Montana Public Radio

Jess Sheldahl

Jess Sheldahl is a reporter and host for Morning Edition at Yellowstone Public Radio. She fell in love with public radio after becoming a DJ at the University of Montana’s college station KBGA. Since then, she’s worked at MTPR and graduated with a BA in Journalism from the University of Montana. Born and raised in Montana, Jess understands the importance of reporting on local news and issues that matter to the people who live here. She also enjoys a cold beer and a good book under the Big Sky.

Jason Farrar (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

In an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, Montana’s prisons have stopped allowing in person visits to inmates since March. As cases continue to stack up across the state and inside correctional facilities, difficulties maintaining communication between inmates and their loved ones have also increased. Experts say isolation among inmates can negatively impact inmates' mental health and make it harder for them to adjust once out of prison.


Voters line up in the morning to register to vote and cast their ballots outside the MetraPark pavilion in Billings on Election Day. November 03, 2020.
Jess Sheldahl / Yellowstone Public Radio

In Yellowstone County 83 percent of absentee ballots had been returned as of this morning. Voters in Billings reported waiting two to three hours to register to vote and cast their ballots this morning at MetraPark, the main polling station for the most populated city in the state.

As Yellowstone Public Radio's Jess Sheldahl reports, a few hours after the polls opened at 7 a.m. the weather was perfect for waiting.


Montana health officials announced 80 new cases of the COVID-19 illness July 7, including over 50 cases in Yellowstone County, the majority of which are connected to an assisted living facility in Billings. The new cases break the state’s record for single day total cases reported.

Yellowstone County reported it’s highest single-day tally of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases July 7 with a total of 55.

  As COVID-19 cases continue to rise health officials urge people to practice social distancing to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. One of the simplest ways to keep yourself and others safe is washing your hands with soap and water.

Some university faculty in Montana want the option of requiring students to wear face coverings when the fall semester starts.

Hundreds of people lie on N 27th St. and Second Ave. N in protest of police brutality at the Justice for George Floyd & Black, Indigenous and People of Color In Our Community/World in Billings June 7, 2020.
Nicky Ouellet / Yellowstone Public Radio

Over the past week thousands of people across Montana turned out for locally-organized rallies in support of black Americans and against police brutality. The rallies drew disparate crowds, and while talk got heated at times, the events remained non-violent.

More than a dozen new cases of the COVID-19 illness in Montana can be traced to two separate cluster outbreaks in Yellowstone and Big Horn counties, officials say.

Montana’s June 2nd primary election will be conducted mostly by mail-in ballot due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. As the election approaches we’re expanding on who’s behind the names on your ballot.

Six candidates are running to be Montana’s State Auditor, as incumbent Matt Rosendale campaigns for the U.S. House. YPR News’ Jess Sheldahl spoke with Nicky Ouellet about each of the candidates.

Big sky country and big adventures drew in over 12 million tourists to Montana last year. As the state moves to reopen amid low COVID-19 case numbers, some Montana communities have to weigh the economic importance of tourism with local safety.


The Montana Department of Revenue says hard alcohol sales in March spiked to levels usually just seen during the holidays. 

Gene Walborn, Director of the Montana Revenue Department, briefed state lawmakers in a recent legislative oversight interim committee about the impacts of COVID-19 on the agency.