Guest column: Failure to solve the affordable housing crisis is not an acceptable option

This is the first of four columns from Gail Schwartz following up on the recent regional affordable housing summit and subsequent solutions. First is an overview of the summit and the problem, and the next three weeks will focus on solutions from the lens of the three working groups.

The first question most businesses in the Colorado River Valley ask of potential new hires is whether they have local housing. If the answer is “no,” the conversation shifts instantly, because housing is the single biggest barrier to entry in our mountain communities.

When we talk about the affordable and workforce housing crisis in 2023, it’s critically important that we remember we were also calling it a housing crisis in 2020 before COVID-19, which changed our valleys forever.

In a study of Greater Roaring Fork Valley housing needs in 2017, a shortfall of 4,000 units was identified from Parachute to Aspen (including Gypsum and Dotsero) with a projected need of 6,800 units by 2027. That was before a supplemental study in 2022 showed the average home price in the region had increased 42%-71%, the average rent increased 40%, non-local home buyers increased 80%, and mortgage rates doubled. Plus, local wage increases continue to lag far behind the cost of housing and cost of living increases. We are in trouble.

The demand for attainable housing far outstrips the supply in the upper RFV communities where the jobs are. In 2022, the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority, which manages more than 3,000 owned and rented units, had 900 bids for just 18 available homes in the most popular Category III and IV units. The only people surprised by APCHA’S inability to manage the housing problem are the people who haven’t noticed that Pitkin County had 4,400 jobs in 1970, but 23,000 jobs in 2020.

Three of our valley’s most critical essential service providers — Roaring Fork School District, Aspen Valley Hospital and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority — recently reported that they need a combined 530 units just to recruit and retain employees to provide a minimum level of services. These are not isolated instances of need. Rather, this is a recurring pattern in our community.

For example, this winter alone, RFTA has canceled 3,500 scheduled bus trips because they are operating with 15-20% fewer bus drivers than necessary. The Roaring Fork School District had 32 bus drivers on staff in 2019. That number has dwindled to 14 in 2022. There are simply fewer qualified applicants because there is no available housing. And although the school district has procured, built, or is planning to build 130 new units, that doesn’t come close to matching the need for its nearly 800 full-time staff members.

Seven years ago, applicants for available units were 2:1. Today it’s 13:1. Perhaps even more worrisome is that a shortage of staff means teachers are leading classes that aren’t aligned with their level of qualification and sick days are nearly impossible because, who will provide the backfill?

And now we know firsthand from our local hospital’s senior staff that our valley’s health care safety net is being seriously undercut by the workforce housing shortfall affecting so many of their critical employees.

Glenwood Springs Director of Economic and Community Development, Hannah Klausman, worries that delivery of critical services are being compromised when employees have to live so far from the communities where they work. This winter snow plow drivers critical to Highway 82 between Glenwood Springs and Aspen were stuck on the east side of Glenwood Canyon, another example of how the entire valley’s ecosystem is disrupted by the lack of housing.

The further away these critical service workers are living from the places they work, the bigger the negative impacts. Commuting upwards of 90 minutes has become a norm. Despite just 3% unemployment in Garfield County, about 40% of the county’s workers are migrating to work, commuting at least 30 minutes. What used to be touted as an “Aspen” problem has traveled as far down the river as Grand Junction, losing workers to Glenwood Springs, which is losing workers to Aspen. We are all reeling from the affordable housing pinch and it will take all of us working together to solve it.

We need to look at affordable workforce housing as a critical piece of the infrastructure for maintaining strong families and the vibrant lifestyle we all came here for. We need to view housing as the essential shelter that working families need, rather than simply an investment in paradise for those fortunate enough to move here. We must shift our mindset from, “not in my backyard,” to “my backyard is where hard-working families deserve a roof over their heads.” We must be less reactive and more proactive.

Over the next three weeks, my columns will explore solutions to the affordable housing crisis that were identified at the recent Habitat for Humanity Housing Crisis Summit at the Aspen Meadows from three lenses: Governmental Policy, Financial and Real Estate Development, and Nonprofit Partnerships. I will dive into the regional collaborations already taking place, federal and state money that is up for grabs, and the critical relationship between private and public partnerships in creating sustainable communities.

If you didn’t get the opportunity to attend Solving the Housing Crisis: A Regional Summit on Equitable Solutions, we invite you to please watch the panel presentations on YouTube

Gail Schwartz is the President of Habitat for Humanity of the Roaring Fork Valley. As a former Colorado State Senator, business owner and community planner, she has a unique understanding of the affordable housing crisis on the Western Slope and in the greater Roaring Fork Valley and is committed to being part of the solution.

On the Fly: We can find our humanity in our fishing journeys

I have always seen my life in terms of landscape and journey. My earliest memories are of water, sky, mountains and streams. I have been inspired by the natural world in ways that, even in my later stage in life, are both fulfilling and mystifying.

For one who was trained as a scientist, I see things in very mystical and weird ways. I look for the meaning when it is elusive. I look for metaphor when my rational brain tells me that a rock is just a rock and a storm is just a storm. I search for and see trout in my sleep. I believe that time spent in nature exploring the wonders of fish and their habitat teaches us more about ourselves and our lives than we would ever learn otherwise. We find our humanity and wrestle with its dark side: fear, desire, failure, and weakness.

Like most of us, I am enchanted with the notion of journey. I have done my share of wonderful road trips — I love to explore wander, dream, and engage creation on its own terms. The human spirit is always best expressed in terms of journey. In my life in medicine, I meet people in all stages of journeying. They are the walking, the broken, the wounded and the glorious.

Fishing captures and symbolizes the completeness of the human spirit and journey. I see each journey to the river as a tiny recapitulation of my own humanity and the things I share in common with my fellow travelers.

Early in my fly fishing career I remember telling a friend that there is so much to learn! Some 40 years later, that is still true. Every trip I learn something new about rivers, fish and the natural world. Most importantly, I learn something new about myself. Every encounter with the waters of our planet draws me deeper into who I am and who I want to become.

(Excerpts, originally published in “Fly Fishing — the Sacred Art,” by Rabbi Eric Eisenkramer and Rev. Michael Attas, MD, Skylight Paths Publishing)

This report is provided every week by Taylor Creek Fly Shops in Aspen and Basalt. Taylor Creek can be reached at 970-927-4374 or

Boebert column: New House rules will fix what’s broken in Congress

Everyone knows Congress is broken. For decades, the Swamp in Washington, D.C. has embraced corrupt and incestuous policymaking at the expense of hard-working Americans.

From passing $1.8 trillion, 4,155-page long spending bills just before Christmas, to secret backroom deals negotiated by lobbyists and special interests, to passing $500 billion suspension bills without a single member even having to cast a vote, these broken processes are not what our Founding Fathers envisioned when they established our Constitutional Republic.

This sentiment is broadly held across America, where Congress’ approval rating plummeted to just 15% under Nancy Pelosi. To be clear, it’s not just one party that is responsible for the lack of trust in the institution. For decades, both Republican and Democrat leadership have worked to consolidate power at the top, leaving little ability for individual House members to enact change on behalf of the people they represent.

It was far past time to fundamentally change the way business is done in Congress.

I’m proud to report back to you and the people of Colorado’s Third District that I helped lead the negotiations to end business as usual in Washington, D.C. Nineteen of my colleagues and I spearheaded rigorous debate about the broken rules and processes in Congress and the importance of taking action to tackle these issues head on as opposed to continuing to kick the proverbial can down the road.

We were successful and made historic, once-in-a-generation improvements to this body. Here are just a few:

1. In the 118th Congress, bills must be single subject. Last session, House Democrats passed a so-called $1.2 trillion dollar “infrastructure bill.” Shamefully, less than 10% of the actual funds in the bill went to roads and bridges, with hundreds of billions of dollars going to Solyndra-style slush funds and Green New Deal policies, a $400 billion kickback to big labor, and even $10 million going to a program to save butterflies and bees. These unrelated topics should have never been lumped together in the same vote. Forty-seven state legislatures have single-subject rules, and I’m proud that Congress will follow suit.

2. Members will have time to read the bills before voting on them. Remember the infamous line by Speaker Pelosi, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.” Well, that’s a thing of the past as all House members will have a minimum of 72 hours to read legislation before voting on it.

3. House Republicans will do the hard work and fund the government as Congress intended. That means scrapping the horrific omnibus bills and continuing resolutions, and passing 12 individual appropriations bills through regular order. This allows for input, debate and amendments that will reduce federal spending and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

4. The Motion to Vacate the Chair, an accountability mechanism that was written by Thomas Jefferson and implemented in 1837, has been restored. Bottom line: Republican leadership must follow through on these promises and we have the accountability in place to ensure that occurs.

I am proud that we took a little extra time and got this right. The changes we achieved decentralize power from leadership, empower individual members of both parties, vastly improve how Congress functions and deliver a historic win for the American people.

House conservatives also received commitments to vote on widely popular initiatives like term limits for Members of Congress, the Fair Tax, and ending the outdated COVID national emergency and its expanded abuses.

A lot of folks didn’t think we had a plan, but of course we did. It’s just that in the middle of a poker hand, you don’t show your cards. But we knew what we wanted to accomplish for the American people, and we certainly got there.

We had all 434 members of the House sitting on the House Floor, debating with each other live on CSPAN with Americans around the country able to see exactly what was happening. This was honest, open and transparent governance at its finest.

Not many in power want to give up control, but Speaker McCarthy saw that these changes were about fixing a broken Congress and returning power to the American people. Credit him for working with us on these generational improvements. Now that we have our rules and leadership, I’m looking forward to getting to work with Speaker McCarthy and all my colleagues to deliver for the American people.

Lauren Boebert represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District, which includes portions of Eagle County, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

YouthZone column: Understanding the value of a living wage

YouthZone is a family-first nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering positive youth development for teens and their families. We have been supporting 6- to 18-year-olds in the Western Slope of Colorado for 46 years, specializing in intervention, prevention and volunteerism. Through the dedicated support of our staff, sponsors, volunteers, donors and Board Members, YouthZone helps strengthen communities from Aspen to Parachute.

Our leadership, alongside our Board of Directors, continue to work diligently in efforts to fundraise, invest wisely and grow our endowment. As a financiall-healthy nonprofit, we operate within our approved budget and prioritize additional unanticipated funding towards long-term sustainability through investment and endowment growth.

We also prioritize investing in our current staff by increasing salaries and benefits to a livable wage and maintaining a competitive workplace in the valley. It takes both the professional skills of our internal team, as well as the generous external financial and volunteering contributions of our community to power YouthZone in our capability to unite and serve over 1,000 youth annually.

A continued challenge is providing an ever-increasing adequate income and benefits for our team members, which, in turn, attracts highly-qualified professionals with competitive wages. YouthZone, like many other nonprofits, assiduously explores all opportunities to increase funding and utilize resources so that our professional staff can continue to flourish in our organization, support our community’s youth and families as well as receive a livable wage for their critical work.

Therefore, our board voted to approve a significant raise across the organization in April 2022. This would increase current salaries toward livable wages in the Roaring Fork Valley and begin to attract new highly qualified staff at a competitive wage.

Two of our board members, David Portman and Paula Busk Cross, would like to express their thoughtful consideration on this wage increase, share how YouthZone truly makes a difference and encourage you to become more active in your community, so that we can building a healthier tomorrow for everyone.

“A living wage relieves the stress of looking for a second-income source or finding other ways to support one’s family financially. It gives our staff time to contribute to their community in ways beyond their career at YouthZone. This keeps our staff both living and serving in our community for a longer term,” Cross explains. She continues to clarify that, “Competitive wages and benefits attract and retain highly-skilled professionals to job openings because these things are highly desirable as the cost-of-living increases.

“With a national staffing shortage and the influx of available positions, workers have negotiation power to increase compensation packages. The organizations that cannot keep up with this change will lose their skilled staff and not attract new ones. Those that can keep up will find their teams more productive, engaged and happier, overall. This is the goal of YouthZone’s staffing. We know that, when our team feels financially stable, they are making the largest positive impacts on our community.”

Portman expresses why he voted to increase the wages: “YouthZone is a service-based organization, with our people being our most valuable resource. The impact of the work our team does daily is monumental. In some instances, their commitment to precious humans is the difference between life and death.

“Hiring and retaining the right individuals is essential to carrying out our mission and positively impacting our community. It’s helpful knowing that YouthZone has a loyal and supportive donor base after 46 years that continues to support our mission. Voting in favor of the wage increase felt like the right thing to do.”

Portman continues to explain how this helps our community youth and families: “Mental-health challenges amongst youth in our community are not going away. In fact, YouthZone’s services are in higher demand than ever before. Jami and her team do an excellent job managing an efficient budget and ensuring that we maximize the percentage of every dollar to positively impact our clients. Donor dollars largely fund the talented team that interact with clients daily. Our goal is to never turn anyone away and connect with youth earlier. To do this, we envision increased staffing needs over time.”

At YouthZone, we built a nonprofit that supports parenting figures, families and adolescences. We offer parent counseling and education services, family resources and comprehensive assessment and advocacy to inspire healthy relationships between youth, families and communities. To learn more about how YouthZone can help, please call us at 970-945-9300. Support your community through volunteerism or financial contribution at

Jami Hayes is the Executive Director for YouthZone and has been working with youth and families throughout her career. Jami has spent the last 14 years working with the Roaring Fork School District, leading and working to improve the education experience for local families.

Littlejohn column: How to choose the right estate planning attorney

Choosing the right estate planning attorney can be important for many reasons. However, knowing who to choose isn’t always very straightforward. The best estate planning attorney in your area might not be the best one for your situation. As such, you should consider focusing on the attorney’s technical skills, personality, wisdom, and values.

Here are three factors to consider when choosing an estate planning attorney:

1. Are they are technically proficient?

First, the right estate planning attorney for you must be technically proficient. Indeed, they need to know estate and trust law inside and out. But more importantly, they need to understand how it applies to someone like you.

In addition, they need to stay current by familiarizing themselves with existing and any expected legislation changes. And they need to know how all these things apply to your unique situation and location, as state-by-state inheritance and estate laws can vary significantly.

When evaluating an estate planning attorney’s technical skills, consider the following:

Specialty — what percentage of their work pertains to trust and estate planning?

Jurisdiction — what jurisdictions and physical locations do their expertise cover?

Differentiation — what sets them apart from their competitors?

Risk Management — how do they manage and communicate the potential risks you face?

Operations and accountability — how do they ensure proper action is taken to complete the estate plan, and what’s their ongoing review process?

2. Do they work with clients like you?

Once you’ve found an estate planning attorney with the technical expertise you need, determine whether they work with clients like you.

While many estate planning techniques and strategies are common, some are not. Ideally, you want to find an estate planning attorney who works with clients just like you when it comes to attributes like net worth, asset and income types, family dynamics, and legacy goals. Ask potential attorneys what their typical client profile looks like. For example:

  • Do they work with business owners?
  • Are their typical clients part of traditional or blended families?
  • What’s the average net worth of their clientele?

If you’ve recently experienced a $10 million windfall but your prospective attorney typically works with smaller clients, it may be best to look elsewhere. Often, the strategies, considerations and techniques to plan for a six-figure net worth aren’t the same as those that are needed for a seven- or eight-figure net worth.

3. Do they feel like a good fit?

Lastly, the right estate planning attorney for you must feel like a fit.

Consider their personality — does it jibe with you and your family? Remember that your attorney will work closely with your immediate family to communicate and implement your estate plan. Therefore, find someone who is likely to be a good fit, so you can develop a healthy working relationship.

In addition, consider your prospective attorney’s values, legacy views, wisdom and personal experiences. Indeed, many attorneys will do their best to understand and implement your unique wishes. However, some may have conflicting views, thereby creating some unnecessary challenges.

You can start by identifying your own thoughts on legacy, stewardship, and multi-generational wealth, and then finding an attorney with similar ideas. This will help ensure that your wishes are fully understood and implemented in the best possible way.

Brian Littlejohn, CFP®, CFA is the founder of Sherwood Wealth Management in Basalt. Brian provides his clients with customized investment management and comprehensive financial planning services to help them organize, grow, and protect their assets.

Writers on the Range: Hard choices for the Colorado River

The seven Colorado River states — Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — face a daunting mid-August deadline. The federal government has asked them to come up with a plan to reduce their combined water usage from the Colorado River by up to 4 million acre-feet in 2023.

That is a massive reduction for a river system that currently produces about 12.4 million acre-feet. The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the Colorado River, warned that it will “act unilaterally to protect the system” if the states cannot come up with an adequate plan on their own.

The seven states have worked cooperatively over the past two decades to identify solutions to a shrinking river. But their response now, much like the global response to climate change, seems far from adequate to the enormous challenge.

In a recent letter to the Bureau of Reclamation, the Upper Colorado River Commission, speaking for the four Upper Basin states, proposed a plan that adopts a business-as-usual, “drought-reduction” approach. They argue that their options are limited because “previous drought response actions are depleting upstream storage by 661,000 feet.”

The commission complains that water users “already suffer chronic shortages under current conditions resulting in uncompensated priority administration, which includes cuts to numerous present perfected rights in each of our states.”

This leads the commission to conclude that any future reductions must come largely from Mexico and the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada, because they use most of the water. 

But the Lower Basin states have already taken a significant hit to their “present perfected rights,” and if the Bureau of Reclamation makes good on its promise to act unilaterally, they will face another big reduction. The cooperative relationship among the Basin states will not endure if the Upper Basin refuses to share the burden by reducing its consumption. 

A good place to start might lie with two Colorado projects to divert water from the Colorado River basin to the Front Range. Both began construction this summer. The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will triple the size of one of Denver Water’s major storage units. Denver Water’s original justification for this project — to serve Denver’s growing urban population — seems odd given that water demand in their service area over the past two decades has shrunk, even as its population rose by nearly 300,000. 

Similar questions have been raised with the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District’s Windy Gap Firming Project, which plans to store Colorado River water to support population growth in Front Range cities.

These two projects suggest that Colorado is prepared to exacerbate the current crisis when the opposite response is so desperately needed.

Abandoning these two projects would signal that Colorado is serious about giving the Colorado River a fighting chance at survival. It might also jump-start good-faith negotiations over how Mexico, the states and tribes might work to achieve a long-term solution to this crisis.

The homestead laws of the 19th century attracted a resilient group of farmers to the West who cleverly designed water laws to secure their water rights against all future water users. “First in time, first in right” became the governing mantra of water allocation, because, except for Tribal Nations, the farmers were first.

That system worked well for many years. As communities grew, cities and water districts built reservoirs to store the spring runoff, ensuring that water was available throughout the irrigation season. 

Climate change and mega-droughts have upended that system. Nowhere have the consequences been as dire as in the Colorado River Basin.  America’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead — key components of the Colorado River’s water storage system — have not filled for more than two decades. They now sit well below 30% of their capacity. 

Hotter temperatures, less mountain snowpack, and dry soils that soak up runoff like a sponge have brought us to this seven-state crisis. All seven states must now share the pain of addressing this crisis. 

The Upper Basin Commission’s anemic response to the Bureau of Reclamation’s plea is not a serious plan. We can do better, and we must.

Mark Squillace and Quinn Harper are contributors to Writers on the Range,, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. Mark Squillace is the Raphael J. Moses professor of natural resources law at the University of Colorado Law School. Quinn Harper is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in natural resource policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Allen Best: Nuclear energy has obstacles, too

A nuclear reactor might be a nice addition to the economy of Craig, the community in northwestern Colorado. But can Colorado afford nuclear power?

Three coal-burning units at Craig will be closed between 2025 and 2030. Those plants and associated mining provide the Moffat County School District with roughly 20% of its property tax base and many jobs that pay uncommonly well for rural Colorado.

A nuclear power plant rising like a phoenix from the ruins of coal could use existing high-voltage transmission and deliver at least some of the lost jobs.

Too, a new-generation nuclear power plant could supplement Colorado’s abundant wind and solar generation. Utilities say they have figured out how to achieve 85%, possibly even 90% emissions-free electricity from renewables without risking reliability and raising rates extravagantly. Nobody yet has the answer for that last 10% to 15%. Nuclear could help.

The Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, a five-county planning agency based in Rifle, has emerged as a fulcrum for this conversation. As first reported by the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, members met in June with state Sen. Bob Rankin, a Republican from Garfield County, to talk about the potential.

Rankin in the last legislative session tried to get fellow legislators to appropriate $500,000 (amended to $250,000) to study the potential for nuclear. “If we really believe that climate change is an existential threat, then how can we not look at every option,” Rankin said in introducing his bill.

Some who testified at the committee meeting cited environmental concern. A couple of self-identified environmentalists testified in support because, they said, nuclear does provide emissions-free energy. More than 19% of all U.S. emissions-free electricity comes from nuclear.

Conspicuously absent was support from the administration of Gov. Jared Polis. The bill failed 3-2 on a party-line vote.

Nuclear has a nagging problem, though. It’s expensive. Advocates rarely mention this. Costs of Georgia’s Plant Vogtle, the only U.S. nuclear power plant under construction, have ballooned from $14 billion to now $30 billion-plus. In South Carolina, investors pulled the plug on a nuclear power plant after spending $9 billion. It has become among the very costliest of energy sources, only slightly less than rooftop solar, according to Lazard, the financial analyst.

Modular nuclear reactors have been promoted as a way to shave costs. Specific projects have been conceived in both Idaho and Wyoming. Bill Gates is an investor in the latter. Maybe they will overcome this cost problem. We won’t really know for another 10, maybe 15 years.

State Sen. Chris Hansen remains skeptical. He has expertise unsurpassed among legislators. He set out to become a nuclear engineer after first laying eyes on a reactor when a high school junior from the farm country of Kansas. He got his degree but had already turned his attention to economics. He went on to earn degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, from Oxford, a Ph.D. in resource economics.

Nuclear, he told a county commissioner from Sterling in 2019, when I first heard him answer this question, simply does not compete in cost. Last week, when we talked, he offered more detail.

“I think those technologies will have to prove themselves,” he said of modular nuclear reactors. “Right now, in the best-case scenario it looks like they will deliver electricity at $60 to $70 per megawatt-hour. Wind and solar are coming in at less than $20.”

The sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow, and we have very little long-term storage.

“Absolutely there is extra value for a power plant that you can operate at the flip of a switch, but keep in mind those (coal-burning) units have high rates of unreliability because of maintenance needs and breakdowns, and some nuclear plants have had the exact same problems,” he said. 

Hansen suggests that reliability may more economically be provided by less expensive alternatives. For example, he has pushed transmission and passed legislation to create organized markets that will allow electricity to be moved across broader geographic areas in response to consumer demands. Colorado is currently an island with limited bridges to other areas.

Xcel Energy, Colorado’s largest utility, also has a wait-and-see attitude. In June, I asked Alice Jackson, who now directs planning for Xcel Energy across its eight-state service territory, what her company must see. “Cost-effective investment in construction of the new versions,” she said. Xcel, she added, will be paying attention.

Will the new generation of nuclear become cost-effective? Perhaps. We don’t have all the answers to 100% emissions-free electricity even as we expand its use into buildings and transportation. Nuclear could be an answer. But it does come at a high cost. Any serious conversation must acknowledge that.

Allen Best writes about the energy and other transitions underway in Colorado at

Lauren Boebert column: Delivering conservative victories for rural Colorado

The time for platitudes and kicking the proverbial can down the road when it comes to making the tough choices to reduce our deficit spending and rein in our national debt has passed. For far too long, too many politicians have talked a good fiscal game while running America into a pending financial collapse.

The U.S. government is over $30 trillion in debt and will spend $900 million per day in interest payments on this debt. To pay off our country’s debt, every man, woman and child in the United States will currently have to pay $90,000. Instead of focusing on reducing the federal government’s spending problem, many D.C. politicians are back to their old ways and again spending massive amounts through the process known as earmarks.

From 2011 to 2021, earmarks were banned in Congress, and for good reason. First, earmarks are wasteful. Recall the “Bridge to Nowhere,” that spent nearly $400 million and accomplished nothing.

Second, earmarks foster corruption. Members of Congress and lobbyists have gone to jail for misusing earmarks to get members to vote for things they wouldn’t otherwise vote for, and members of Congress have even been caught using earmarks to pave roads they live on and build airports for their own personal convenience.

And third, earmarks are like Lay’s chips: Betcha can’t eat just one! According to the Heritage Foundation, there was a 282% jump in earmarks placed in appropriations bills from 1994 to 2011. Sadly, career politicians have picked up right where they left off, including over 4,000 earmarks in the recent $1.5 trillion omnibus bill. One senator alone received over $500 million in earmarks. And the total cost of earmarks in this one bill to the American taxpayer? Over $4 billion.

This is bill crap.

Republicans and Democrats should reject earmarks, use the normal appropriations process to fund the government, and have the best local projects compete, as has traditionally been done when not using earmarks, for worthy expenditures. This isn’t an archaic or outdated process, it’s actually an effective way to approve the spending of your tax dollars with necessary accountability.

Since joining Congress, I’ve proven that members of Congress can successfully advocate for local priorities while rejecting the corrupt earmark process. In fact, I recently secured nine important victories for rural Colorado through the regular, nonearmark process. These include:

1. $1.74 billion for Community Health Centers to serve rural communities;

2. $515 million for the Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program so counties can fund education, law enforcement and infrastructure;

3. $48 million for the U.S. Forest Service to address the bark beetle infestations ravaging Colorado and to actively manage our forests;

4. $1 million to compensate farmers for livestock lost to wolves;

5. Important pro-life protections like the Hyde and Weldon amendments;

6. Preventing the greater sage-grouse from being listed as an endangered species and locking up our lands;

7. Exempting livestock haulers from burdensome Department of Transportation electronic logging device mandates;

8. Important federal resources for NASA and Colorado’s space programs; and

9. $10 million for the Indian Irrigation Fund to benefit the Southern Ute Tribe and combat drought.

Advocating for local issues and being a fiscal conservative aren’t mutually exclusive, and I reject the thought that earmarks are the best way for Congress to appropriate the tax dollars of hard-working Americans.

I will continue not to request earmarks and recklessly spend America further into financial bankruptcy. But I will go to bat for our communities and continue to secure more wins, like the nine above, through the normal appropriations process.

I was sent to Congress to legislate as a conservative, and that’s exactly what I’ve done. And as your congresswoman, I’ll continue to deliver conservative victories for rural Colorado.

Lauren Boebert represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Guest commentary: How can we be as good as our dogs think we are?

Reminded of mortality by the Jewish High Holidays, I’ve been thinking about our 14 ½ year-old puppy, Leo. Though near life’s end, his ever-wagging tail signals he’s loving life.

Leo’s dog-sitter insists the secret to his longevity is acute FOMO — fear of missing out — because he loves me more than himself. With a teenager in the family, it’s nice to know that Leo’s always happy to see me!

There’s something God-like about dogs’ capacity to love and forgive — virtues encouraged by this reflective season. As Hunter Thompson said: “Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize you only have one.” That’s why mortality is a gift, for facing it reawakens the vitality and aspiration that slumber under blankets of complacency.

So how can we be as good as our dogs think we are, inspiring metaphorical tail-wagging in others thereby improving the world? I offer three thoughts, inspired by dogs, and some Jewish sages.

First is the art of listening, for to truly hear a dog is to know infinite love. To appreciate listening’s power, consider this story about Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, psychiatrist and “Man’s Search for Meaning” author.

In a midnight call from a suicidal patient, Frankl offered her countless reasons to carry-on, and she promised she would. When asked later which reasons convinced her, she said none, only that a world in which someone was prepared to listen to another’s distress seemed to her one in which it was worthwhile to live. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

So, if you want to be as good as your dog thinks you are, listen. It can make all the difference.

Second is the power of hope, which enables dogs to live joyously while loving unconditionally, proving Friedrich Nietzsche’s truism: “He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear with almost any how.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks believed that unlike optimism, hope requires courage and faith and is an active belief that, collectively, we make things better.

Consider Todd Beamer who, on 9/11, phoned an Airfone operator to relay events aboard UA93, including the plan to overtake the hijackers. Before disconnecting, they recited the Lord’s Prayer as passengers join in, concluding with Psalm 23: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for though art with me.”

In his TedTalk, Rabbi Sacks explained why that sentence is among religious literature’s most moving, because it means “we can face any future without fear so long as we know we will not face it alone.”

Hope for a better future for humanity prompted Beamer’s last words — “Let’s roll!” — saving the Capitol and countless lives.

Hope also is what moved righteous gentiles to hide Jews during the Holocaust. It’s what prompts firefighters to rush into burning buildings, brave souls to join the military, and classmates to shave their heads for graduation, in solidarity with their cancer-afflicted friend. It’s what inspired Mr. Rodgers to break TV’s racial barrier by inviting policeman Clemmons, an African-American, to cool their feet together in a kiddie pool. And it’s hope that stirred Danish charity-worker, Anja Loven, to adopt an abandoned 2-year-old Nigerian boy, nursing him to health.

She named him Hope.

So, if you want to be as good as your dog thinks you are, have a why and the hope to pursue it.

Finally, there’s gratitude, like that of our tail-wagging dogs. If we were half as grateful as they, wouldn’t we be twice the humans and happier to boot?

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin teaches that to feel gratitude is to feel loved. Those who remember every not-nice-thing could feel happier and loved if only they remembered nice things.

Meanwhile, like gratitude, forgiveness makes life easier for not forgiving is like swallowing poison expecting another to suffer.

So, if you want to be as good as your dog thinks you are, listen, be hopeful and grateful, and resist resentment. We’ll be more like our dogs and God, which is why dogs are so divine.

Remember, you cannot waste time in advance, which is a gift! The Kotzker rabbi taught that the greatest miracle is not resurrecting the dead; it’s resurrecting the living, moving us toward the life we should be leading.

Thank Again — If we live that life and are granted as many years as Leo, we too can experience FOMO because the world is that much better because we’ve been in it.

Melanie Sturm aims to change communication for good through her training and writing. This column was adapted from remarks made during the High Holidays. Leo was there, tail-a-wagging as he lapped up attention and food. Alas, he passed shortly thereafter, leaving Melanie bereft. She feels better each day, knowing Leo would want her to live as he did, joyfully and gratefully. Melanie welcomes comments at

Guest commentary: Recovering our friend from Crystal River was something we had to do; he would have done the same for us

A group of friends and experts set up a rig across the Crystal River to recover the body of Chason Russell. The experienced crew tested the system before putting rescuers in it.
Courtesy photo

I’m writing these words in the aftermath of the death of our friend in an attempt to make some sense of the last few days, as well as to tell the details and truths as I know them of the events up to and after Chason Russell’s death on the Crystal River.

Chason was kayaking with his longtime adventure partner Stan Prichard of Carbondale on Thursday night, as well as another man. On the lower half of the Meatgrinder Rapid, Chason flipped over and missed the very narrow window of opportunity to “roll” his kayak upright again before he began dropping into the next rocky section of whitewater.

I assume during this section that he was upside down, Chason took a hard blow to the helmet and felt the need to eject himself from his kayak. Chason has been kayaking for over 25 years and has only “swam” out of his boat once or twice, an incredible fact and a testament to just how good a kayaker he was.

Upon “swimming” out of his boat, Stan was immediately with Chason and attempting to rescue his partner. Chason was never lost. Stan Prichard was by his side the entire time. Stan brought his boat to within Chason’s reach and made contact and began paddling him to shore.

The two went through another “hole” or large rapid, which caused Stan’s boat to flip. The two lost contact at the time and Stan “rolled” his boat back upright to see Chason get flushed over the next river feature and submerge completely. He saw Chason begin to rise and then stop just shy of the surface. We know now that Chason’s leg became stuck in an “entrapment,” or lodged between rocks that held him in place.

Stan whipped his kayak into the “eddy” or slack water just behind Chason and attempted to make contact again. The situation became quite dangerous for Stan, as during the ensuing efforts he lost his paddle while attempting to make contact with Chason and had to paddle to shore by hand. Once on shore he made every effort to get a rope to Chason but too much time had past and Chason remained stuck and had become unresponsive.

The effort that Stan put into saving his friend cannot be overstated. In the end, Chason was lost to kayaking. He had spent the entirety of his life pursuing the sport all over the world. Kayaking and skiing were his passions and nothing made him happier than being on the water in all its forms with his friends and loved ones. He was truly a river otter in human form.

As the news spread Friday morning, his friends from around the state began to travel toward Redstone. We arrived throughout the afternoon to be together and console each other in a time of hardship. Upon arrival it became clear that Chason would not be recovered by any formal entity, Sherrif’s Office, Search and Rescue, or otherwise. It was Stan Prichard’s firm opinion that Chason never became dislodged from his entrapment and was still in the same basic location. Efforts to identify him from drone footage were not positive and so no action was to be taken by local authorities.

Those of us who knew and loved Chason could not stand by without attempting to recover him from the river. So, the assembled group made some calls and rounded up all the necessary equipment to perform a body recovery on our own. The group was comprised of about 30 people: swift water rescue technicians and instructors, ski patrollers, mountain guides, world class kayakers, rock climbers, doctors, EMTs and loved ones. They ranged from Telluride, Silverton, Durango, Ouray, Aspen, Carbondale and Tahoe, and as a group had literally hundreds of years of experience to draw on. This was not a cavalier effort, but a calculated, well thought out and careful mission.

In a five-hour period on Saturday (June 19) the group built a ropes system across the river to guide a raft, controlled from shore, into the area where Chason Russell submerged. We conducted a “grid search” of the roughly 15-by-15 foot space in the lower half of Meatgrinder rapid. As a brief hailstorm rained down, we located his body.

Members of the group were able to get a rope around him — his body was approximately 3 feet below the surface. Again using our ropes system we were able to pull him free. He was still caught by the same entrapment that held his leg and was found within a few feet of his last sighted location. Ultimately, we were able to get our friend out of the river and bring some much needed closure to his family, wife and loved ones.

I would like to thank the Carbondale & Rural Fire Protection District for the gracious use of the Redstone firehouse, and to the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Department for understanding our need to attempt to bring Chason home.

It was hugely cathartic to our group to come together and have a place to focus our grief and energy. Chason would have done the same for any one of us. I would also like to thank everyone who came to lend a hand. No one was asked to come for that purpose, we all just showed up, which in my opinion was the truest act of love.

Lastly, I want to thank Stan Prichard. I have never known a stronger person in all my years of outdoor adventures, as a kayaker, as a climber and as a dedicated friend. Stan led the team in our effort and was in the raft as we recovered our friend. He never gave up trying to bring Chason to shore and we are all very grateful for his efforts.

Like I said before, Chason Russell was never lost, he just moved into our hearts and our paddle strokes, our ski turns and our powders days, and he will remain with us for all river miles of our lives.

Josh Borof is the president of the Telluride Mountain Club and longtime friend of Chason Russell.

Editor’s note: For information on the Chason P Russell Memorial Fund, go to