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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.

It's the first day of school in Missoula, Mont., and Elongo Gabriel, a Congolese refugee, is dropping off his young son and two daughters.

A proud father, he has a wide grin. "For me it's like a dream to get a chance for my kids to study here," he says.

Getting here, to a safe place, has been a long and traumatic saga. His family fled war in their home country where Elongo worked for a human rights NGO. They then spent six years in Tanzania in a destitute refugee camp, with little to no schooling available and on most days only cassava to eat.

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Rural southern Utah is cowboy country, and with it comes a deserved reputation of being a meat and potatoes kind of place. So after a recent three-day hiking trip in Bryce Canyon National Park, when Kim Johnson saw a sign advertising a Tandoori Taqueria, she pulled over immediately.

Johnson and her family, who live in Salt Lake City, are vegetarian.

"We've eaten a lot of Subway sandwiches [this trip]," she says, laughing. "And a lot of large side salads because it's a pretty meaty environment here."

About 300 miles south of Salt Lake City, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is at the heart of some of the most remote terrain in the lower 48. Famous for its red rock canyons, arches and fossil beds, the rugged land is punctuated by sites like Death Ridge, Carcass Canyon and Hell's Backbone Road.

Those names staked on the old maps by the region's first white settlers tell you all you need to know about how harsh, brutal and beautiful the land is.

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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.

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."

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.

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.

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