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.

According to the Western Governors Association, species like the Canada thistle and common carp aren’t just nuisances -- they’re a matter of western biosecurity.

Dozens of young children were reunited with their parents yesterday after being separated at the border under the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” immigration policy. The government is still working to reunite many more children with their parents, some of whom are being held at a detention center in Aurora, Colorado.

One of the world’s biggest firefighting aircraft is based in Colorado Springs. But it's fighting fires in California right now, rather than in the Mountain West.

Nuclear testing during the Cold War sent radioactive fallout far away from the actual test sites. Politicians are moving to expand who can be compensated by the government for getting sick after exposure to that fallout.

A study in the journal Science says a lot more methane is leaking from oil & gas sites than previously thought -- about 60 percent more than the current estimate from the Environmental Protection Agency.

The fossil skeleton of a carnivorous dinosaur recently found in Wyoming was just auctioned off in Paris. Paleontologists are worried the sale is part of a trend that will keep specimens from our region out of the hands of scientists.

Wildfire season is ramping up in the region. Fire teams are now working to quash one outside Durango, Colorado, and Utah recently stopped another. That state is now doing prescribed burns to reduce the chance of a bigger blaze.

In the summer of 2012, fiancés David Mullins and Charlie Craig tried to order a wedding cake from a shop in a Denver suburb. The owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop refused to serve the same-sex couple because of his Christian beliefs. Now, the Supreme Court has sided with the baker, but not for the reason you might expect.

The Interior Department wants to open up a quarter-million acres at national wildlife refuges for hunting and fishing.

The move would impact 21 states. In our region, it would expand hunting at a refuge in Utah  and another in Montana. It would also open Montana’s Swan River refuge to big game hunting for the first time.

Until fairly recently, it was illegal to harvest rainwater in Colorado. Now, as in a number of other Western states, it’s seen as alternative water source in an increasingly dry landscape. But is rainwater safe?

Sybil Sharvelle, an environmental engineer at Colorado State University, is one researcher trying to answer that question.

A bipartisan group of Colorado lawmakers kicked off an anti-gerrymandering campaign this month. They want to take redistricting decisions out of the hands of state legislators and put it into the hands of twelve voters.

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.


Over the last decade or so, states in the Mountain West region have used less and less coal to make electricity. Wind is one of the energy sources replacing it.

Colorado’s biggest wind farm is set to be completed by this fall — and it might even help keep a piece of state history intact.

In 2016, a wealthy Utah family bought The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah’s biggest newspaper.  Now, the owner has shrunk the 90-person newsroom to just 56, citing waning ad revenue and dropping print circulation. It joins a growing pattern across the country and the Mountain West.

Dan Salkeld doesn’t like plunging toilets, filling out tax forms, or clipping his children's toenails. But he loves collecting ticks in Colorado.

In a flurry of lawsuits stretching across the West, conservation groups are accusing the federal government of failing to protect a rare bird: the sage grouse. This week, the groups involved in one of those lawsuits came to a legal truce.

Old Faithful gets all the attention, but a geyser called Steamboat is the world’s tallest active geyser. And it’s acting a little odd.

The spring thaw is upon us, and parched western states will be watching closely as snows melt and rivers rise. Fancy satellites monitor water levels in the biggest rivers, but they don't spot the smaller streams and waterways that feed into them. Now, some Colorado scientists have hit on a new way of tracking those smaller streams — inspired, by Pokemon.

Members of Congress are pushing to seal the deal on the status of immigrants who came to this country illegally as children.

The decision was supposed to be made by March 5, but that didn’t happen.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for an investigation into the National Park Service, pointing to a report they say follows a "pattern" of censoring scientists who study climate change. So I checked in with the scientist who wrote the latest report and is now worried about her future.

The tamarisk plant, also called saltcedar, is infesting waterways across the West. The scaly-leafed shrub can grow taller than a person. It sucks up a lot of water and spits out salt, making the soil around it too salty for other plants to grow.

“It’s very bad, yes,” says Alex Gaffke, a graduate student in land resources and environmental science at Montana State University.

Details are unfolding about how British data-mining firm Cambridge Analytica influenced national elections. Meanwhile, a newly surfaced document suggests the group also had a hand in our region -- and in one especially tight Senate race in Colorado.

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.

A fierce debate is taking place across the country right now: What to do about immigrants who came here illegally as children. Up until recently, they qualified for a program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which protects them from deportation. But the Trump administration rescinded that Obama-era rule and Congress is debating what will take its place.  

We talked to three people affected by that debate right here in the Mountain West.

Colorado Springs, Colorado

Courtesy of the Amache Preservation Society

In the spring of 1942, official posters went up across the West Coast and Arizona. All people of Japanese ancestry had one week to report to assembly centers.

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