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.

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump meet for their third and final debate in Las Vegas on Wednesday — the only one held in the West — they'll be sparring in an important swing state where six electoral votes are up for grabs.

But there's another number you should know about that likely won't get much attention, even though it's hugely important to many Westerners: 81 percent. That's the amount of land in Nevada that's currently owned, operated and controlled by the federal government.

A large flock of sandhill cranes squawks overhead as Brenden Quinlan watches what's left of an early season snow storm roll off the massive Steens Mountain; the snow turning to sleet and then rain as it soaks the wetlands of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in remote eastern Oregon.

"It's something I find that's medicinal [to] come and hang out here," Quinlan says. "It's quiet."

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. Each weekend, we highlight some of the best stories.

Just after dawn, on a rutted out dirt road west of Las Vegas, Nev., Bureau of Land Management Ranger Shane Nalen steers his four by four over a small hill.

"You never know what you're going to roll up on out here," he says, his dispatch radio squawking in the background.

A panoramic view of the rugged Nevada desert unfolds. But there's also something peculiar. The desert carpet is lit up with reflecting lights shimmering in the soft morning sun.

When 2 feet of rain fell, and the Vermillion River swelled its banks earlier this month, the mayor of Maurice, La., Wayne Theriot, got hit with a double whammy: He lost his home and his office. The two are just a couple hundred yards apart in this small town of about 1,000 people that straddles Vermillion and Lafayette parishes in a largely rural corner of the state.

"You're in City Hall — what's left of it," he says, pointing to the ruined furniture and computers in the tiny three-room building.

In the small flood-ravaged town of Springfield, La., Rachel Moriarity waited more than a week for a center where she could apply for emergency food stamps to finally open in the Am-Vets hall — but she's been turned away at the door.

This week they are processing only those with last names beginning with A through D.

"I don't have a vehicle to get here," she tells a staffer from the state, who replies that due to the volume of applicants in need, there isn't anything they can do.

When a fast-moving, erratic wildfire ignites, firefighters right away try to save homes and steer the flames away from life and property. But experts say the real danger often occurs in the hours after the big wall of flames rips through.

When rancher Cliven Bundy claimed his family of Mormon pioneers had "ancestral" rights to the federal land in and around Gold Butte, Nev., Vernon Lee scoffed.

"As a native, and as the tribe that actually had that land granted by the federal government back in the 1800s, he really doesn't got a right at all," Lee says. "If anybody's got a right it would be the Moapa Band of Paiutes."

Lee, who is a former tribal councilman, is sitting on a lawn chair in the shade of his mobile home on the Moapa River Reservation.

In southern California, an out-of-control wildfire that ignited Tuesday in a mountain pass east of Los Angeles has forced mass evacuations and destroyed an untold number of homes and businesses.

The Blue Cut fire is just the latest inferno to plague the historically dry state. In recent days, fast-moving wildfires have raced into mountain towns and even whole cities, blackening more than 300,000 acres and destroying hundreds of homes and structures.

Even with Cliven Bundy and many of his militia supporters in jail, anger toward the federal government is still running high in some parts of the West.

Clashes between ranchers and federal land managers over grazing rights are continuing. In southern Utah, things have gotten so bad lately that some local sheriffs have threatened to arrest federal rangers who try to close forest roads and cut off access to ranchers and other users.

Sometimes it's hard to tell whether Garfield County Sheriff James "Danny" Perkins is serious or pulling your leg.

Stanton Gleave hardly fits the stereotype of a modest, keep-to-himself Western rancher.

Standing in a collection of muddy pens taking a break from shearing sheep near his home in tiny Kingston, Utah, Gleave gives an earful about his frustrations with the Bureau of Land Management and environmental groups.

"That's who we're actually fighting with," says Gleave. "They've indoctrinated and got into this BLM and Forest Service 'til a lot of 'em are right up in the head positions now."

The out-of-control wildfire burning in northern Alberta has fire officials south of the border casting a nervous eye toward the summer.

The latest news that the Canadian blaze has moved into oil fields after destroying parts of an entire city comes as the U.S. Forest Service issues its annual wildfire forecast for the Western United States Tuesday.

In Utah, the Alta Ski Area gets to keep its slogan "Alta is for Skiers."

A federal appeals court has upheld the resort's long-standing snowboarding ban in a legal challenge brought by a group of local snowboarders.

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The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. Big Trees Lodge.

Visitors to Yosemite National Park could be forgiven for not recognizing those hostelries' names.

They used to be called — and were famously known as — the Ahwahnee and Wawona hotels.

"It's just really surreal," said Monica Hubert, a former manager of the Wawona. "I mean, it's a National Historic Landmark."

The hotels and other Yosemite landmarks have been renamed because of a contract dispute.

The defiant leader of the anti-federal lands movement, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, is now facing multiple felony charges — including conspiracy and assault on a federal officer — in the 2014 standoff at his Nevada ranch.

Bundy, who inspired the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, was arrested at the airport in Portland, Ore., Wednesday night, apparently on his way to Malheur.

In a 32-page criminal complaint, prosecutors allege Bundy and his co-conspirators led a massive, armed assault against federal officers in April 2014 near the town of Bunkerville, Nev.

Two days after law enforcement officers shot and killed one of the armed occupiers of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon, the FBI released an aerial surveillance video of the incident.

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Ever since a tense, armed standoff near Cliven Bundy's Nevada ranch in 2014, a vast and sensitive piece of federal public land adjacent to the Grand Canyon has gone unmanaged and unpatrolled.

It's safe to travel into the area called Gold Butte so long as you're not in a federal vehicle, according to Jaina Moan of Friends of Gold Butte, which wants to see the area federally protected.

The last time there was any known federal presence was last summer, when scientists under contract with the Bureau of Land Management were camped here, gathering field research.

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Nearly two weeks after members of a self-styled militia occupied the remote Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in an apparent protest over how the U.S. government treats cattle ranchers in eastern Oregon, it appears things are no closer to a resolution.

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Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit



Last year, snowpack across the Sierra Nevada was just 5 percent of average. Up and down the West Coast in fact, the 2014-2015 season was marked by late openings, early closings and some resorts not opening at all.

This year's strong start will be good news for farms and cities down the mountain later, but it's especially promising right now for people like Andy Wirth, the resort's CEO.

He took over in 2011, a record snowfall year, only to be followed by three dry years and then last year, the driest in 1,200 years.

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With two deadly mass shootings in California and Colorado in the past week, this country is again in a fierce debate over gun control.

After the massacre in San Bernardino, President Obama encouraged states to take the lead on preventing gun violence. Both California and Colorado have responded to mass shootings recently by passing tougher gun laws.

Protests over racial discrimination on college campuses are leading to some swift responses and pledges of reform by college administrators. Even as the protests themselves appear to be quieting down ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday, activists are pledging a prolonged fight.

When cacao farmers like Emilio Rivera first heard of a government-backed initiative that would help them prune branches and leaves from their trees, they were skeptical.

After all, a lush cacao tree with more, not fewer, branches meant more profits, the farmers said. That's been the traditional way of thinking for generations of cacao farmers here in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Schools tend to be the center of the community in small towns across America. That's probably never been more the case for Middletown, Calif., than right now.

Last month, when a wildfire destroyed more than half of the town in the mountains north of San Francisco, the schools were miraculously spared. They've since reopened and are offering a respite from the sad, day-to-day struggles many students and staff are facing.