Rae Ellen Bichell

Walking through forests across the Mountain West, you might not realize you’re walking past historical artifacts big enough to crush you. These artifacts are pine and cedar trees that have had their bark peeled off in a special way. The trees are a bit of a mystery to archaeologists, and one they’re running out of time to solve.

Our region has attracted the attention of the Terminator.

“I’m right now on a campaign to terminate gerrymandering,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger in a video from Budapest, where he’s shooting his latest film.  

Schwarzenegger is raising money for efforts in four states, including two in the Mountain West, to end the political practice.

We hear about gerrymandering a lot these days, but not necessarily an explanation for what it is. It’s complicated, but not impossible to explain.

The National Park Service is giving museums and universities across the country grants to return ancestral artifacts and human remains taken from Native American tribes over the years.

If the measure passes in November, the town of Golden, Colorado may join a handful of cities that allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. The idea is part of a growing conversation to lower the voting age for state and federal elections as well.

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.

With wildfires burning through much of the West, there’s high demand for big aircraft to come in and battle the flames from above.

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.

The Trump administration announced a new rule on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, called the ‘Affordable Clean Energy Rule.’ It would put regulatory power in states’ hands.

The Obama administration had previously tried to enact something called the Clean Power Plan, which was considered the country’s primary strategy for lowering emissions to meet its 2030 target under the Paris climate agreement.

Over the last 30 years, the West has seen an uptick in the size and frequency of forest fires. Scientists have typically attributed the change to low snowpack and high summer temperatures. But researchers writing in the journal PNAS say the trend could have more to do with rain.

Researchers pulled up maps of forest wildfires from 1979 to 2016 and compared those maps against data on snow, rain, temperature and humidity.

A new species of tick, the longhorned tick, has arrived in the U.S.

In other parts of the world it’s been known to carry diseases that can sicken people and livestock. In East Asia the tick can carry a nasty hemorrhagic fever called SFTS. A study in China looking at SFTS cases there found that 16 percent of people who were diagnosed with the disease died of it.

The Denver Post wasn’t dying, says Larry Ryckman; it was being murdered.

“We were under attack by our own owners,” says Ryckman, who was until recently senior editor of news at the newspaper.

Wyoming and Colorado are in the top ten natural gas producing states. But in those states – and across the country – a lot of that gas is escaping straight into the air. Scientists are now working to come up with a better way to track those leaks down.

The Pew Research Center is reporting that more than a third of large newspapers laid off staff in the last year or so, including in our region.

When The Denver Post laid off about a third of its newsroom earlier this year, senior editor for news Larry Ryckman left to start something new, The Colorado Sun.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed an executive order this week requiring that abandoned oil and gas equipment be plugged up or removed. 

The move comes about a year after an old natural gas pipeline leaked methane into a home in Firestone, Colorado. The home exploded, killing two people and injuring another.

Pikas are fluffy mammals that live at high altitudes across the West. They squeak when danger nears. The squeaky fluff-balls are considered indicators of climate change because they’re so sensitive to heat. Scientists say they have found some of animals in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are behaving strangely.

Jessica Castillo Vardaro, a wildlife biologist with the University of California, Berkeley, studies pika genetics, a field that can involve some unusual data collection methods.

The Bureau of Land Management planned to lease about 18,000 acres of land in southern Colorado for oil and gas drilling. Now, the bureau says it’s holding off so it can consult with the Navajo Nation.

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.

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.

Until fairly recently, it was illegal to harvest rainwater in Colorado. Now, as in a number of other Western states, it’s seen as alternative water source in an increasingly dry landscape. But is rainwater safe?

Sybil Sharvelle, an environmental engineer at Colorado State University, is one researcher trying to answer that question.

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.

Voices continue to mount against the Trump administration's plan to lease land for oil drilling near the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado. The Bureau of Land Management plans to lease more than 20,000 acres of land starting in early September, some of which comes within a mile of the park.

In the summer of 2012, fiancés David Mullins and Charlie Craig tried to order a wedding cake from a shop in a Denver suburb. The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to serve the same-sex couple because of his Christian beliefs. Now, the Supreme Court has sided with the baker, but not for the reason you might expect.

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 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.

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.


In 2016, a wealthy Utah family bought The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah’s biggest newspaper.  Now, the owner has shrunk the 90-person newsroom to just 56, citing waning ad revenue and dropping print circulation. It joins a growing pattern across the country and the Mountain West.

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

Coastal communities across the country are suing oil companies for contributing to climate change. Now, a lawsuit in the landlocked interior joins the list.

At the heart of the lawsuit is this realization: Climate change is expensive. Just look at worsening wildfires and floods nationally. 

Members of Congress are pushing to seal the deal on the status of immigrants who came to this country illegally as children.

The decision was supposed to be made by March 5, but that didn’t happen.

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.

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