The Modern West

The Modern West is a rich collection of news and cultural stories from the Mountain West. Features, interviews, oral history, readings, and more offer a snapshot of Western life. Catch our monthly digest of stories on The Modern West podcast.  

Supported in part by a grant from the Wyoming Cultural Trust Fund, a program of the Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources.

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Integrated Test Center Facebook Page

The Integrated Test Center is open for business. The Gillette-based facility is aimed at research and testing new uses for carbon dioxide, say, as a building material, common fuel, or green concrete. Many hope the center will find new, profitable uses for coal — Governor Matt Mead is one of them. In a brief conversation, the Governor discussed his expectations for the project and the risks that come with it.

Tom Koerner, USFWS

Early one spring evening, I meet University of Wyoming Biodiversity Institute’s Zoe Nelson at a rest area between Gillette and Buffalo. Shadows grow long on red bluffs and green sagebrush prairie. It’s that time of night when all the birds are going bonkers. We’re out here as part of a program to get regular folks like me and my husband, Ken—he’s tonight’s driver—to help keep track of short-eared owls. The program is called WAFLS or Western Asio Flammeus Landscape Study.

Kamila Kudelska

The Draper Natural History Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West will open a new permanent exhibition on June 10. The exhibition focuses on the last ten years of research on golden eagle activity in the Bighorn Basin. Golden eagles are a top predator so by studying the top of the food chain, researchers are learning not just about the bird but also about the dynamics of animals they eat and the ecosystem they live in.  

Caroline Ballard

Nearly a quarter of Wyoming’s population is Native American. But how they are portrayed—by Natives and by whites—is complicated.

When a museum receives a mass donation of artifacts, it’s up to the museum staff to document every single object. And this is what happened when the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West received the Paul Dyke Buffalo Cultural Collection

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.

Lyle St. Goddard, 56, is running along a dirt trail on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.  

“It takes me about a lap to loosen up,” he said.

Being a hotshot is a young man’s game.

“I still can do it,” St. Goddard, one of the oldest crew members in the country, said. “I just got to keep in shape. I’ll be okay.”

Kamila Kudelska


Abnormal activity in Yellowstone National Park has some people thinking the end of the world is near. In the past two months, Steamboat Geyser has erupted four times. This is highly unusual for the geyser, which unlike Old Faithful can go years between eruptions. Some believe this means the super volcano that sits beneath Yellowstone will erupt next. But is doomsday really upon us?

Wyoming State Geological Survey

On a bright, cloudless day in southwest Wyoming, Rick Hebdon, a commercial fossil collector, drove over a steep dirt road to one of his quarries within the Green River Formation. He’s been uncovering fossils for most of his life, but it still holds a thrill for him.

Jessica Flock

Over the last few weeks, Native Americans from across the Northern Plains have been traveling toward Fort Laramie National Historic Site in Wyoming. They came by bus, by foot and even by horse. They're here to recognize the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty. 

Kamila Kudelska

Last week the Wyoming Archaeological Society and the Montana Archaeological Society held a joint conference in Billings, Montana. Three years ago, women archaeologists from both Wyoming and Montana started a group called The Sisterhood of the Traveling Trowel.

The group tries to help emerging women archaeologists in their careers. Crystal Allegria and Bonnie Smith are both members of the sisterhood and archaeologists in the Plains Country. Wyoming Public Radio’s Kamila Kudelska speaks with both women on the need to help women archaeologists. Kudelska first asked Bonnie Smith what the group’s goal was this year. 

Chuck Preston

Bear 104 was a female grizzly bear who made her home on the edge of Yellowstone National Park and Shoshone National Forest, near a very heavily used road. As tourists drove to the east entrance of Yellowstone, they would be lucky enough to see Bear 104 and her cubs throughout the years.

The famous aviator first visited Wyoming in 1934. She traveled to Meeteetse for summer break where she stayed on local guide Carl Dunrud’s dude ranch. Earhart fell in love with the region right away. 

  

This is about two very different visions of how we should use land in the American West.

On the Great Plains of Montana, conservationists and tribes want to rewind the clock and return wild bison to the shortgrass prairie. But cowboys and ranchers say if that happens, their way of life – their very culture – will disappear.

Dennis and Judy Shepard
Bob Beck

20 years ago this fall, an openly gay University of Wyoming student was robbed, tied to a fence, brutally beaten, and left for dead on the outskirts of Laramie. He died a few days later. The murder of Matthew Shepard was called a hate crime by local law enforcement officers and it lead to worldwide attention on the topic of LGBTQ rights. His parents Dennis and Judy Shepard remain residents of Wyoming and have dedicated themselves to fight discrimination in the name of their son. Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck talked to them about a number of topics including what it was like to return to Laramie.

Kamila Kudelska

Cody is now the second school district in Wyoming to put guns in the hands of teachers and staff. Unlike Uinta County School District #1, which passed the policy in two months, Park County School District #6 took well over eight months. But what now?

The doe traveled 92 miles farther than the longest mule deer migration route known.
Wyoming Migration Initiative


The longest mule deer migration route weaves across much of western Wyoming. Twice a year, deer travel 150 miles from the Red Desert over the Wyoming Range to Hoback Junction near Jackson. But in 2016, wildlife biologists tracked one doe—#255—trekking that distance plus an extra 92 miles, all the way into Idaho. Wyoming Public Radio’s Melodie Edwards sat down with the Wyoming Migration Initiative’s Director Matt Kauffman to hear the twists and turns of Doe #255’s epic journey. The question is, have scientists discovered a new migration route or is #255 just super spunky?

The Modern West 33: Women In Wyoming, Part 2

Apr 17, 2018
Neltje on her ranch in Banner, Wyoming.
LINDSAY LINTON BUK

More conversations from the series Women in Wyoming…about pushing boundaries and redefining what it means to live in the modern West. Featuring Neltje and Affie Ellis.

Bethany Yellowtail

March is Women’s History Month. Hunter Old Elk, the curatorial assistant of the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, recently took a moment at Northwest College to highlight Women Warriors or Indigenous women of the 21st century. Old Elk who herself is of the Crow Nation and Yakama Nation spoke to Wyoming Public Radio’s Kamila Kudelska about how two Crow women have inspired her to promote contemporary native voices. The first: Bethany Yellowtail.

The Federal Communications Commission starts dismantling net neutrality regulations on April 23, 2018. That could mean when you’re watching that next episode of ‘The Crown” it could buffer endlessly or not. No one really knows yet.  

Mark Zuckerberg is on the hot seat this week. He’s testifying in front of Congress about Facebook user profiles being mined without permission.  

The data breach prompted a “Delete Facebook” movement that hasn’t really gained any traction.

That’s especially true in the Native American community, where Facebook is much more than sharing cat videos or keeping in touch with friends and family.  

Tourists crowd downtown Jackson last summer.
Bob Beck


The University of Wyoming will be launching an Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Management degree this fall. It’s been a three-year effort, but those in the industry have wanted the degree for almost 20 years.

Melodie Edwards

The Bobcat Trapper

Riverton trapper Tom Krause shows me around his workshop where furs of every sort are displayed on the wall.

“I have some pelts here that you might be interested in. To begin I have a melanistic phase of a raccoon, which is a black raccoon or the opposite of being albino.”

Jimmy Emerson via Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Mountain West states like Montana, Colorado and Utah are seeing unprecedented population growth right now. In fact, Idaho is the fastest growing state in the nation. But that’s not the case in Wyoming where the population is shrinking. 

 

Retired electrical engineer Lisa Hecht loves nerding out about solar energy.

The Boise resident has a solar light for emergencies, a solar battery pack she uses to charge her cell phone and a solar oven she swears makes top-notch steel cut oats.

Research scientist Sam Dwinnell puts a new collar on a Wyoming Range mule deer.
Tennessee Watson

For the last 20 years, the Wyoming Range mule deer herd has been in decline, and nobody has been quite sure why. But five years ago a collaborative effort began to radio collar deer, giving scientists a chance to get a closer look at what’s threatening the herd. The research points to disease, predators, and vehicle collisions, to name a few. But the most important variable that’s emerged from the research is habitat loss, which is most evident in the herd’s winter range.

The Modern West 32: Women In Wyoming, Part 1

Mar 27, 2018
Nina (left) with her mother, Nimi (right) at Nimi's home in Casper, Wyoming.
LINDSAY LINTON BUK

Conversations from the series Women in Wyoming…about pushing boundaries and redefining what it means to live in the modern West. Featuring Nimi and Nina McConigley.

Melodie Edwards

The country’s debate over immigration is escalating, and now it’s arrived in Wyoming. A private company wants to build an immigration detention center on the outskirts of Evanston on Wyoming’s western border. This was met with great celebration by many local folks like Uinta  County Commissioner Craig Welling. To him, it means jobs.

This Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people are expected at rallies for gun control across the country. And no one is speaking louder than those who inspired the rallies and who feel they have the most at stake: teens.

For years, Western lawmakers have been trying to change the way we fight wildfires, or at least the way the government funds such work. Now, they may finally get that wish. Congress just passed a measure that would do just that, creating an emergency fund of $20 billion for the Forest Service to fight wildfires over the next decade. It's part of a sweeping new spending deal that the President signed on Friday.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has been pushing for years to make this change.

Cortney Borer in Centennial, Wyoming.
Maggie Mullen

This weekend, hundreds of thousands of teens are expected to march on Washington D.C. and around the country, calling for gun control. The Mountain West News Bureau spoke with two students in Montana and Wyoming who do not plan to march, and are worried gun control reform could change their way of life.

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