Joe Wertz

StateImpact Oklahoma

Joe has previously served as Managing Editor of Urban Tulsa Weekly, as the Arts & Entertainment Editor at Oklahoma Gazette and worked as a Staff Writer for The Oklahoman. Joe was a weekly correspondent for KGOU from 2007-2010. He grew up in Bartlesville, Okla., lives in Oklahoma City, and studied journalism at the University of Central Oklahoma.

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Joe Wertz / State Impact Oklahoma

Four years of extreme drought has withered the agricultural economies of southern Great Plains states like Oklahoma, where farmers are bracing for one of the worst wheat crops in state history.

And Oklahoma’s withered wheat harvest could have national consequences.

Wayne Schmedt adjusts his faded blue cap and crouches down in a wind-whipped field near Altus in southwest Oklahoma. His brother and business partner, Fred, grins and waits. The jokes start before the dusty rain gauge is pulled from the cracked dirt.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

The eastern red cedar tree causes allergies, crowds out other species, guzzles water, and fuels Oklahoma’s most devastating wildfires, including one near Guthrie last week. And lengthy drought has intensified the problem. But as StateImpact’s Logan Layden reports, eliminating the tree is complicated by the passive attitude of many landowners, and a state forestry service with little authority.  

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RAVEDELAY / Flickr

A federal report released this week bluntly warns that climate change is already having an environmental and economic affect in every region of the United States. As StateImpact’s Joe Wertz reports, the magnitude of the effects is expected to increase in Oklahoma.

Joe Wertz / StateImpact Oklahoma

Last week, StateImpact hosted a public forum on how climate change affects Oklahoma. A panel of experts took audience questions on water and agriculture, and as Joe Wertz reports, if this discussion is any guide, Oklahomans are curious, frustrated and concerned about climate change. 

Katsrcool / Flickr

Executives at Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources and Devon Energy have proposed a plan for Oklahoma’s taxes on oil and natural gas production.

The proposal comes as legislators are debating state oil and gas taxes, which include an incentive for horizontal drilling that expires next year. The Oklahoman‘s Adam Wilmoth reports:

Joe Wertz / State Impact Oklahoma

Betsy Searight and her husband John drove from all the way from New Jersey for this opportunity: Wake up at 4 a.m., huddle against the cold, and sit silently and motionless for hours hoping to watch a Lesser Prairie Chicken peep show.

After a long fight between Oklahoma and the U.S. government, the Lesser Prairie Chicken goes on the federal threatened species list later this month.

To find out how the listing will affect Oklahoma and why the bird is worth protecting, we took a trip to the High Plains of northwestern Oklahoma.

On Wednesday, April 30th, KOSU in collaboration with State Impact Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Public Media Exchange held a discussion at Picasso's cafe in the Paseo District.  

State Impact's Joe Wertz and Logan Layden led the discussion with Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts Executive Director Clay Pope and David Engle, Director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Center at Oklahoma State University. The packed crowd discussed climate change and protecting the state's valuable land and water.

For the past three decades, Oklahoma averaged about 50 earthquakes a year. But that number has skyrocketed in the past few years. In 2013 — the state's most seismically active year ever — there were almost 3,000.

The quakes are small, and they're concentrated in the central part of the state, where the Erwins live.

In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl ravaged crops and helped plunge the U.S. into an environmental and economic depression. Farmland in parts of Texas, Kansas, Nebraska and the Dakotas disappeared.

After the howling winds passed and the dust settled, federal foresters planted 100 million trees across the Great Plains, forming a giant windbreak — known as a shelterbelt — that stretched from Texas to Canada.

Now, those trees are dying from drought, leaving some to worry whether another Dust Bowl might swirl up again.

An Experiment That Worked

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