Rae Ellen Bichell

Rae Ellen Bichell reports for the Mountain West News Bureau out of KUNC in Colorado. 

Before joining the team, she covered everything from Ebola to butterfly evolution and space toilets as a science reporter for NPR. She also tried freelancing for a couple years in Helsinki, Finland, originally under a Fulbright grant.

Now based in northern Colorado, she spends her free time reading, playing indoor soccer (not very well) and doing a crazy sport called canyoneering. 

You can reach Rae Ellen at rae.bichell@kunc.org.

About 3.8 million babies were born in the U.S. last year. That’s the lowest annual production of babies since 1986, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the same time, fertility rates have hit record lows.

This story was updated May 3, 2019 at 3:40 p.m.

Measles cases have reached a 19-year high in the U.S., but a bill in Colorado aimed at improving childhood vaccination rates didn’t succeed. It didn’t really fail, either. It just got mired in super-long hearings, pushback from the governor and, ultimately, a legislative schedule that ran out of time before the bill could reach the Senate.

“I’m still today trying to figure out exactly what happened,” says Rep. Kyle Mullica, who sponsored the bill.

There’s a fungus wiping out a special kind of toad that lives in the Rocky Mountains, but scientists may have a solution: a probiotic skin soak.

The boreal toad is a tough little animal, with a lifespan longer than a decade, about half of which is spent buried underneath a thick layer of snow high up in the mountains.

“They’re really impressive little guys,” says Tim Korpeta, a graduate student in biology at the University of Colorado Boulder who has recently embodied another title: toad-bather.

An organization called ‘500 Women Scientists’ got its start in the Mountain West. Now, it has gone global with a database of experts who are also women.

It all started when members of the group noticed a pattern: an overabundance of something they call ‘manels.’

“They are all-male panels,” says Liz McCullagh, a neuroscientist at the University of Colorado and a member of 500 Women Scientists. “And in particular in fields where we know there’s a lot of representation of women, it’s incredibly frustrating.”

Chronic wasting disease is crippling deer populations in the Mountain West, around the country and in bordering Canadian provinces. It's not a bacterium or a virus or even a fungus, but caused by something called a prion, a type of protein that all mammals have in their bodies.

Forecasters in Colorado are warning of “very destructive” avalanches as heavy snowfall and strong winds are expected Wednesday.

Avalanches have already buried cars, killed skiers and left chunks of forest scattered across highways and even dangling from power lines in what’s considered a historic avalanche season. But Colorado isn’t alone.

A study in the medical journal BMJ found a strong association between the strength of a state’s gun laws and its rate of mass shootings.

Paul Reeping is an epidemiologist with Columbia University and first author on the paper. He says researchers had already looked at the relationship between gun laws and outcomes like suicide or homicide.

Researchers studying wild black bears have found that eating human food could have a deep impact on the animals’ bodies.

Ecologists tracked 30 wild black bears around Durango, Colorado over a few summers and winters. They also tested their hair and blood.

They found that bears that foraged more on human food hibernated for shorter periods of time.

Paleontologists have found a new species of tyrannosaur based on fossils in Emery County, Utah.

Lindsay Zanno found the fossilized leg bone sticking out of a grey hill in a part of Utah where landmarks get names like "Cliffs of Insanity" and "Suicide Hill."

Senators from across the country and on both sides of the aisle have introduced a bill to tackle a problematic illness of deer, elk and moose.

It's called chronic wasting disease. Like so-called "mad cow," it’s a prion disease, meaning that it is not caused by viruses or bacteria, but instead by aberrant proteins in the nervous system.

The American Hospital Association has released a new report on the state of rural hospitals across the country. There’s good and bad news about how the Mountain West stacks up.

First, the bad news. When it comes to the number of mental health professionals, our region looks like a black hole.

A collection of outdoor trade groups announced they’re forming a collaboration to step up action on climate change.

Chris Steinkamp is the director of one of the trade groups, Snowsports Industries America, which represents snow sports suppliers. He says until recently, brands were hesitant to get involved on such a politically polarized issue -- until, that is, climate change started visibly edging into the reality of their businesses.

Missouri has already made it a crime to label something like a veggie burger or tissue grown in a lab as “meat.” Now, other states are considering doing the same.

Wyoming legislators are scheduled to discuss a bill this week that would prohibit the word “meat” from appearing on a package that does not contain edible parts of what was previously a live animal.  

A Jan. 31 deadline is approaching for the Drought Contingency Plans, a set of agreements between seven states about how to manage dwindling water supplies, including here in the Mountain West.

The region has been in a drought for 19 years now, and water levels continue to retreat in major reservoirs.

In counties across the U.S. voters might notice something way down at the bottom of their ballots: the candidates for county coroner. Coroners are in charge of investigating violent and suspicious deaths, and they’re up for reelection every four years. But should we be electing them at all?

The National Park Service is giving museums and universities across the country grants to return ancestral artifacts and human remains taken from Native American tribes over the years.

With wildfires burning through much of the West, there’s high demand for big aircraft to come in and battle the flames from above.

The Trump administration announced a new rule on greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, called the ‘Affordable Clean Energy Rule.’ It would put regulatory power in states’ hands.

The Obama administration had previously tried to enact something called the Clean Power Plan, which was considered the country’s primary strategy for lowering emissions to meet its 2030 target under the Paris climate agreement.

Over the last 30 years, the West has seen an uptick in the size and frequency of forest fires. Scientists have typically attributed the change to low snowpack and high summer temperatures. But researchers writing in the journal PNAS say the trend could have more to do with rain.

This summer, the housing market was expected to be extremely competitive, with lots of buyers vying for a limited number of homes. But it turns out, the housing market, including in our region, may finally be cooling down.

Lawrence Yun, chief economist with the National Association of Realtors, says home prices have been rising too fast -- much faster than people’s incomes.

A new species of tick, the longhorned tick, has arrived in the U.S.

In other parts of the world it’s been known to carry diseases that can sicken people and livestock. In East Asia the tick can carry a nasty hemorrhagic fever called SFTS. A study in China looking at SFTS cases there found that 16 percent of people who were diagnosed with the disease died of it.

Starting this fall, our region will host something new: a graduate program in space resources.

“This is the very first program in the world that is focused on space resources,” says Angel Abbud-Madrid, the director of the Center for Space Resources at the Colorado School of Mines.

Representatives of state outdoor recreation offices gathered in Denver Wednesday to sign something called the Confluence Accords.

The eight states include Colorado, Utah, Montana and Wyoming.

The Pew Research Center is reporting that more than a third of large newspapers laid off staff in the last year or so, including in our region.

When The Denver Post laid off about a third of its newsroom earlier this year, senior editor for news Larry Ryckman left to start something new, The Colorado Sun.

Pikas are fluffy mammals that live at high altitudes across the West. They squeak when danger nears. The squeaky fluff-balls are considered indicators of climate change because they’re so sensitive to heat. Scientists say they have found some of animals in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains are behaving strangely.

Jessica Castillo Vardaro, a wildlife biologist with the University of California, Berkeley, studies pika genetics, a field that can involve some unusual data collection methods.

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