National Geographic

Forests on utah’s public lands may soon be torn out. here’s why.

By Jennifer Oldham, September 3, 2019

IN AMONG THE quietest places in the continental United States, where the discordant whine of newly hatched cicadas is usually the loudest sound, the metallic growl of a 28-ton masticator overpowers all as it shreds towering pinyon pine and gnarled juniper into fragrant bark piles. It spares a twisted gambel oak, the cicadas’ honey-colored exoskeletons hanging from the tree’s branches. Machine tracks in the sand frame the site near Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a harbinger of its vanishing solitude. The federal government plans to remove an unprecedented number of trees here, it says to reduce fire risk, improve habitat for greater sage grouse, and increase forage for cattle and a world-renowned trophy-hunting deer herd. And it plans to do it fast. The Bureau of Land Management failed to conduct a thorough environmental analysis of the project that considered the impacts of cutting trees on the climate, said scientists who appealed to a federal review board to stop it. If approved, the effort could define how the nation’s most sensitive public lands are managed for a generation. Read More >>

Reveal at the center for investigative reporting


By Jennifer Oldham, March 8, 2018

SAN JUAN COUNTY, Utah – A steep rock ledge, known locally as Ruin Point, stands sentinel over public lands rich with Native American antiquities preserved from the sands of time. More than 700 years ago, ancestral Puebloans incised images of mountain sheep into sandstone faces now visible from dusty roads carved into canyons. Pieces of red and black-on-white pottery are scattered about snowy mesas, along with ancient corncobs and stone tools. Cliff houses wedged into crevices hide in plain sight, the blocks and mortar used to craft them blending seamlessly into steep stone walls. Now, the 13,000-year-old historical record of Native Americans who inhabited the outskirts of two national monuments near the Colorado-Utah border is facing an unprecedented threat. On March 20, the federal government is scheduled to auction off almost 41,000 acres in southeast Utah to oil and gas companies under expedited lease sales ordered last year by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Read More >>


Oops! Federal Officials Divulged Secret Info About Native American Artifacts

By Jennifer Oldham, July 18, 2018

Federal officials mistakenly published confidential information on locations and descriptions of about 900 ancient cliff dwellings, spiritual structures, rock art panels and other Native American antiquities in Utah. The Bureau of Land Management posted a 77-page report online that included unique identifiers for priceless artifacts as it prepared to auction the most archaeologically rich lands ever offered for industrial use. The report exposed ruins spanning 13,000 years of Native American history to vandalism and looting, and experts say the BLM violated federal regulations that prohibit publicly sharing information about antiquities. Read More >>


Potent pot, vulnerable teens trigger concerns in first states to legalize marijuana

By Jennifer Oldham, June 16, 2019

DENVER — The first two states to legalize recreational marijuana are starting to grapple with teenagers’ growing use of highly potent pot, even as both boost the industry and reap huge tax windfalls from its sales. Though the legal purchase age is 21 in Colorado and Washington, parents, educators and physicians say youths are easily getting hold of edibles infused with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the psychoactive component that causes a high, and concentrates such as “shatter,” a brittle, honey-colored substance that is heated and then inhaled through a special device. Each poses serious risks to adolescents’ physical and mental health. “Underage kids have unbelievable access to nuclear-strength weed,” said Andrew Brandt, a Boulder, Colo., software executive whose son got hooked while in high school. Read More >>

in A booming state, public schools grapple with asbestos, leaks and four-day weeks

By Jennifer Oldham, March 7, 2019

MANZANOLA, Colo. — Asbestos floats down from the gym ceiling at Manzanola Elementary. Gaping cracks crisscross cinder-block walls. The drinking fountains need filters because of high levels of uranium and radium in the water. Superintendent Tom Wilke’s repair list goes on. Just a short walk away, in the town’s junior-senior high school, he points out the art room where sewage backs up during heavy rain. Almost half of the 95-year-old building’s classrooms regularly have no heat, he notes. And then there’s the auditorium. “This ceiling could cave in tomorrow,” said Wilke, an energetic presence who has led the 151-student district for four years, while also serving as the elementary school principal, high school principal, maintenance director and assessment coordinator. “It’s one thing after another, and it’s never ending.” But the challenges facing this rural district on Colorado’s arid southeastern plains aren’t so unique. Across the increasingly affluent state, which boasts powerful job growth and one of the highest percentages of college graduates in the country, public K-12 systems are in deep trouble. Read More >>

Vast forests of dead or stressed trees prompt new federal approach to restoration out West

By Jennifer Oldham, December 7, 2018

Hikers climbing above tree line in Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest nowadays encounter a startling landscape: the gray skeletons of millions of dead lodgepole pine. It is on these slopes of the Rocky Mountains that the U.S. Forest Service would pioneer a novel approach to rid forests of the detritus from “epidemic levels” of beetle infestations that wiped out 38,000 square miles of trees — an area larger than the state of Maine. Read More >>

Intense fight over Colorado oil and gas setbacks could end with national precedent

By Jennifer Oldham, October 16, 2018

DENVER — A years-long fight over how close oil and gas drilling can safely be to places where people live and work is coming to a head with an unprecedented November ballot measure that would ban such operations within at least half a mile of homes, schools, businesses and waterways. Proposition 112 is pitting homeowners against Fortune 500 companies and even neighbor against neighbor. The stakes involved are immense in a state that is the nation’s seventh-largest oil producer and fifth-biggest supplier of natural gas. Read More >>

In the nation’s ‘hail alley,’ fierce storms and booming growth are on a costly collision course

By Jennifer Oldham, September 28, 2018

COLORADO SPRINGS — The fusillade was over in a matter of minutes, but by then 14 people had been hurt, numerous animals killed, 538 cars totaled and virtually every roof in the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo destroyed.  Although it was the epicenter of the ferocious hailstorm — one that dropped ice bombs the size of baseballs — the acclaimed facility had much company in its misery last month. The famed Broadmoor resort suffered extensive damage, with its golf course left a crater-pocked mess. Thousands of homes had their roofs shredded, even those capped with one-inch-thick concrete tiles. This year is lining up to be the 11th in a row in which hail-pummeled homeowners incur at least $10 billion in losses, which represents almost 70 percent of insured property losses from severe storms annually. The mounting sums have prompted a renaissance in hail research, with scientists trying to comprehend what causes these cataclysmic tempests and if they could worsen as the planet warms. The impacts are outpacing advances in forecasting, detection and mitigation. Read More >>

Too few ‘fire bombers’ as Western states burn this summer

By Jennifer Oldham, August 19, 2018

DENVER — The captain lined up his 747 airtanker with the Holy Fire incinerating California’s Cleveland National Forest and prepared to steer the retrofitted freighter straight into the jaws of hell. Following a tiny spotter plane silhouetted in a cockpit window against the smoky inferno, the pilot descended toward the trees and released 19,000 gallons of magenta retardant. Dubbed the “Spirit of John Muir,” the jumbo jet has attained Hollywood-like celebrity on social media and television this summer. Between July 7 and Aug. 9, it flew 41 sorties over 10 massive blazes scorching the Pacific Coast. Jittery residents pleaded for it to be sent to save their homes. “We’ve had phone calls from individuals on our line in California desperate to know what is going on and asking us, ‘Why isn’t the plane flying?’ ” said Roger Miller, a managing partner at Alterna Capital Partners, which counts Global SuperTanker Services among its aviation assets. The “fire bomber” is among the scores of airtankers and helicopters attacking record-breaking wildfires in states across the West. Yet demand for such resources far exceeds supply. Read More >>

Education next

K-12 Accreditation's Next Move

By Jennifer Oldham, Winter 2018

The current generation of American public-school students has grown up in the era of centralized, standardized data. Anyone curious about how local schools were doing could look at pass rates on annual exams in math and reading, the foundation of federally mandated, test-based accountability. New rules are poised to change this system. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), written to shrink the federal government’s reach, enables states to embrace a more holistic approach to quality control. Test scores are still important, but so are attendance, school climate, graduation rates, and other non-academic measures. As states redesign their accountability systems, the challenge is how to best measure, report, and utilize this information to improve student learning. One industry is offering itself up for the job: accreditation. Read More >>

the los angeles review of books

“The Newcomers” Is an Antidote to Anti-Refugee Rhetoric Invading Politics

By Jennifer Oldham, February 10, 2018

As the Trump Administration prepares to allow fewer refugees into the United States this year than at any time in the 38-year history of the Refuge Act, Helen Thorpe’s The Newcomers: Finding Refuge, Friendship, and Hope in an American Classroom seeks to shift the nation’s polarized immigration debate away from viewing refugees as a burden and toward acceptance of their rich contributions to the United States’s culture. In her third nonfiction work, Thorpe recounts the year and a half she spent with several dozen teenage refugees as they struggled to learn English at Denver’s South High School. With a student body that reflects the faces of the globe’s worsening refugee crisis, South High serves as a microcosm of the larger national debate over resettlement.  Read More>>


A nonprofit gourmet products manufacturer shows how the “social enterprise” approach to women’s poverty could work.

By Jennifer Oldham, May 22, 2018

DENVERMichelle Potter has found a sense of self-confidence for the first time since she dropped out of school at age 14. A recovering meth addict, Potter, now 42, attributes her new lease on life to the Women’s Bean Project. Social enterprise investors who look for ways to use business to solve social problems are hailing the program as the “gold standard” for a new breed of ventures looking to break an escalating cycle of poverty in cities nationwide. “I am not putting drugs into my body—I am doing things with my life that I am proud of,” said Potter, who will graduate from her nine-month stint in the program in July. “I absolutely love coming to this job. When it’s time to punch out for lunch, I’m the last one.” Read More>>


By Jennifer Oldham, March 15, 2018

DENVER—On a cloudless February night, volunteers welcomed Yesenia MacDonald to their cozy Denver church, directed her to a cot adorned with a homemade duvet, and handed her a bowl of steaming organic red chili posole. Like a growing number of women nationwide, MacDonald ended up on the streets after a cascading series of tragedies left her destitute. Years of unpaid work caring for family, poor health benefits and a persistent gender wage gap that makes it difficult to save ensures these women lack the resources to weather an economic crisis. MacDonald is among hundreds of homeless women who benefit from the safety, nourishment and sense of connection found in a unique Denver program that provides them a place to sleep every night of the week. Read More >>



By Jennifer Oldham, December 6, 2018

On a recent wintry night outside west Denver's Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales Branch Library, green-card holder Ricardo Flores proved that he knows more about how the United States government works than many people who were born here. Flores, who emigrated from Mexico six years ago, studied for weeks for a 100-question civics test that will accompany his December 5th interview to become a naturalized American citizen. At the library, he aced a mock exam conducted by English instructor Joanne Kuemmerlin. "How many amendments does the Constitution have?" Kuemmerlin asked. Flores answered: "27." And, she queried: "If both the president and the vice president can no longer serve, who becomes president?" His response: "The speaker of the House." "I want to become a citizen so I can qualify for more jobs," said Flores, a 33-year-old heavy-equipment operator who also practiced reading and writing sentences in English with Kuemmerlin. Held in a facility ringed by multi-colored aluminum bands, which symbolize the neighborhood's diversity, the practice session was part of a unique Denver Public Library program that seeks to integrate the city's growing immigrant and refugee population into its 75 neighborhoods—and the country as a whole. Read More >>


By Jennifer Oldham, August 21, 2018

A program in Colorado that allows federal food aid recipients like Tamara Anne to double the amount they spend on locally grown produce is transforming impoverished families' eating habits. Fittingly, the program is called Double Up Food Bucks. "My teenager said to me recently: "Hey, mom, I want you to know I really like fruit more now," recounted Anne, as she plopped reddish-orange Palisade peaches into a cream canvas bag. Anne is one of 5,755 federal-food-assistance recipients who, in 2017, used the program to buy Colorado-grown fruits and vegetables in 96 locations across the state. On top of that, the purchases support local farmers, many of whom grapple with drought and rising costs. Read More >>

denver Business Journal


By Jennifer Oldham, February 24, 2018

Outfitted in a crimson and gold sweatshirt and her trademark chocolate brown bouffant, Joy Burns is easy to spot at University of Denver gymnastics meets, hockey games and fundraising events. Teams show off their championship-winning athletic prowess at the $84 million Daniel L. Ritchie Center for Sports and Wellness, including the Joy Burns Ice Arena, which bears witness to Burns’ indelible impact on the capital city’s largest private university. Burns’ legacy as a pioneering businesswoman on the DU campus and across the Denver metro area is broad and deep. Endlessly energetic, she often spent 50 hours a week on university business alone as a Board of Trustees’ member from 1981 to 2017. Read More >>


By Jennifer Oldham, November 4, 2017

Swallow Hill Music’s journey to ensure Americana’s unique blend of folk, blues, country and contemporary rock lives on is so influential it is chronicled in recordings and newsletters collected by the Library of Congress. Now, the nation’s second-largest acoustic music school is poised to undertake perhaps its most ambitious project yet — to grow by 50 percent in the next five years through outreach programs, lessons and concerts offered along Denver’s Front Range. Some of the gain will come from expanding its Little Swallows early childhood education program to serve 13 preschools where most students qualify for federal free and reduced-price lunch programs. Read More>>


By Jennifer Oldham, October 13, 2017

The state of Utah, frequently a competitor with Colorado for corporate expansions and relocations, spent nearly double the amount in incentives to lure Amazon and a single distribution center compared to what Colorado cities paid for four facilities. As Inc. breaks ground on a $200 million fulfillment center in Salt Lake City, after being promised $5.68 million in incentives from the state of Utah, merchants are voicing concern that the world’s third-largest retailer is benefiting from tax breaks at the expense of local businesses. Read More>>

Dance company Wonderbound brings hope to Denver's homeless

By Jennifer Oldham, August 10, 2017

Wonderbound’s 10 dancers rehearse in a 1920s-era U.S. post office garage that sits in a no man’s land just north of Denver’s rapidly gentrifying downtown. It’s not Curtis Park, Ballpark, Five Points, or RiNo, but a window into the human condition. Patrons of nearby homeless shelters recline on the sidewalk and watch through open double doors as the dancers try repeatedly to master complicated original works set to poetry from the Lighthouse Writers Workshop, or to music from the Flobots, Jesse Manley, Paper Bird and many others. Read More >>

Success Formula? Put more women on boards of directors

By Jennifer Oldham, August 18, 2017

Newmont Mining Corp. CEO Gary Goldberg attributes his company’s success in part to women who serve on his corporate board. And he continues to diversify the 12-member panel. Newmont, a global gold and copper producer, is the state’s seventh-largest public company. It announced on July 19 the election of Sheri Hickok and Molly P. Zhang, giving women 42 percent of the seats on the Greenwood Village-based firm’s board. Read More >>

Bloomberg NEWS & businessweek magazine

Wind Is the New Corn for Struggling Farmers

By Jennifer Oldham, Oct. 6, 2016

Wind energy, the fastest-growing source of electricity in the U.S., is transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the federal government gave land to homesteaders 150 years ago. As commodity prices threaten to reach decade lows and farmers struggle to meet debt payments, wind has become the newest cash crop, saving family farms across a wide swath of the heartland. Read More >>

Louisiana Ports Awash in ‘Dead Iron’ as Oil Manufacturing Drops

By Jennifer Oldham, Aug. 31, 2016

Summer hung heavy over the bayou in Loreauville, Louisiana, as Vance "Vic" Breaux Jr. walked across an empty parking lot into a cavernous open-ended warehouse where a 205-foot-long aluminum-supply boat on order lay half-finished. Read More >>

Colorado's $1 Billion Pot Industry Saves Towns as It Sows Mayhem

By Jennifer Oldham, March 9, 2016

Taxes generated by Colorado’s $1 billion marijuana industry are keeping some struggling towns solvent even as growing numbers of high-schoolers are getting stoned at lunch, police are coping with a doubling of cannabis-related traffic deaths and doped-up tourists flock to emergency rooms. Read More >>

The Circus Animal Unemployment Crisis

By Jennifer Oldham, August 21, 2015

Jumanji’s whiskers twitched as he sized up his visitors beyond the fence. Seconds later he leapt toward them, ears back, yellow eyes narrowed, fangs bared.  “He thought that was fun,” said Pat Craig, founder of The Wild Animal Sanctuary, who rescued the black leopard from a menagerie in Ohio. Jumanji was nursed to health on grasslands northeast of Denver, recovering from frostbitten ears and infections he got from lying in his own urine. The 130-pound cat’s one of the lucky ones. Read More>>

Colorado Public Radio interviewed Oldham about:  When your kid moves out west she takes the U.S. economy with her

By Jennifer Oldham, April 27, 2015

Cranes punctuate Austin’s skyline. Startups skip Boston for Denver’s downtown, where silver boom-era warehouses are transformed into offices. In San Francisco, technology engineers revive long-blighted Market Street. Read More >>

new mexico's $100 million accounting error

By Jennifer Oldham, February 20, 2015

New Mexico can’t balance its checkbook. Cash in the state’s bank account is at least $100 million short of what’s recorded in the finance department’s ledger, pushing officials to adjust reserves by that amount, to about $650 million. The blame, the current administration says, lies with the introduction of a new accounting system in 2006. Read More >>

Coens’ Wood Chipper Draws Crowds as Fargo Laments Image

By Jennifer Oldham, October 24, 2014

Jason Gireto donned a plaid hunting cap to pose for the requisite souvenir: a photo with colleagues shoving a white-socked mannequin leg into the wood chipper used in the 1996 Academy Award-winning dark comedy “Fargo.” Yet even as hundreds of visitors a year flock to the machine made famous in a vivid bit of movie mayhem, local leaders are working to update the perception of Fargo, the place. Read More >>

The Beetle That's Chewing Up America

By Jennifer Oldham, June 5, 2014

The western U.S., already suffering an historic drought, is also battling another Old Testament-worthy plague: a tiny insect with a monster appetite. Pine beetles, each the size of a grain of rice, are obliterating forests, ravaging towns, draining city budgets, and threatening tourism at ski resorts, golf courses, and national parks. The beetles’ economic impact is emerging two decades into a growing infestation fueled by climate change and drought that has wiped out 38,000 square miles of trees—an area the size of Indiana and Rhode Island combined. Read More >>

A Landscape of Fire Rises Over North Dakota’s Gas Fields

By Jennifer Oldham, April 7, 2014

Towering flames atop oil wells break the inky darkness in the badlands on North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The flares of natural gas set grass fires on the prairie where Theodora Bird Bear’s ancestors hunted buffalo and create a driving hazard on rural roads. Read More >>

Nebraskans Resist Keystone Spurning TransCanada's Checks

By Jennifer Oldham, January 30, 2014

An icy wind rattles a metal warehouse in York, Nebraska, as farmers and ranchers inside vow not to sign easements with a Canadian company to bury the Keystone XL oil pipeline on their land. “I think TransCanada has been surprised we country bumpkins gathered,” said Bonny Kilmurry, one of about 145 landowners meeting here, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Omaha, who have declined the company’s overtures. Read More >>

Drug-Sniffing Dogs Pose Problem in States That Legalized Marijuana 

By Jennifer Oldham, August 22, 2013

Vader, an 80-pound Belgian Malinois with the Colorado Springs Police Department, knows his job well. At the scent of an illicit drug such as cocaine or marijuana, the dog barks and scratches, pointing officers to the stash. It’s a task he’s performed countless times over the last five years under Andrew Genta, the department’s head K-9 unit trainer. Now that marijuana is legal in the state, however, Vader’s job is becoming more complicated. Read More >>

Colorado Farms Push Bennet On Immigration as Peppers Rot

By Jennifer Oldham, May 29, 2013

As he surveyed a field of three-week-old sweet corn, Colorado farmer Bob Sakata told how a shortage of hands to pack the vegetable forced him to downsize his operations by 40 percent over the past decade.  Read More >>

North Dakota's Oil Boom Strains its Infrastructure

By Jennifer Oldham, February 2, 2012

The gravel road that runs in front of Dave Hynek’s farm in Mountrail County, N.D., was designed to carry 10 tractor-trailers a day—more than enough to haul the wheat and flax his family has grown on the 1,400-acre property for four generations. These days, Hynek has to fight to get out of his driveway. In a recent 24-hour period, local officials counted 800 trucks rumbling by, most carting goods related to the oil drilling in the Bakken shale formation, which runs from Canada through North Dakota and Montana, and directly beneath his land. “It’s absolutely destroying our infrastructure,” says Hynek, who’s also a county commissioner. Read More >>

los angeles times

Carpool lanes for airplanes?: Aviation experts say a $40-billion GPS system is needed to handle the huge volume of traffic expected by 2025

By Jennifer Oldham, June 11, 2007

Concealed under a thick blanket of fog, Louisville International Airport emitted an eerie orange glow as Capt. James Haney lined up his heavy cargo jet for landing after a long nighttime flight from Los Angeles. As he descended, the United Parcel Service captain had an advantage other pilots don't have: a monitor in the dashboard that displayed a clear picture of aircraft plying the soupy skies around him, guiding him safely around a stream of other planes arriving from the West Coast. After the Boeing 767 touched down, with a Times reporter observing in the cockpit, a satellite-based surveillance system helped Haney avoid nearby aircraft hidden behind the unusually heavy white mist. Read More >>

terrorist bullet still digs deep: five years ago, grandmother sarah phillips was at the center of a gunman's attack at lax

By Jennifer Oldham, June 7, 2007

Toronto -- On July 4, 2002, Sarah Phillips was checking in at Los Angeles International Airport for her trip home to Canada after a vacation with friends. The first flight she could get to arrive in time for her grandson's birthday was a connection through Toronto offered by the Israel-based airline, El Al. Read More >>

crash set a new course: The collision of two airliners over the grand canyon 50 years ago led to an overhaul of the nation's antiquated air traffic control system

By Jennifer Oldham, June 3, 2006

On a day that would transform aviation history, fog hung over Los Angeles International Airport. But it did nothing to dampen the festive mood as passengers lined up eager to start their Fourth of July holiday. At one ticket counter, 64 checked in for Trans World Airlines Flight 2 to Kansas City, Mo. Next door, 53 registered for United Airlines' Chicago-bound Flight 718. Read More >>

close calls on lax runways high despite attempts to reduce them: the faa is pushing a $1.5-billion plan to improve safety by altering the airport's layout

By Jennifer Oldham, November 24, 2005

Years of efforts to improve runway safety at Los Angeles International Airport have failed to reduce close calls between airplanes on its four busy runways, a Times review of federal records shows. Read More>>


By Jennifer Oldham, July 28, 2005

The warning was urgent. "There's a wheel from a tug rolling onto 25R," cautioned an airline pilot over the radio at Los Angeles International Airport. "It's on the runway? What part?" asked a surprised air traffic controller, who scanned the airfield for the cart tire. "It's still rolling," replied the pilot." "OK, it's still rolling," repeated the controller, who by now spotted the 30-pound wheel, but could only watch helplessly from the tower as it skittered past a taxiway. Read More >>

U.S. Agency Bungled Airport Hiring; LAX and other major facilities move to recheck screeners for criminal backgrounds

By Jennifer Oldham, May 16, 2003

In its rush to get a screener work force in place last fall, the federal aviation security agency lost background questionnaires, failed to run some employee fingerprints through a national crime database and was unable to complete background checks, according to interviews with airport and security officials. Read More >>

faulty furnaces set scores of fires, weren't recalled: Safety: thousands of homes in the state have such units

By Jennifer Oldham, September 27, 2000

Defective attic furnaces manufactured by a now-bankrupt firm have caused scores of residential fires in California in the last decade, fire inspectors and federal investigators said. Hundreds of thousands of unsuspecting homeowners may be at risk from these furnaces, made by Indiana-based Consolidated Industries and sold under various brand names in California from 1984 to 1992, these sources said. Read More >>

the hechinger report