot these days.

It's a battleground state in the 2020 election, of course. Recent polls have shown former Vice President Joe Biden with a narrow lead and its Senate race between Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democratic challenger Mark Kelly is considered a toss up.

But Arizona also has the dubious mark as a state with one of the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita in the nation.

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.

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.

In Orange, Texas, just across the Sabine River from Louisiana, a line of cars hundreds deep snakes along a highway shoulder and into a parking lot. A local supermarket has set up an aid distribution center in the hot sun and humidity. Families are packed in their cars, waiting to get the basics: ice, water, a hot meal.

Hurricane Laura is the first major test of whether the Gulf Coast is prepared to handle two disasters at once. Coronavirus case numbers in Southwest Louisiana were already spiking at an alarming rate. Then a Category 4 hurricane came ashore.

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Updated at 4:10 p.m. ET

Anti government activist Ammon Bundy has been arrested for a second time in two days at the Idaho State Capitol. State police gave Bundy a no trespass notice after he entered the state Senate chamber Wednesday morning, less than 24 hours after he was hauled out of the building Tuesday and charged with trespassing and resisting and obstructing officers.

Todd Troyer retired as an ironworker in Milwaukee and moved to rural Wisconsin 15 years ago. The Vietnam veteran has diabetes and heart conditions and gets his prescriptions and insulin through the mail.

When his supply runs low, Troyer, 69, phones in an order to the pharmacy at the nearest VA hospital, in Madison more than an hour's drive away. He depends on the mail especially now during the pandemic, as cases in his region are continuing to rise.

"That's the thing I'm worried about: Is it going to make it here or isn't it? I don't know," Troyer says.

At the Bruneau-Grandview School District in rural southern Idaho, a couple of dozen teachers are crowded into the small library.

They're doing a refresher training for online teaching. In person-classes are scheduled to begin Monday, but with coronavirus cases continuing to rise in Idaho and other states, it's an open question for how long.

Amid pressure from Democrats and some Republicans, the Trump administration is planning to withdraw its controversial nominee to head the federal Bureau of Land Management.

The sprawling public lands agency, which manages roughly a tenth of the landmass of the United States, has not had a permanent, Senate-confirmed director for the entire Trump era.

Republicans up for reelection in key Western states could be facing an uncomfortable vote soon as President Trump's controversial nominee to head the Bureau of Land Management is expected to come before the Senate for confirmation.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco has denied the Justice Department's motion for a retrial in the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, who led an armed standoff against federal agents over cattle grazing near his ranch in 2014.

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