The Mountain West News Bureau's Year In Review

Jan 4, 2019

2018 was an interesting year for our region. From elections and population growth to an evolving debate about public lands use, the Mountain West News Bureau tackled all kinds of stories. We took a look back.

First, a record number of Native Americans ran in the midterm election this year. In the months before Election Day, we spoke with Tara Benally as she went knocking door to door across the Navajo Nation in San Juan County, Utah.

"I'm sure these people will be pretty surprised to see us here," she said.

Benally is Navajo and worked with the Rural Utah Project, a nonpartisan voter registration group. She and others told us Navajo voters face all kinds of obstacles from lack of access to early voting to blatant discrimination at the polls.

Despite those challenges, San Juan County did end up making some history this election. Two Native Americans were elected to the County Commission. That makes a majority in support of the original boundaries for Bears Ears National Monument.

Another story in Indian country that we reported on was the alarming number of indigenous women that are murdered or go missing in North America.

It could be as many as 300 every year, but no one really knows, because no one is keeping track. We spoke to Annita Lucchesi back in July.

"After kind of doing some googling, I realized well nobody has the right number," she said.

Lucchesi is Southern Cheyenne. She told us that she's creating her own database by filing public record requests with local law enforcement agencies.

Right now, local police aren't required to file reports to be included in the FBI's database unless the person is a juvenile.

"I would venture a guess that if we did have the data, it would show that native women are more disproportionately represented," Lucchesi said.

The U.S. Congress introduced Savanna's Act in 2017. It requires an annual report on the number of missing and murdered indigenous women. The Senate passed the bill, but it was blocked in the House by Republican Bob Goodlatte who chaired the House Judiciary Committee. Congress will now need to start from scratch in the new session.

We also did a number of stories on the region's extensive public lands. One of the most surprising stories came out of Yellowstone National Park in June. Superintendent Dan Wenk was forced out of leadership by the Trump administration.

"I'm feeling like I devoted 43 years of my life. I think I have a record of achievement with the National Park Service that at the end of the day doesn't matter," Wenk said, in an exclusive interview with the Mountain West News Bureau.

The Interior Department selected Cameron Sholly to be the new Superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. Sholly took over in October.

And, if you've been listening to some of our reports on public lands you may have noticed that climate change has come up a lot. And if you're getting a little bit anxious about that, you're not alone.

Groups like the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association have been publishing reports on how the fear of climate change can harm mental health.

We spoke with Laura Schmidt back in the fall. She's started a support group in Salt Lake City for people to talk about their climate anxieties.

"You can see this as a great opportunity for connection and meaning and community building, or you can sort of shut down and look the other way," she said.

Schmidt's group has now expanded into other parts of the country, as well as into Canada and Europe.

Talking about expansion, our region continues to grow. And that growth isn't always a good thing. That has been especially true for housing and rental markets.

Boise continues to be the fastest growing city in the country and in September, we introduced you to one middle schooler there named Caydden Zimmerman. He's one of 2.5 million children that are homeless in the U.S.

"My friends know about it—me being homeless—they don't tease me on it. They just know that I'm doing it, I'm trying to work hard. It's just an effort to try not to break down," he said.

Caydden and his family were eventually able to move into a house. It's about 700 square feet and they share it with another woman from the shelter. His grandma said it's not the greatest, but it's not the worst. For Caydden, he said "This is home!"

We'll be checking back on this story and the many issues in our region in the New Year.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.