Willow Belden

Reporter

Phone: 307-766-5086
Email: wbelden@uwyo.edu 

Willow Belden joined Wyoming Public Radio after earning her masters degree at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Prior to grad school, Willow spent a year in the Middle East on a Fulbright grant, conducting research in a Palestinian refugee camp, and writing for the Jordan Times and JO Magazine. Upon returning to the U.S., she became a reporter and editor at the Queens Chronicle in New York City and received the Rookie Reporter of the Year award from the New York Press Association. This spring, she received the Pulitzer Traveling Fellowship from Columbia University. When she’s not working on stories, Willow spends her time bicycling, hiking, kayaking and traveling. She can occasionally be spotted on a unicycle. And she has a habit of swimming in the ocean with the Polar Bear Club on New Years Day.

Ways To Connect

Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile

Every day, more than 2 billion gallons of water are produced in the U.S. by the oil and gas industry. The water comes up with the oil and gas, and can contain hydrocarbons like benzene and toluene as well as the chemicals that are injected into the well to produce the oil and gas. But the federal government doesn’t treat waste from the energy industry as hazardous, and much of that polluted wastewater is allowed to simply evaporate. That, as others have reported, could could be a problem.

Willow Belden

Former Wyoming Public Radio reporter and host Willow Belden left her job this spring to hike the Colorado Trail. That’s a 500-mile path through the Rockies, from Denver to Durango. She did the journey alone.

The Colorado Trail crosses eight mountain ranges, and climbs nearly three times the height of Mount Everest. It’s mostly above 10,000 feet, so the air is thin, there’s significant danger of lightning strikes, and it often freezes at night. About 400 people attempt the trail each year, but only 150 make it to Durango.

We're joined now by Kathryn Collins. She's a former emergency room physician from Jackson and author of a book called "How Healthy Is Your Doctor?" The book makes the case that eating healthier foods and getting more exercise, people can avoid a lot of common medical problems. Collins says she decided to write the book because she wanted people to know how much power they have to impact their own health.

Democrats Try To Improve Their Legislative Numbers 

Wyoming Democrats have been in the legislative minority for a long time, but it’s been really tough lately.  Only eight of the 60 Wyoming Representatives are Democrats and only four reside in the Senate.  While the party has hopes of grabbing a few more seats this year, there are not enough candidates to make serious gains.  The problem started back in 1991.

motherearthnews.com

The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is the longest off-pavement cycling route in the world. It runs from Mexico to Canada, paralleling the Continental Divide. We're joined now by one of the people who created the route and who just published a guide book for it.

His name is Mike McCoy, and he live in Victor, Idaho. McCoy says the idea for the route grew out of the work he was doing with the Adventure Cycling Association.

Researchers at the University of Wyoming have found that energy development is scaring off river otters in the Upper Green River Basin.

Scientists counted the number of otters in several waterways throughout the Upper Green River Basin in western Wyoming. The rivers farther away from energy development had dozens of otters, but the New Fork River had only two.

Report co-author Merav Ben-David says research shows that otters don’t like the noise and commotion associated with development, and she says another concern could be water contamination.

When there’s an energy boom, it usually brings an influx of workers into the area. And that leads to more demand for housing. That’s great for landlords who are looking to rent out their properties. But as some communities in Wyoming are finding, oil and gas drilling can actually be a problem for people who are looking to sell. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

WILLOW BELDEN: Rhonda Holdbrook owns a real estate firm in Douglas, and she’s exceptionally busy these days. Oil production in Converse County is booming, and energy workers have flocked to town.

The Continental Divide Trail is a 3,000-mile path that stretches from Canada to Mexico, passing through Wyoming and several other states. It was designated a National Scenic Trail in the 1970s, meaning that a mile-wide corridor is protected, for the entire length of the trail.

But the Continental Divide Trail Coalition, which maintains the trail, says the trail still faces threats from nearby development. We’re joined now by the Coalition’s director, Teresa Martinez. She says protecting the trail’s view shed is particularly crucial in Wyoming.

Stories about education: UW's Hathaway Scholarship, a Mexican-Arapaho teacher at Central Wyoming College, and helping students achieve the dream of going to college.

Subscribe to the Wyoming Stories podcast here.

StoryCorps

Bill Schilling is the president of the Wyoming Business Alliance. He was instrumental in getting the Hathaway scholarship passed through the legislature, and he says it’s one of his greatest accomplishments.

The Hathaway allows students to get money for college if they meet certain academic criteria. Here, Schilling talks with former dean of the UW Business School Brent Hathaway. (In case you were wondering – no, the scholarship is not named after him.) Schilling recalls how the Hathaway scholarship came to be.

More elk than usual died this year on two wildlife feed grounds in western Wyoming.

Mark Gocke with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department says about 160 animals died on the Camp Creek and Soda Lake feed grounds. Most were calves.

The reason was a combination of disease and wolf predation. Gocke says they had a very wet spring this year, which made it easy for bacteria to spread.

“It’s probably just a combination of elk being weakened by the disease, and then a predator doing what predators do: they see a weak animal, and they will go in and take it,” Gocke said.

Inmates in Wyoming’s jails and prisons frequently complain that they don’t receive adequate medical care. That might not seem like a huge problem, but the Eight Amendment of the Constitution requires that if prison staff know an inmate has a serious medical need, they have to treat it.

Civil rights groups are worried that serious cases are being ignored. But the Wyoming Department of Corrections says inmates just don’t have a realistic idea of how they should be treated. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

Rebecca Huntington

A slow-moving landslide has displaced homes and businesses in Jackson, and the town has been working to deal with the problem for weeks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with reporter Rebecca Huntington, who’s been following the situation closely. She says from what geologists have said, the cause of the landslide seems to be a combination of natural and human-induced factors.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is drafting rules to curb emissions near Pinedale, but the agency says there are some limitations to what they’ll be able to do.

The Pinedale area violates federal air quality standards because of pollution from natural gas development. DEQ has already imposed stricter rules on new energy equipment, and now they plan to limit emissions from older, grandfathered facilities, as well. But spokesman Keith Guille says they aren't able to regulate everything.

Joe Riis

Scientists in Wyoming have recently discovered the longest mule deer migration route that’s ever been recorded. The animals travel 150 miles, from the Red Desert to the Hoback Basin. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with Hall Sawyer and Joe Riis, who have been documenting the migration. Sawyer is a research biologist at Western Ecosystems Technology,  and Riis is a wildlife photographer. Sawyer says he discovered the migration route kind of by accident.

Joe Kiesecker

The Bureau of Land Management is considering protecting some areas in the Red Desert because of their scenic qualities.

The agency’s Sheila Lehman says they’re considering amending the Rawlins Resource Management Plan, to limit development on parcels of land with important wilderness characteristics.

“There’s the potential to maybe be able to preserve it a little bit more, or by mitigating certain things to keep that quality – that wilderness quality,” Lehman said.

Environmental groups are pleased.

Willow Belden

Interim Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson says he's making it a priority to review Wyoming's setback rules.

Setback rules govern how close oil and gas development can be to things like houses and streams. The current limit is 350 feet.

At an Oil and Gas Commission meeting Tuesday night in Casper, several residents said they'd like to see the distance raised to a mile, because of concerns about potential health impacts of energy production. Watson says they're asking a lot.

Wyoming is one of the easiest places in the country to make money. That’s according to a report by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative advocacy nonprofit.

The report ranks states based on things like labor and tax policies. Report author Jonathan Williams says those factors can help predict job creation and other forms of economic growth.

“We find that … states that value competitiveness, lower taxes, and reasonable regulations are the states that are growing today,” Williams said.

Willow Belden

Several years ago, there were days when air pollution in Pinedale was worse than in Los Angeles. Residents complained of respiratory problems, and visits to local medical clinics increased.  In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency said the area was violating federal air quality standards, and gave Wyoming three years to fix the problem. Since then, air quality has been better. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports, nobody knows whether the problem is really fixed, and some worry that the state is not doing enough to prevent similar problems from happening elsewhere.

The Bureau of Land Management is asking for nearly $3 million to spend on research into birth control for wild horses.

Population growth has made it difficult to manage wild horses, and currently the agency removes horses from public lands in order to maintain an adequate population.

A study by the National Research Council last year concluded that the current practice is flawed, and that the BLM should use birth control instead. But BLM spokesman Tom Gorey says the agency isn’t happy with the drug that’s available.

Stories from two famous Wyomingites: CJ Box and Pete Simpson

Subscribe to the Wyoming Stories podcast here.

The state of Wyoming and a coalition of environmental groups have each filed lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency over its regional haze plan.

The plan, which was finalized earlier this year, requires new emissions controls for coal-fired power plants. The goal is to reduce air pollution.

The U.S. Forest Service is analyzing how additional oil and gas development would affect a 44,000-acre parcel of land in the Wyoming Range. The study will help the agency decide whether to allow energy leasing in the area.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming says that because it’s multiple use land, the Forest Service should continue to allow oil and gas development. But Steve Kilpatrick with the Wyoming Wildlife Federation says new development in the Wyoming Range would harm important wildlife habitat.

Yellowstone National Park has rejected the adoption of new methods to vaccinate bison from Brucellosis.

Brucellosis is a disease that can cause bison and other large animals to abort their calves. Yellowstone currently hand-vaccinates just a few bison, and only when they leave the park. But nearly a decade ago, there were legal disputes over bison management, and the park agreed to look into vaccinating bison in the wild, using air guns.

Two Republicans plan to run for Wyoming’s soon-to-be-open Secretary of State seat.  Current Secretary Max Maxfield announced that he would not seek re-election.

The two candidates are State Representative Dan Zwonitzer of Cheyenne, and Clark Stith, a lawyer from Rock Springs.

Stith says he wants to make government smaller and more transparent.

Pages