Rae Ellen Bichell

At a public hearing last year in Boise, Idaho, recent transplant Alicia Peterson urged lawmakers not to tighten vaccine requirements. 

"I, this last year, ripped my whole family from the only home I've ever known, which was California, for these very reasons," Peterson said. "I left for health freedom."

According to the Idaho Statesman, Peterson isn't alone. An investigation by the newspaper found about two dozen others who said "they moved to Idaho because of the state's limited regulation—specifically, the ease of getting a vaccine exemption for schoolchildren."

Back in mid-December, three children were hospitalized with measles after passing through the Denver airport and the emergency department of Children’s Hospital Colorado. The concern was that others might have picked up the disease at those locations. 

Feral pigs cause an estimated $1.5 billion in damage each year, especially to crops. Now concern is mounting they could be at the doorstep in parts of the Mountain West.

The pigs — which an expert at the USDA has called "one of the most destructive and formidable invasive species in the United States" — could come across the Canadian border into Montana, or traipse into Colorado from the feral pig stronghold of Texas.

A group of chemicals called PFAS are common in firefighting foams, as well as household products like rain jackets, pizza boxes and non-stick pots and pans. They've been in use since the 1940s and have come to be known as "forever chemicals" because they persist in the environment.

PFAS, which stands for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, have made their way into watersheds around the world, and as a recent study found, even into raindrops. Some are considered a threat to human health. 

Researchers including Jens Blotevogel, an environmental engineer at Colorado State University, are studying ways to get rid of the compounds. 

Colorado's poised to put the question of wolf reintroduction on the November ballot. One unanswered question is how the predators might affect the spread of chronic wasting disease, if at all.

CWD is a fatal neurodegenerative disease that currently infects deer, elk, moose and reindeer. Critics of wolf reintroduction argue that more predators on the landscape could further spread CWD.

Three children are being treated at a Denver-area hospital for measles, adding to the more than 1,200 cases of the disease reported this year nationwide. Some Mountain West states have already seen measles cases this year, including Colorado, Idaho, and Nevada.

Measles is very contagious, so when a case is identified, it kicks local health officials into high gear, rapidly searching for anyone the patients may have come into contact with. 

This post was updated at 8:30 p.m. with additional information.

About 60 people gathered at the Colorado Capitol Monday for the third and final day of a summit on vaccination. It featured a series of presentations full of reasons why people should not get their children immunized.

Michele Ames says that's a problem.

"The world consensus is that vaccines are safe and effective and they save lives. Period," said Ames, a spokesperson for Colorado Vaccinates, a coalition of groups including Children's Hospital Colorado and the local chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics aimed at increasing vaccination rates in the state.

Nationwide, more and more people are surviving childhood. But researchers found those improvements might not be as big in rural areas. 

A report last year found that child mortality rates had improved. In fact, nationally, it looked like the country had met its 2020 goals. But then researchers took a closer look.

Researchers from a number of states, including Idaho, Colorado and Nevada, have found that grazing does not help get rid of cheatgrass, a highly flammable weed. 

There’s wide variability in state policies about what care to give to women who are pregnant and behind bars. That’s according to a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative, a research and advocacy organization focused on mass incarceration.

“Women's populations in prisons have been growing faster than men's for quite awhile now,” said Wanda Bertram, a spokesperson with the Prison Policy Initiative. “So it's a good time to start looking at how women's experiences differ from men's while they're inside.”

A report out this week shows a significant number of Americans don't have access to basic services like running water. And many of the places that lack plumbing are in the Mountain West.

“Small pockets of communities without complete plumbing exist in every state,” write the researchers, who also say the gap isn’t driven by people who choose to live off-the-grid, but instead by a lack of basic infrastructure. 

Senators from Colorado and Nevada are among those sponsoring a bill aimed at reducing firefighters’ exposure to potentially harmful chemicals. 

Earlier this month the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee unanimously approved the bill, which aims to protect firefighters from being exposed to a group of chemicals known as PFAS that are found in firefighting foams and gear.

Update November 15, 2019 at 3:30p.m.:  

According to Travis Duncan with Colorado Parks and Wildlife: "The commission voted to dismiss both citizen petitions on allowing atlatls and stone broadheads for use in hunting big game at today's meeting. The Commission noted there are no quality standards on sharpness of blades, weight or design on stone projectiles which can lead to inconsistent performance and more injured animals on the landscape."

The original story continues below.

Colorado researchers launched a website Tuesday to help people make difficult decisions about living with dementia. An estimated 5 million people in the U.S. are living with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. 

Researchers writing in the journal Science found that when kids get measles, it can cause “amnesia” in the immune system. 

In much of the Mountain West, measles vaccination rates are below the recommended 95% level.

A growing number of pharmacists across the country are now offering birth control directly to patients -- no doctor’s visit required. That includes pharmacists at grocery stores in the Kroger chain -- like Fred Meyers, King Soopers, City Market and Smith’s -- in addition to Albertson’s and Safeway stores.

Updated Monday, November 18, 2019 to include a visualization of pharmacy closure in the Mountain West.

A national study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that 1 in 8 pharmacies closed between the years 2009 and 2015. 

Counterintuitively, the total number of pharmacies is growing. 

“So you see kind of a net growth at a national level,” said Dima Qato, an associate professor at the University of Illinois College of Pharmacy and an author of the study. “But at the local, at the county, level there is variation. Some areas are not experiencing growth. Some counties are not only experiencing closures but they’re experiencing net loss.”

Governors of Western states have signed letters supporting a pair of bills that would compensate more people who were exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons testing.

Chronic wasting disease is continuing to pop up in deer and elk populations around the Mountain West. But researchers have found one way to help prevent hunters from further spreading the neurodegenerative disease: household bleach.

A few months ago, Tricia Shields was having a regular day at work. 

“I think I was daydreaming at my desk,” says Shields, a resident of Parker, Colorado, who was at the time working at a kidney care center in Denver.

Colorado and Oregon researchers writing this week in the journal Science say there's an urgent need to reevaluate wildfire management practices, calling for more “collaborative governance” and more prescribed fire.

“Science tells us these are fire-adapted ecosystems and we have to get fire back on the ground, and that’s a key strategy for mitigating future fire and also for the long-term resilience of those ecosystems,” said Courtney Schultz, professor of natural resource policy and governance at Colorado State University.

Reservoirs can get messy after a big wildfire. The issue isn’t the fire itself, it’s what happens after. 

Researchers are looking into what may be a peaceful solution to the timeless struggle against a Mountain West rodent. They’re giving prairie dogs birth control. 

After 25 years of running Ellen's Bed and Breakfast in Longmont, Colo., Ellen Ranson got tired of cooking breakfast.

"So we decided to change the name to Ellen's Bed, Bath & Begone," she says.

That left her more time for sleeping in or reading the paper. But that prospect wasn't too exciting, because the local paper had been thinning out for a while, though Ranson says it used to be relevant.

"And now there's news about Frederick or Erie or Fort Collins or something," she says. All are cities she lives near, but not Longmont.

Listen to the full show here.

Using Drones To Fight Climate Change

From more intense wildfires to prolonged droughts, climate change is impacting the ecology of the American West. That's got researchers in our region looking at a new way to fight some of these impacts: drones.

Instructor Graham Dunne is holding up some printouts with faces on them. He tells his students they're smaller than real heads.

"Here's some useless knowledge from being a sniper," he says. "The average human head is 6 inches across by 10 inches high. These are probably half that."

We're at the Flatrock Regional Training Center in Commerce City, Colorado. Usually the people training here are law enforcement, but today they're teachers, principals, bus drivers, coaches and school administrators — 13 of them.

Many parts of the Mountain West are news deserts -- and it’s getting worse. More than 20 counties in our region have no local newspaper. The ones that are left are struggling. And research suggests news deserts contribute to low voter turnout and increasing partisanship

Wyoming lawmakers are exploring the possibility of storing spent nuclear fuel rods to bolster the state budget as coal revenue becomes less reliable. Such storage would be temporary, they say, before the material is sent to a permanent repository. 

James Anderson, a state senator in Wyoming, says the gist would be to store containers of spent fuel at old uranium mines, but the idea is only half-baked. At this point, he and other legislators on a committee created to explore the issue are mostly compiling a list of questions.

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