Nate Hegyi

Nate is UM School of Journalism reporter. He reads the news on Montana Public Radio three nights a week.

Justin and his buddies look like they're from a special ops team: They're wearing military-style vests and carrying rifles and pistols. But they aren't military, and they aren't police.

"I see myself as a concerned citizen who happens to be armed," he says.

They won't give their last names, citing safety and job security. But on a recent evening they are standing watch over about 200 protesters at a rally about the death of George Floyd in Missoula, Mont.

Four women from the nation's second largest Indian reservation have turned to the federal court system after they were banished by tribal leadership last year.

"It changed our lives," Ute tribal member Angelita Chegup said. "One moment, I had a job, the next moment I didn't."

Banishment is a severe and rare form of punishment in Indian Country. It has its roots in pre-Colonial America, when tribes would banish murderers, thieves or mutineers from their community and into the wild.

This story was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

A privately funded, nonprofit organization is creating a 3.2 million-acre wildlife sanctuary — American Prairie Reserve — in northeastern Montana, an area long known as cattle country.

Ryan Zinke has stepped down as interior secretary, resigning as planned amid a series of ethics investigations. In a tweet he said it's been a "high honor" to serve, adding that the agency has restored public lands, improved public access and "shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs."

So far the president has not nominated anyone as a permanent replacement. The acting secretary is Zinke's deputy David Bernhardt, a lawyer and former lobbyist for the oil industry with longtime experience at the agency.

Lyle St. Goddard, 56, is running along a dirt trail on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana.

"It takes me about a lap to loosen up," he says.

Being a hotshot is a young man's game and St. Goddard believes he's one of the oldest hotshot crew members in the country.

"I still can do it," he says. "I just got to keep in shape. I'll be okay."

St. Goddard supervises the Chief Mountain Hotshots, one of the big employers of young men and women on the reservation. They only hire Natives and they can promise good pay and the chance to travel all over the country.

Ranking U.S. House Democrats are calling for an ethics investigation into Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. They want to know more about a land deal between Zinke's family foundation and a real estate project with ties to the oil and gas giant Halliburton.

On a windy and unseasonably warm winter day in Yellowstone National Park in Montana, spokeswoman Morgan Warthin stands in the middle of a massive, empty valley.

"Yellowstone is so big," she says. "Where do you begin to look?"

She is searching for any of the 52 bison that were set free from two holding pens in mid-January.

Authorities say the bison escaped after somebody used bolt cutters to open up a fence. They soon scattered across an area larger than Delaware, and officials have launched a criminal investigation to find out what happened.

In central Montana, drones are dropping peanut butter pellets on prairie dog colonies. It's part of an effort by biologists to save North America's most endangered mammal — the black-footed ferret (or as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service calls it, the BFF).

Prairie dogs make up the vast majority of a BFF's diet. Save the food and you save the ferret, biologists wager.

Huddled behind his white pickup truck in northwestern Montana, Roland Kennerly stuffs his hands into his coat pockets.

"Oh, this wind," he says. "It's starting to snow now."

The road had turned into a muddy slop leading towards a pocket of socked-in mountains and roadless grassland known as the Badger-Two Medicine area.

"You can only get in there by walking or by horseback, so it keeps it in its natural state," Kennerly says. "I hope it stays that way, for my kids and my kids' kids."