Kirk Siegler

Kirk Siegler covers the western United States for NPR's national desk, a position he's held since December of 2012.

Based at NPR West's studios in Culver City, California, Siegler's reporting focuses on issues including the far-reaching environmental and economic impacts of the drought in California and the West. He also covers the region's complex – and often bitter – disputes around land use. On this beat, his assignments have brought listeners to the heart of anti-government standoffs in the region, including a rare 2014 interview with recalcitrant Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy. Siegler also recently took listeners to the front lines of wildfires while embedded with an all-Native American hot shot crew from Arizona. Siegler also contributes extensively to the network's breaking news coverage. Assignments have taken him from Newtown, Connecticut, to tornado-ravaged Oklahoma, to a pair of labor disputes that threatened to shut down West Coast ports.

In 2015, Siegler 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. Siegler's work has also won numerous Edward R. Murrow and Associated Press awards in Colorado and Montana, where he landed his first reporting job in 2003 serving as Montana Public Radio's first statehouse bureau chief.

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. He is an avid skier and enjoys traveling and visiting his family and friends scattered across the globe.

No cargo will go in or out of 29 West Coast ports this weekend.

It's the third partial shutdown in operations at these ports in a week, the result of a bitter labor dispute between shipping lines and the union representing 20,000 dock workers. The dispute has been dragging on for eight months, and now the economic impacts of the shutdown are starting to be felt.

Los Angeles is considering raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, from $9 currently. The dramatic proposal is causing excitement and some anxiety.

San Francisco and Seattle have already passed a $15 minimum wage (they'll rise to that level over the next few years), but what's different in LA is the number of working poor in this huge city.

In Southern California many schools are facing tough questions about measles.

California is one of 20 states that allow students to opt out of school vaccination requirements when those rules conflict with their parents' personal beliefs. Many affluent areas along the California coast are home to schools with some of the highest "personal belief exemption" rates in the country. And that is creating some tension for administrators and health officials.

There's a PSA that greets you on the radio when you're driving the flat stretch of Colorado State Highway 113 near the Nebraska state line: "With marijuana legal under Colorado law, we've all got a few things to know. ... Once you get here, can't leave our state. Stick around, this place is pretty great."

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A year ago, as part of our series on the Great Plains oil rush, we brought you the story of a 36-year-old father who had recently lost his job when one of the last major timber mills in the Northwest shut down. After several years struggling to find steady work and even after going back to school, Rory Richardson decided to commute 550 miles from his home in far western Montana, to a place where jobs are plentiful - the oil fields of North Dakota. But after a little more than a year, he and his family have decided the toll is just too great.

The small city of Orange Cove, at the doorstep of the Sierra Nevada in central California, was suffering the brunt of the state's drought in April.

The rolling hills around the town are lined with citrus groves, and most people work on farms. As the irrigation canals dried up last summer, so did the economy.

"If there's no water, there's no work," Salvador Perez told NPR at the time.

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It's been nearly a year since Colorado made recreational marijuana legal, and since then, pot has become a billion-dollar business in the state. And some growers have made it a mission to make it legitimate and mainstream.

"Change the face," says pot entrepreneur Brooke Gehring. "But really, not to be the stereotype of what they think is stoner culture, but to realize they are true business people that are operating these companies."

Ask Northern California sheep rancher Dan Macon what this drought is doing to his pocketbook and he'll break it down for you real quick.

"It's like if you woke up one morning and lost 40 percent of the equity in your house," he says. "Our primary investment in our ranch is in these sheep and we just sold 40 percent of our stock."

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Colorado is one of the battleground states where Republicans made big gains this week. Republicans in the state believe they now have momentum going into the 2016 presidential election.

But the GOP has suffered some punishing losses there lately, owing in part to the state's changing demographics. That trend may still be a big factor in 2016.

The last time Republicans won a U.S. Senate seat here was when Wayne Allard was re-elected in 2002. Back then, Congressman and now Senator-elect Cory Gardner was a young staffer working behind the scenes for Allard.

Think of California's Santa Barbara County and you might picture the area's famous beaches or resorts and wineries. But in the northern reaches of the vast county, oil production has been a major contributor to the economy for almost a century.

So it's no surprise that the oil industry there is feverishly organizing to fight a local ballot initiative — Measure P — that would ban controversial drilling methods such as hydraulic fracturing. What is turning heads, however, is the sheer volume of money flooding into this local race, mainly from large oil companies.

The past few years have been California's driest on record. Forecasters predict that punishing droughts like the current one could become the new norm.

The state uses water rationing and a 90-year-old water distribution system to cope until the rains come. The system is a huge network of dams, canals and pipes that move water from the places it rains and snows to places it typically doesn't, like farms and cities.

In California's rural Central Valley, a candidate's identity means everything in politics. Just take the race between first-term Republican Rep. David Valadao and Democrat Amanda Renteria for the state's 21st Congressional District seat, which is attracting some unusual attention this fall.

In a midterm election year where immigration remains a thorny subject, both Valadao and Renteria talk openly about the need for Congress to pass the stalled comprehensive reform bill.

For the first time in nearly two decades, federal money is beginning to flow into gun violence research. And there's growing momentum behind creating a reliable national reporting database for firearm injuries and deaths.

On the front lines at the Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, one of the top trauma hospitals on the West Coast, researchers like Dr. Demetrios Demetriades hope to get a better picture of the scope of the problem, so states can better target their prevention programs.

Steel mills, unions and the Democratic Party have defined politics in Pueblo, Colo., for decades. But that doesn't discourage George Rivera.

"When we look at values, when we look at who we are, especially as Hispanics, our values tend to be conservative," Rivera says.

Rivera, a retired deputy police chief, is going door to door for votes in a neighborhood east of downtown, near where he grew up. Last summer, he unseated local Democrat Angela Giron in the state Legislature, in a high-profile recall election that focused on guns.

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After cancelling a string of campaign events and fundraisers this week, Montana Democrat John Walsh announced Thursday that he would drop out of the race for the U.S. Senate.

"I am ending my campaign so that I can focus on fulfilling the responsibility entrusted to me as your U.S. senator," Walsh said in a statement. "You deserve someone who will always fight for Montana, and I will."

He will serve out the remainder of his Senate term, which expires in Jan. 2015.

At the Utah State Capitol, a mural of Brigham Young and the first Mormon pioneers brings some color to the building's spartan rotunda. Beneath it is a more modern sculpture — a woman walking forward with her son, who's holding a globe.

Underneath the statue are the words "Immigration and Settlement." The symbolism isn't lost on state House Speaker Becky Lockhart.

"Utah is a place that understands the value of immigration, the value of peoples coming to find a better life," she says, pointing up at the sculpture.