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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Wyoming Game and Fish

 

It’s true, we got a late start, the snow turning to mush in the warm sun under our snowmobile tread as we head out mid-morning. I'm tagging along with Wyoming Game and Fish Wolverine Biologist Lee Tafelmeyer into the south end of the Wind River Range to take down a motion-sensored camera he's been baiting with roadkill deer and beaver carcasses in an effort to take photos of wolverines. It's all part of a multi-state project to count this elusive species in the West. Last year, they took 53 photos of an estimated five animals.

J. Michael Lockhart / USFWS

 

Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are planning a historic venture this summer. They hope to bring black-footed ferrets back to Meeteetse, where they were found 35 years ago when the species was thought to be extinct.

Black-footed ferrets were thought to be extinct in 1981 when John Hogg’s dog brought a dead one to his ranch house near Meeteetse. Hogg has since passed away. But, on the 25th anniversary of the ferret’s discovery near Meeteetse, Hogg told the story, again.

Taylor Brorby and Ice Cube Press

Fracking: the technique for boosting oil and gas production has been around for decades, but chances are you didn’t hear about it until recently. In just a few short years, the fracking boom has transformed communities across the country… and elicited plenty of emotions from all sides. Fracture is a new book of essays, poems and short fiction on the topic of fracking.

GOOGLE EARTH

The country's two largest coal mines are each laying off roughly 15 percent of their employees. Peabody Energy and Arch Coal both announced the layoffs Thursday morning. The cuts will affect roughly 235 workers at Peabody’s North Antelope Rochelle mine and 230 at Arch's Black Thunder mine.

The layoffs are the first major cuts in Wyoming, which had, until now, avoided the job losses that have affected Appalachia.

Matthew Shepard Foundation

Family members and law enforcement in Gillette fear that the bullying of a gay man in Gillette may have led to a suicide. The issue has once again drawn concern about a variety of issues, including the treatment of LGBT people in the state and whether a hate crime is needed. Jason Marsden is the Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation and we caught up with him this week as he spoke in Gillette. 

Melodie Edwards

Listen to our summer podcasts. 

We trek through knee-deep snow along the banks of the Gros Ventre River near Jackson until we come to a heap of bones and grass. It's what remains of an elk calf.

“Here you go,” he says. “This is what it looks like. And I can tell you on Friday, we were standing in a foot of snow. I tracked the whole attack.”

Wyoming Outdoor Council

This May, the University of Wyoming will award an honorary doctoral degree to Tom Bell. Bell is 92 years old, a writer, World War II Veteran, and renowned conservationist. In 1967 he founded the Wyoming Outdoor Council and in 1970 started High Country News. He joined Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard to talk about how conservation has changed since he first came to Wyoming.

The Modern West #9: Western Art Beyond The Sunset

Mar 14, 2016
AARON WALLIS

Western art isn’t only paintings of horses and sunsets. This month, we’ll explore contemporary expressions of the Modern West. 

Google Earth

Peabody Energy is one of the largest coal companies in the world and operates mines all over the United States. But some of its senior lenders are now recommending bankruptcy, as the company faces potential defaults on several loans.

Melodie Edwards

For years, no one could figure out why birds of prey were turning up with extremely high levels of lead poisoning. The issue made headlines when the newly reintroduced condor in California began dying off from lead exposure. Craighead Beringia South is a group of wildlife researchers in Kelly, Wyoming who were among the scientists who started studying the problem in other species, back in the early 2000’s.

Caroline Ballard

  

Across the United States, women make up just under a quarter of state legislators. In Wyoming, the statistics are even worse – only 13 percent of legislators are women. That makes the “Equality State” 50th in the nation. Part of the problem is no one is asking them to run. 

Bernadine Craft is a state senator from Sweetwater County, and she is the only woman in the state senate. She says that the main reason she is there is because she was asked to run by Senator Rae Lynn Job, who once held the senate seat Craft has now.

Emily Guerin

Dustin Bergsing was a young, fit, bull rider from Montana. On a cold night in January 2012, he climbed to the catwalk on top of a 20 foot tall crude oil storage tank on an oil well pad in North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield. His job was to pop open the small hatch on top and drop a rope inside to measure the level of oil.

Just after midnight, he was found dead by a co-worker, slumped on the catwalk.

Courtesy Sherman Indian High School

This is part two of a series. Listen to part one here.

At the start of his senior year at Wyoming Indian High School, Tim O’Neal was struggling.

“I was just drinking, partying, trying to be cool,” says O’Neal. “It messed with my schoolwork. My whole class schedule—all seven classes—I was failing and there was no way I could make up the grades, so I just asked my parents if I would be able to go to a boarding school.”

Melodie Edwards

It’s standing room only in a large conference room in Riverton, Wyoming. Up front, people mill around a display of old photographs of Arapaho children sent to Carlisle Boarding School in the late 1880’s. One is a before-and-after photo of a boy in braids wearing feathers and jewelry; a second, same boy, now in a starched suit and short Ivy League haircut.

The Modern West #8: The Contemporary Black Western Experience

Feb 16, 2016
PALACE OF THE GOVERNORS PHOTO ARCHIVES 050884

In honor of Black History Month, we’ll hear about the highs and lows of the black experience in the Modern West. 

National Park Service

Yellowstone biologists are winning the war against invasive Lake Trout, and bringing back native Yellowstone Cutthroat.

Yellowstone Lake is a cold place. If you’re out on the lake even in the middle of the summer, you’ll need a jacket. So, when we went out in a boat with Yellowstone’s leader of the Cutthroat Trout restoration project, it was chilly.

Yellowstone Lake is the largest fresh water lake above 7000 feet in north America. It is also very deep, and cold. That is why non-native Lake Trout have thrived here. They evolved in the Great Lakes. 

North Dakotans Reel From Low Oil And Ag Prices

Feb 5, 2016
EMILY GUERIN / INSIDE ENERGY

On the surface, North Dakota doesn’t seem like a state full of risk-takers. It’s conservative, faith and family-oriented. Yet many people here are constantly making big bets on how much money they’re going to make next year, or whether they’re going to have a job in a  few months.

Alejandra Silver / Riverton Ranger, Inc.

    

Next Thursday in Fort Washakie on the Wind River Indian Reservation, tribal and non-tribal community members will gather together to talk about how to solve the problem of escalating racial tensions in the area. The U.S. Justice Department offered to sponsor the meetings following the shooting of two Northern Arapaho men by a white man last summer at a detox center in Riverton. The forums are part of a four-part curriculum intended to build toward a set of practical goals that the community can agree to implementing.

Studio Sessions: Sweetwater String Band

Jan 25, 2016
Sweetwater String Band

Sweetwater String Band is almost a classic bluegrass outfit: guitar, mandolin, upright bass. But in place of the typical fiddle, the quartet goes low to create its signature sound: Cello Driven High Sierra Soulgrass.

A Million Miles 

Flood

Melodie Edwards

For victims of violent crime on the Wind River Indian Reservation, finding help and safety after an attack can be hard. A lack of funding means there are very few services for crime victims there. Recently, the only safe house for victims of sexual assault on Wind River closed down when its funding went dry, forcing victims to risk traveling to nearby towns to shelters off the reservation. But a new bill recently introduced in Congress would make it easier for tribes to get money to run their own safe house.  

Melodie Edwards

Viewed from Interstate 80, the Red Desert appears to be an empty wasteland. But it’s actually home to diverse populations of desert animals, dramatic landscapes…and oil rigs.

Miles Bryan

A few weeks after Cody officer Seth Horn went through Crisis Intervention Training, or “CIT,”  he went out on a call to see a man who was potentially suicidal.

“I started speaking with this person, and some things were lining up with the report that we got,” Horn said in a department conference room. “And then, using the training, I started to ask some very specific questions.”

Coal-Fired Power Plants Clean Up Their Act

Jan 8, 2016
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Fron

 

In Wyoming, nearly 90 percent of electricity comes from coal.  In North Dakota, 80 percent, and in Colorado, 60 percent. Even before the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan is implemented, these power plants must make retrofits to comply with current law that requires scrubbing emissions of dangerous air pollutants like mercury. Most of the nation's coal-fired power plants are racing to comply.

How does that retrofit happen? Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front takes us to the Homer City Generating Station in Pennsylvania to see.

April Barnes

You might think of the Grand Canyon as one of the wildest places in the U.S. But the fact is, the Colorado River that runs through that canyon is not wild at all. Here’s a quote from Cadillac Desert, a documentary on water in the West.

"This river, the Colorado, can be turned on and turned off down to the last drop on orders from the Interior Secretary of the United States," a voiceover tells us. "This was the first river on earth to come under complete human control."

Flickr

Back in 1881, hundreds of Northern Arapaho children were taken from the Wind River Indian Reservation in central Wyoming to the Carlisle Boarding School in Pennsylvania to be assimilated into European culture, but many never returned. Now the tribe is applying to reclaim the remains of 41 of the students who died there.

Yufna Soldier Wolf is the director of the Northern Arapaho Tribal Historic Preservation Office. She says she doesn’t expect the process to be easy.

Wyoming County Commission Association

Imagine buying a house but, when you go to move in, the whole family bickers about who should get which bedroom, how to arrange the furniture, whether to landscape or not. And since no one can decide, you just...let the house sit empty.

eraprorodeo.com

Next fall, Sheridan will be one of eight cities to host the first-ever Elite Rodeo Athletes nationwide tour, which will televised as part of a multi-million dollar deal with Fox Sports. Sheridan is the only Wyoming city on the schedule.

“This event, especially once it develops a following on television, will draw in an audience way larger than just the Sheridan community,” says Sheridan WYO Rodeo board president Nick Siddle.

He says this kind of exposure not only means a wider audience for rodeo, but a boost to the Sheridan economy as well.

Craig Johnson is the author of eight novels in the Walt Longmire mystery series, which has garnered popular and critical acclaim. Johnson, whose main character is Sheriff Walt Longmire, said he does base his characters on family, neighbors and his friends on the Cheyenne reservation.

EMILY GUERIN / INSIDE ENERGY

Everyone knows North Dakota is an oil state. But it’s the state’s coal industry that’s feeling the heat from the federal Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Under the final version of the plan, North Dakota will have to cut its emissions by 45 percent – more any other state except Montana.

Wyoming Migration Initiative, Matt Kauffman

    

In the hills south of Rock Springs, it's blizzarding. But Wyoming Game and Fish biologist Patrick Burke says it's actually great weather for tracking mule deer.

“You know, with no winds like this, and fresh snow,” he says, “that's really good for helping locate animals.”

Burke and other scientists have braved this weather today in hopes of capturing deer with helicopters to put satellite radio collars on them. They've already collared 18, but they want to do 50. 

University of Wyoming Professor Kevin Monteith is one of the group.

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