Many Health Co-Ops Fold, Others Survive Startup Struggles

Nov 26, 2015

Thousands of Americans are again searching for health insurance after losing it for 2016. That's partly because some large, low-cost insurers — health cooperatives, set up under the Affordable Care Act — are folding in a dozen states.

When The Alpaca Bubble Burst, Breeders Paid The Price

Nov 9, 2015

Known for their calm temperaments and soft fleece, alpacas looked like the next hot thing to backyard farmers. The market was frenetic, with some top of the line animals selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But the bubble burst, leaving thousands of alpaca breeders with near-worthless herds. Today, craigslist posts across the country advertise “herd liquidations” and going out of business deals on alpacas, some selling for as low as a dollar.

It’s just one more chapter in a long line of agricultural speculative bubbles that have roped in investors throughout history, throwing money at everything from emus to chinchillas to Berkshire pigs to Dutch tulips, only to find themselves in financial ruin after it bursts.

Harriet Kelly has one word to describe the day she stopped driving four years ago: miserable.

"It's no fun when you give up driving," she says. "I just have to say that."

Kelly, who lives in Denver, says she was in her 80s when she noticed her eyesight declining. She got anxious driving on the highway, so decided to stop before her kids made the move for her.

"I just told them I'd stop driving on my birthday — my 90th birthday — and I did. And I was mad at myself because I did it," she says, laughing. "I thought I was still pretty good!"

saw peter, karen refugees
Laura Palmisano / KVNF

Saw Peter is Karen. That’s an ethnic group in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.  And for more than 100 Karen refugees in rural Delta, Colo., he’s the go-to person for advice, translation and other essential information.

Like the other refugees in this community, life hasn’t been easy for Peter.

As a young man, he smuggled his family to Malaysia because the government in Myanmar seized their farm and threatened to kill them.

Local tax and spending issues, as well as city council and mayoral races largely dominate Colorado's 2015 election. There is only one statewide question, which asks voters whether the state can keep marijuana tax money it's already collected to pay for school construction, law enforcement and other programs.

If that's a question that sounds familiar – that's because it is. Proposition BB will actually be the third time Colorado voters have weighed in on taxing marijuana.

Small town doesn't quite describe Bethune, Colo. It spans just 0.2 square miles and has a population of 237. There's a post office, but it's open only part time. There's not a single restaurant, and the closest big store is in Kansas.

That didn't stop Ailyn Marfil from moving to Bethune a couple of months ago. In fact, she thinks it's a pretty exciting place to live. "I was looking for speed and action, and so Bethune gave me speed and action. More than I expected," she says.

Black-footed ferrets have "a lot of hair, big bad teeth and a bad-boy attitude," says Kimberly Fraser. She and other federal wildlife officials are re-introducing the rare creatures to the prairie in a suburb of Denver.

"They're a native species. They belong here," says Fraser, an outreach specialist with a program to re-introduce the ferrets in 12 states from Montana to Texas.

For plein-air painters - that's French for "open air" - creating a work of art can be tough. Even just pronouncing it. Some say "plane air."

"The French call it 'plen air' – 'en plein air,' actually, and they are the ones who coined the term," said plein air painter Danna Hildebrand.

As a retired professor of 28 years from Sheridan College in Wyoming she would know, though she won't fault you for mispronouncing it. Pronunciation is the least of the challenges artists face when they hit the trail with their easels.

The cost of getting into some national parks increases on Thursday.

The rates will go up despite the fact that visitation at parks is up, which means bigger crowds, congested traffic and busier visitor centers. But more people aren't translating into a big boost for park budgets. For example, visitation at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado is up 20 percent so far this year and Yosemite, Yellowstone and Zion are also seeing double-digit increases. The parks are also seeing the strain. About 100 parks are planning an entrance fee hike.

On Wednesday, the Census Bureau gave Obamacare some good news: the number of people without health insurance dropped to 10.4 percent in 2014, down from 13.3 percent in 2013.

Colorado may be doing even better. When the Affordable Care Act launched two years ago, about 1 in 7 of the state's residents, or 14 percent, were uninsured, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute. That figure is now 6.7 percent, according to the organization's latest data.

Colorado has largely been spared from the political wrangling ahead of the 2016 presidential race. But as Republicans nationally are working to narrow the presidential field, the Republican Party in Colorado wants to widen its field of candidates to run against incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet.

"The numbers tell us Senator Bennet is vulnerable," said Republican state party Chairman Steve House. "It would be great to hold onto the U.S. Senate. Republicans have to defend a number of seats more than the Democrats."

Feeding a caffeine habit is no sweat in our day and age: Just raid the office kitchen for some tea or hit one of the coffee shops that pepper the landscape.

But 1,000 years ago, Native Americans in the American Southwest and Mexican Northwest were getting their buzz on in landscapes where no obvious sources of caffeine grew, according to new findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When President Obama spoke to the Democratic National Convention in Colorado seven years ago, he tried to call a truce in one of the nation's long-running social debates.

"We may not agree on abortion. But surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country," he said to applause.

Not long after that, Colorado launched an experiment aimed at doing just that. The results have been dramatic — but efforts to expand the program using taxpayer money have hit a political roadblock.

The Justice Department is trying to make it easier for Native American tribes to gain access to national crime databases. Federal authorities say the program could prevent criminals from buying guns and help keep battered women and foster children safe.

The issue of who can see information in federal criminal databases might sound boring, until one considers a deadly shooting at a high school in Washington state last year.

The Environmental Protection Agency was investigating an old mine near Silverton, Colo., earlier this month, when it accidentally released 3 million gallons of toxic waste water into the Animas River.

Initially the agency downplayed the incident and provided little information. So Navajo President Russell Begaye traveled to the source of the toxic spill and posted a video of it on Facebook.

In the video, he stands in front of the still-leaking mine.

This year's El Niño is shaping up to be a whopper — potentially surpassing the one in 1997, which was the strongest on record, the National Weather Service says.

That could be good news for drought-stricken California, but not-so-good for places such as the Philippines and Indonesia, which typically experience below-normal rainfall or drought conditions during El Niños.

In Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, towns that are downstream from the old gold mine where contaminated wastewater spewed into a river have shut off their water supplies' connections to the spill. Two rivers will remain closed until at least Monday, officials say.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on August 9, 2015.

Fresh air, the smell of pine trees, the sounds of birds chirping and brooks babbling — all of these have helped American city-dwellers unwind for generations. But in the era of Jim Crow segregation, nature's calm also gave African-Americans a temporary respite from racism and discrimination.

In an event that has led to health warnings and turned a river orange, the Environmental Protection Agency says one of its safety teams accidentally released contaminated water from a mine into the Animas River in southwest Colorado.

The spill, which sent heavy metals, arsenic and other contaminants into a waterway that flows into the San Juan National Forest, occurred Wednesday. The EPA initially said 1 million gallons of wastewater had been released, but that figure has risen sharply.

From member station KUNC, Stephanie Paige Ogburn reports for our Newscast unit:

As cities in Colorado expand to accommodate a growing population, so are costs of providing services and utilities. Some communities, like Aurora, a city of 350,000 east of Denver, are reevaluating how they charge for services like water and how those costs might encourage smarter growth.

The College Board has just released the latest curriculum framework for its Advanced Placement U.S. history course, and it appears to have satisfied many of the old framework's critics.

The rewrite comes after anger over its 2014 framework sent the College Board, which administers the AP exam, back to the drawing board.

A Kentucky homeowner is arrested for shooting down a civilian drone he said was invading his family's privacy. The drone's owner insists that he did nothing wrong, in the latest case that highlights both confusion and concerns over the legal use of drones.

William Meredith, 47, of Bullitt County, Ky., was arrested after he used his shotgun to bring down a drone that he said hovered above his property in Hillview, a suburb of Louisville.

Farmers who grow marijuana for Colorado's legal market are running into problems as they try to control mildew and pests. Because of the plant's illegal status at the federal level, a main source of agricultural guidance isn't available to pot farmers.

Attempts to regulate marijuana production often hit another problem, as the plant's wide range of uses sets it apart from many traditional food crops.

A jury in Colorado has found Aurora theater shooter James Holmes guilty of first-degree murder in the 2012 mass shooting that killed 12 people and injured 70 others. Holmes could now face the death penalty.

The jury of nine women and three men, who heard nearly three months of testimony in the case, deliberated for a day and a half before arriving at a decision on Thursday.

The verdict comes nearly three years to the day after the mass shooting on July 20, 2012, at the Century Aurora 16 theater.

"Extreme." "Unprecedented." "Historic." Those are just a few of the words being used to describe the start of this year's fire season in North America.

The wildfires are centered in the northwest of the continent, but their consequences are far-reaching. Thick smoke has blanketed parts of Wisconsin and North Dakota. It's triggered air alerts in Minnesota and Montana and muddied skies as far south as Tennessee and Colorado.

And, of course, things are even worse at the source.

State by state, the legal marijuana business is slowly gaining ground. The industry is using both an increasingly favorable public opinion toward marijuana and a newly legal cash flow to try to transform itself into a force in national politics.

Rural Tulare County, Calif., is now being called the epicenter of this drought.

That's because at least 1,300 residential wells have run dry, affecting at least 7,000 people. When your taps start spitting out air here, Paul Boyer and his team are who you call.

Under a punishing midafternoon sun, Boyer helps muscle down five of these hefty 400-pound water tanks from a semi-truck flatbed. He helps run a local nonprofit that's in charge of distributing these 2,500-gallon water tanks to drought victims.

Recreational marijuana is legal in Oregon as of today.

People 21 and older can now possess up to an ounce of pot when away from home and up to 8 ounces at home. It's also legal to grow up to four plants per household.

Current and former Colorado state Democratic lawmakers are praising the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same sex marriage nationwide. In the 5-4 decision, the court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"Today is an amazing day for America and equality, said Democratic former Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, who served as Colorado’s first gay speaker and helped pass a bill to make civil unions legal in the state.

"I knew we would get to this day in my life time, but never thought it would come so quickly. I am so proud of our nation's ability to move towards full equality for all people. The work is not done to end all discrimination but today was a gigantic step forward."