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Rifle police chief candidates introduce themselves to residents

As former Rifle Police Chief Tommy Kline steps into his new role as city manager, the search for Rifle’s next chief of police has narrowed down to three candidates.

On Friday, those candidates — Debra Funston, Adam Cataffo and Michael Drake — introduced themselves to Rifle residents during a candidate forum at the Ute Theater and Events Center.

Debra Funston

Rifle Police chief candidate Debra Funston introduces herself to residents during a candidate forum Friday at the Ute Theater and Events Center. Funston currently serves as the police chief in Palisade. Ike Fredregill
Post Independent

Currently in her sixth year serving as the Palisade police chief, Funston has 33 years of law enforcement experience.

“Building our community’s trust in law enforcement always comes down to providing impeccable police service with integrity, character and transparency for the people we serve,” Funston told attendees.

Born and raised in Montrose, Funston began her law enforcement career in Hampton, Virginia, as a patrol officer, before returning to Montrose and serving on the local police department for 11 years.

“I love the Western Slope,” Funston said, explaining she also served on the Steamboat Springs Police Department.

During her career, she held a number of titles and positions, including school resource officer, field training officer, detective division supervisor and public information officer.

A graduate of the FBI Rocky Mountain Command College, Funston has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration and a master’s degree in public administration.

“I am blessed with many opportunities to serve,” Funston said, adding she is active on many boards and commissions. “I would like to serve and become a part of Rifle.”

Adam Cataffo

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Adam Cataffo started his law enforcement career in Rifle, before moving to Douglas County to work with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, where he worked for 20 years. Ike Fredregill
Post Independent

After 24 years of law enforcement, Cataffo retired from Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, but he said he is ready to return to law enforcement.

“A lot of you may be asking why I would come out of retirement now,” he said. “And the answer is I owe a great debt to this city. One I will probably never be able to repay.”

Born in Brooklyn, New York, Cataffo’s first law enforcement job was in Rifle.

“This is the place that gave me my start, and I had a lot of firsts here,” Cataffo said, “my first arrest, my first time being shot at was here, I met my wife here and my daughter was born here.”

While serving with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, he worked in the investigations: major case unit, served as a coordinator for the judicial district’s critical response team and served as the team commander for the SWAT hostage negotiation team.

Having completed the Northwestern University’s School of Police Staff and Command class, Cataffo also earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in criminal justice and public administration.

“I don’t think there is any greater calling than public service,” he said. “I can promise I will always be there for you.”

Michael Drake

Currently serving as Major in the New York State Police Department’s Professional Standards Division, Michael Drake and his wife have been eyeing a move to Colorado’s Western Slope for years, he told Rifle residents Friday during a Rifle Police chief candidate forum. Ike Fredregill
Post Independent

Currently serving in the New York State Police Professional Standards Division, Drake has 25 years of law enforcement experience.

“When I was about 5 years old, my grandma asked what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Drake said, chuckling. “I told her I either wanted to be the Pope or a police officer. By 7 years old, being the Pope was out.”

While working his way through college, the New York State-native picked up a job as a dispatcher for the local emergency services and knew that’s where he belonged.

After years of climbing the ranks of the New York State Police and long commutes to work, Drake said he and his wife are ready for something different. After researching various areas around the nation, they settled on Colorado’s Western Slope.

“This is the region we can see ourselves,” he said.

Drake has served as a troop commander, captain of the bureau of investigations, interim police chief and captain for uniformed force as well as several years as a firefighter/emergency medical technician. He graduated from the FBI National Academy and has earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and master’s degree of public administration.

“I don’t need this job — I want this job,” Drake said. “You have a great pool of candidates here. You do not lose no matter who you pick here.”

Kline encouraged residents to provide feedback via comment cards and said Rifle plans to make one of the candidates an offer Monday.

Reporter Ike Fredregill can be reached at 970-384-9154 or by email at ifredregill@postindependent.com.

Glenwood Springs mayor column: 2A ballot measure will provide clarity on airport’s future

Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes.

A vote this fall for 2A is an opportunity for the community to provide clarity concerning the future of the runway at the Glenwood Springs Airport. It is important for people to know what they are voting for, and more importantly what they are not voting for.

A vote for 2A is 4 mills and costs a homeowner about $25 per $100,000 of assessed home value annually. This amount will be around four times that for commercial property owners.

It is very important to understand that there will be a helicopter operations center maintained in all scenarios and circumstances, regardless of the outcome of this vote. Any firefighting or medivac activities that take place at the Glenwood Springs Airport are conducted exclusively with helicopters. The large tankers and slurry bombers have to come from Colorado Springs or Grand Junction. Fixed-winged fire planes are just not able to utilize the GWS airport, and helicopters do not need a runway. We all live in Glenwood just like you, and I would never put my family or neighbors in jeopardy in the event of a wildfire or medical evacuation crisis.

Of the money raised, $5.5 million will go to tunneling under the runway so the fixed-winged small aircraft can continue to enjoy the landing strip. Several million more dollars need to go into the airport to make it safe, secure and functional. For example, the runway needs to have a new $300,000 fuel system, ground lighting, runway sealant, hangars, weed management, security/wildlife fencing and a laundry list of other deferred maintenance items that have accumulated over the years. There are currently serious safety code violations associated with the fueling systems, and the fire marshal has given the city 30 days to correct these threats that are adjacent to residential properties.

While some airport users feel that many of these upgrades are unnecessary, it is the responsibility of staff and City Council to ensure the safety, security and potential liability of all city assets is front and center. Private aviation is an inherently risky hobby, and it is our responsibility to minimize hazards and limit our legal liability exposure.

If 2A does not pass, then the future of the runway portion of the airport is less certain. We have been trying, with some small successes, to find grant funding for South Bridge. Just this week we were informed that our congressional earmark from Sen. John Hickenlooper of $1 million dollars was successful. Unfortunately, being a non-FAA commercial airport makes obtaining grant funding for the tunnel portion of the project impossible. So far, we have $25 million of a $56 million project committed. Being able to reduce the cost of the project by $5.5 million dollars by not building a tunnel under the runway will be a significant cost savings. Conversely, if 2A is able to pass, then we will have the funding necessary for the tunnel, and the funding gap will be the same. In either scenario, we reduce the funding gap and bring South Bridge closer to a reality.

If 2A does not pass, council will be faced with needing to commit significant financial resources into upgrading the safety issues associated with the runway. Without the source of revenue that 2A would provide, these funds would have to come from the city’s general fund, which provides the budgets for departments like police, fire and streets. How does council cut budgets across the city when the voters have just told us they didn’t want new tax dollars spent on maintaining a runway? What if we spend several million dollars anyway, the infrastructure bills get passed, and we now have the federal funding to begin construction on South Bridge? Is this an acceptable “sunk cost” to the taxpaying citizens?

This is why council voted to put this question before voters this November. We need to understand if the citizens value the runway portion of the airport when asked directly to fund it. If not, it is disingenuous to say that closing down the runway prior to investing in these large capital expenses is not a strong possibility.

Passage of 2A ensures, for at least the next generation, the certainty and viability of the runway the small private aircraft owners have been requesting. It rectifies the numerous safety issues staff has identified and provides funding for the tunnel. Failure of 2A creates a significant financial burden for the rest of the city with no ready way to pay for the improvements. Failure of 2A could even mean the closure of the runway. Please vote wisely and give me a call if you have any questions: 970-379-4248.

Jonathan Godes is mayor of Glenwood Springs. He was first elected to Glenwood Spring City Council in 2017.

UPDATE: Latest Garfield County COVID-19 statistics and public health information

Latest Garfield County COVID-19 statistics and risk level


Cumulative cases: 7,936

Deaths since outbreak began: 59 confirmed

Current Risk Level: Orange-High Risk

Recent 7-day case totals: Oct. 18-24 – 158; Oct. 11-17 – 161; Oct. 4-10 – 191

Cases by vaccination status for 7-day period ending 10/17: 122 among unvaccinated; 38 breakthrough cases among vaccinated.

Two-week daily case average: 24.57

Single-day high: 101 on 12/10/20

7-day incidence rate: 262.6 per 100,000 people

7-day test positivity rate: 9.1% (14-day: 9.5%)

Current hospitalizations: 6

Vaccination rate by percent of county population: Fully vaccinated – 67%; One dose – 73%. For vaccination information, visit Garfield-County.com/public-health/covid-19-vaccine/

Source: Garfield County Public Health

HOSPITAL STATS (updated weekly)

Valley View Hospital, as of 10/19/2021

Specimens collected through Valley View Hospital: 39,160

Positive results: 2,680

Hospitalizations since outbreak began: 336 (9 new since 10/5)

Grand River Hospital, as of 10/19/2021

Specimens collected through Grand River Health: 11,351

Positive results: 2,057

Hospitalizations since outbreak began: 69 (2 new since 10/5)

Source: Valley View and Grand River hospitals


(Updated 10/20)

St. Stephen Catholic School, Glenwood Springs: Date determined – 9/18; 10 student cases, 1 staff case.

Source: Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment COVID-19 outbreak data page; updated weekly on Wednesday

Free COVID testing in Garfield County

There are two free community testing providers in Garfield County, and neither a doctor’s order nor identification are required. Sites accept both walk-ups and appointments, but do not have rapid tests available. If you have symptoms, or feel you have been exposed, get tested within one to two days. Test turnaround times are between 36-48 hours.

Roaring Fork Valley free COVID testing, Monday through Friday

Carbondale — 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. at the parking lot behind Town Hall, 511 Colorado Ave (Enter via 4th St.)

Glenwood Springs — 7-11 a.m. at the Roaring Fork School District Administration Building parking lot, 1405 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs

Rifle — 8 a.m.-12 p.m. at the Mountain Family Health Center parking lot, 195 W. 14th St., Bldg. C, Rifle (back side of parking lot, closest to the fairgrounds)

State of Colorado free COVID testing: 12-4 p.m. Sundays in Rifle, Public Health parking lot, 195 W. 14th St.

See Garfield County COVID testing for a complete list of testing providers including pharmacies and medical offices in Garfield County.

Flu vaccinations available

In addition to COVID-19 vaccines, seasonal flu vaccine clinics are being held this month at locations throughout Garfield County.

For a full list of clinic dates and locations, see the public health flu page.

The influenza virus changes every year, so getting vaccinated annually is important to make sure you have immunity, public health advises.

Flu symptoms appear one to four days after exposure to the virus and typically last between five to seven days. Even after symptoms resolve many individuals continue to feel fatigued. People who have had the flu shot generally have less severe symptoms over a shorter period.

Conectando a la comunidad: Brianda Cervantes de las escuelas de Roaring Fork une a las familias y al distrito

La organizadora de la comunidad escolar del distrito escolar de Roaring Fork, Brianda Cervantes, habla con una preescolar en la escuela Riverview durante el recreo.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

La pasión por ayudar a las personas inculcada en Brianda Cervantes cuando era niña por su abuelo en la zona rural de Nayarit, México, la ayudó a ponerse de pie después de emigrar a los Estados Unidos cuando era una joven recién salida de la escuela de leyes.

Esa misma pasión finalmente llevó a Cervantes hacia un papel único e importante en las escuelas de Roaring Fork poco después de inscribir a su hijo, Freddy, en la escuela Riverview en Glenwood Springs.

Cervantes, ahora de 31 años, comenzó en lo que en ese momento era una posición relativamente nueva de enlace comunitario con Riverview cuando abrió la nueva escuela enfocada en dos idiomas en el otoño del 2017.

La idea era conectar mejor a las familias de los estudiantes desde el jardín de infantes hasta el octavo grado y, a través de un proceso de comunicación muy intencional, alentarlos a participar más en su educación.

Sobre la base de su inmenso éxito en Riverview, su función se ha expandido desde entonces a una posición de organizadora de la escuela y la comunidad en todo el distrito a través de una asociación con Manaus Fund, al servicio de las escuelas y sus familias en las tres comunidades del distrito.

“Mi abuelo siempre solía decir: ‘Hagas lo que hagas, lo haces mejor,’” dijo Cervantes sobre su abuelo, Domingo.

Cuando Cervantes tenía 15 años, su madre, Ana, vino a Estados Unidos y su padre, Miguel, a menudo estaba ocupado viajando como abogado en México.

“Así es que, en cierto forma, crecí con mis abuelos,” dijo.

Domingo, un simple empresario con una pequeña heladería en su pequeño pueblo de Tepic, Nayarit, debido a su activismo comunitario, tenía algunas conexiones políticas.

Cervantes cuenta una historia de cuando ella tenía quizás solo 6 años, el gobernador de Nayarit vino a Tepic y su abuelo le pidió que leyera en voz alta una carta que le había escrito al gobernador. El periódico local escribió una historia al respecto con su foto y todo. Se aferró al recorte durante años como inspiración.

“Mi abuelo tenía una gran pasión por ayudar a la comunidad y gracias a él, la pequeña comunidad donde vivíamos tenía electricidad para los servicios básicos,” dijo Cervantes. “Él nunca fue a la escuela, pero era como un gran político, y todos en la comunidad conocerían y reconocerían a mis abuelos.”

Camino de inmigrantes

El abuelo de Cervantes murió en el 2007 cuando ella todavía estaba en la escuela en México, y su abuela murió después de llegar a los Estados Unidos.

Después de dejar la escuela de derecho, debido a algunas dificultades en su vida en ese momento, Cervantes se unió a su madre en los E.U. en el 2013, ayudándola con trabajos de limpieza antes de dar a luz dos años después a su hijo, Freddy.

Se tomó unos años para criar a su hijo pequeño. Cuando él alcanzó la edad preescolar fue cuando ella puso un pie por primera vez en la escuela Riverview, justo cuando se estaba preparando para abrir.

En ese momento, ella no hablaba inglés, pero su experiencia en derecho llamó la atención de la enlace familiar de la escuela en ese momento, Janeth Niebla.

Niebla la animó a considerar solicitar un trabajo en la escuela para ayudar a implementar el programa de dos idiomas, en el que las clases se imparten tanto en inglés como en español.

Vacilante al principio, en parte debido a la barrera del idioma, a medida que Cervantes se involucró más en la escuela de su hijo, Niebla siguió presionando.

Cuando Niebla decidió dejar el puesto de enlace a finales de ese año escolar, recurrió a Cervantes como posible candidato sustituto.

Tomó un poco de persuasión, pero finalmente aceptó y recuerda vívidamente su entrevista con Niebla, el director de Riverview Adam Volek, el ex subdirector Jami Hayes y el fallecido filántropo de educación de Roaring Fork Valley, George Stranahan, fundador del Manaus Fund, Valley Settlement Project y el Charter Carbondale Community School.

“Fue difícil, porque no hablaba inglés e hice lo mejor que pude, pero no pensé que lo hice bien,” dijo. “Un par de días después, me llamaron para decirme que el puesto es tuyo si lo quieres.”

Aprendiendo el idioma

Quizás sea apropiado que Cervantes creciera en su nuevo trabajo en Riverview School de la misma manera que sus estudiantes aprenden un nuevo idioma—con mucha ayuda del personal de la oficina principal e incluso de esos mismos estudiantes.

Cervantes nunca ha tomado clases formales de inglés. En cambio, aprendió en el trabajo.

Lo que realmente ayudó, dijo, fue cuando Volek se acercó a ella para que trabajara directamente en una de las aulas de la escuela secundaria, enseñando a los estudiantes cómo ser líderes en su comunidad.

Esa interacción con los estudiantes la obligó a aprender el idioma en un entorno más de intercambio (directo de idiomas).

“Me ayudaron muchísimo,” dijo Cervantes. “Era como si pudiera ser vulnerable con ellos y decir: ‘Esta es mi historia, y esta es quien soy.’

“Creo que los niños se conectaron con eso y me estaban ayudando al mismo tiempo que yo les estaba enseñando,” dijo. “Ha sido un camino de aprendizaje para mí en el que cada día aprendo algo nuevo.”

La organizadora de la comunidad escolar del distrito escolar de Roaring Fork, Brianda Cervantes, habla con el director de la escuela Riverview, Adam Volek.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Volek reconoció que el papel de Cervantes fue crucial en el desarrollo temprano del enfoque de aprendizaje único de la escuela.

“Brianda fue una parte muy importante para ayudar a Riverview a establecer un lugar en nuestra comunidad y garantizar que la equidad estuviera a la vanguardia de nuestro trabajo como organización,” dijo.

“Su papel en la escuela ayudó a establecer vías de comunicación entre nuestra escuela y nuestras familias, apoyando conversaciones personales, dirigiendo reuniones en casa y proporcionando a nuestra escuela una dirección sobre lo que nuestra comunidad necesitaba y pedía en términos de inclusión y voz.”

Expandiendo la voz

En Riverview, Cervantes trabajó codo a codo con los padres líderes de la escuela, los líderes escolares y los maestros y fue fundamental en el establecimiento de la Organización de Voluntarios Familiares, el Comité Asesor de Padres y Comunidad, y los proyectos de liderazgo estudiantil de la escuela.

No mucho después de la apertura de Riverview, los líderes de otras escuelas del distrito comenzaron a darse cuenta.

“Hicimos una encuesta para padres y obtuvimos una puntuación muy alta en la participación familiar,” dijo Cervantes.

Otras escuelas querían tener ese mismo tipo de participación y así lo que comenzó como un intercambio de estrategias entre las escuelas del distrito se convirtió en un nuevo trabajo para Cervantes en 2019 cuando Manaus acordó expandir su rol a un puesto de organizadora escolar-comunitaria en todo el distrito a través de la Centro de Recursos Familiares del distrito.

“Mucho de esto es simplemente tratar de encontrar a las familias donde están y derribar algunas de las barreras,” dijo Cervantes. “Tiene mucho sentido que el trabajo que estaba haciendo con Riverview necesitara expandirse.”

A medida que su enfoque creció para incluir el trabajo con familias en Glenwood Springs, Carbondale y Basalt, notó que algunos de los problemas eran diferentes según la escuela o la comunidad, pero las experiencias de las personas eran muy parecidas.

“Pude conectarme con ellos de una manera en la que confiaran en mí,” dijo Cervantes.

Eso se volvió increíblemente importante cuando la pandemia de COVID-19 llegó en la primavera del 2020, cerró escuelas y envió a los estudiantes a formatos de aula en línea. Las familias latinas en particular no estaban equipadas para adaptarse al aprendizaje en línea de sus hijos al igual que otras familias.

Cervantes y los enlaces familiares de la escuela desempeñaron un papel fundamental en la comunicación con las familias individuales para identificar sus necesidades, trabajaron con el departamento de tecnología del distrito para configurarles conexiones confiables a Internet y llevaron a cabo reuniones individuales para asegurarse de que ellos y sus estudiantes continuaran participando.

Muchas familias se vieron afectadas por la pérdida de empleo y la resultante pérdida financiera, por lo que su trabajo en la asistencia para el alquiler o el acceso a la atención médica aumentó sustancialmente.

“Muchas de las comunicaciones de la escuela solo salían en inglés, así que teníamos que hacer algo al respecto,” dijo Cervantes.

Facebook se convirtió en una plataforma importante para comunicarse con las familias latinas, al igual que la radio en español, a través de Radio Tricolor y la estación de radio pública KDNK en Carbondale, dijo.

A Cervantes se le pidió que fuera una de esas voces habituales en el aire, compartiendo información y dando actualizaciones. Fue un papel que le cayó bien.

“El discurso público es una de mis pasiones, especialmente si es en español,” dijo. “Me siento muy cómoda hablando en público y creo que mi carrera me ha preparado para eso.”

En México, Cervantes asistió a escuelas públicas, pero cuando fue a la universidad dijo que muchos de sus compañeros de estudios de derecho habían estado en escuelas privadas.

“Honestamente, no sentí ninguna desventaja proveniente de una escuela pública,” dijo.

Cervantes atribuye eso a los fuertes roles de mentor que le proporcionaron su abuelo y su padre, así como a Stranahan, a quien se alegró de haber conocido antes de que muriera la primavera pasada.

“Fue mi primer entrenador,” dijo. “Él siempre hacía controles semanales conmigo y se aseguraba de que tuviera todo lo que necesitaba para hacer mi trabajo, y de que estaba feliz.”

Aunque no podría ejercer la abogacía en los Estados Unidos sin una educación de seguimiento extensa, Cervantes dijo que su experiencia en derecho es útil en su función actual en el distrito escolar.

“Estudié derecho civil y de familia, así que mucho de eso se trata de justicia social y equidad. Así que creo que hay muchas interconexiones,” dijo.

Como organizadora de la comunidad escolar y del distrito, Cervantes también forma parte del equipo de comunicación del distrito y del comité directivo de equidad, y facilita el Consejo Asesor Familiar.

“Estoy profundamente comprometida con el fortalecimiento de la justicia social y la equidad en las escuelas y las comunidades,” dijo.

Además de su trabajo con las escuelas, Cervantes también forma parte de la junta del Mountain Voices Project y aún se mantiene activa como madre en Riverview (su hijo, Freddy, ahora está en primer grado) en el Comité de Responsabilidad y Organización de Padres Voluntarios de la escuela.

Además de su trabajo con las escuelas, Cervantes también forma parte de la junta del Proyecto Mountain Voices y todavía está activa como madre de Riverview (su hijo, Freddy, ahora está en primer grado) en el Comité de Responsabilidad y Organización de Padres Voluntarios de la escuela.

También se convirtió en ciudadana oficial de los Estados Unidos el verano pasado, y prestó juramento de ciudadanía en Denver el 13 de julio.

“Te da mucho orgullo,” dijo Cervantes sobre el proceso de casi cinco años para naturalizarse como ciudadano estadounidense. “Pasar por todas las dificultades y luego sentir que has logrado algo muy importante en tu vida, significa mucho.”

Puedes contactar al Reportero Sénior/Editor en Jefe John Stroud al 970-384-9160 o jstroud@postindependent.com.

Encuesta muestra el costo económico que la pandemia de COVID-19 impone en los latinos del Western Slope en Colorado

Un paciente recibe su vacuna contra el COVID-19 en la clínica de vacunas Voces Unidas en Glenwood Springs a principios de este año.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Los latinos en el Western Slope de Colorado se vieron más afectados que los del resto del estado en lo que concierne a obtener suficiente comida y pagar la renta o la hipoteca durante la pandemia de COVID-19, de acuerdo con una encuesta encargada por Voces Unidas de las Montañas, con sede en Roaring Fork Valley, y varios de sus asociados.

Una encuesta de 1,000 adultos latinos registrados para votar en Colorado mostró que el 33% tuvo problemas para obtener suficiente comida en algún momento durante la pandemia. Sin embargo, esa cifra fue del 40% entre los latinos del Western Slope, según la misma encuesta.

En todo el estado, el 50% de los latinos tuvo problemas para pagar el alquiler o la hipoteca durante la pandemia, mientras que en el Western Slope el 64% de los encuestados informó tener dificultades, según los resultados.

“Es más caro en la región montañosa, así que no es una sorpresa,” dijo el martes Alex Sánchez, director ejecutivo de Voces Unidas. “Lo hemos estado escuchando desde el primer día de la pandemia.”

Voces Unidas fue fundada en mayo del 2020 como un grupo de apoyo para los latinos en los valles de Roaring Fork, Eagle y Lower Colorado River. Fue parte de una coalición de cuatro grupos de apoyo para los latinos que encargaron la encuesta a BSP Research del 16 al 31 de agosto. El departamento de ciencias políticas de la Metropolitan State University en Denver también contribuyó con fondos para la investigación. Los resultados completos se publicarán en noviembre. Los resultados relacionados con la pandemia se publicaron el martes.

Sánchez dijo que los resultados se utilizarán para articular la agenda política local y las prioridades legislativas de la organización.

Sánchez dijo que su organización fue testigo durante la pandemia de que los sistemas diseñados para ayudar a las personas en momentos de necesidad “no funcionan para nuestra comunidad.”

Por ejemplo, los bancos de alimentos a menudo proporcionaban productos procesados que a menudo tenían un alto contenido de grasas saturadas en vez de trabajar con la comunidad latina para proporcionar los alimentos frescos que preferían, dijo. Voces Unidas se asoció con Aspen Skiing Co. durante el apogeo de la pandemia para distribuir alimentos más alineados con lo que los latinos querían y necesitaban, dijo.

Además, a pesar de las buenas intenciones, las campañas de vacunación no fueron efectivas para atraer a los latinos, dijo Sánchez, por lo que Voces Unidas intervino. La organización trabajó con la administración del gobernador Jared Polis para obtener vacunas, reclutar médicos y enfermeras y brindar el servicio de maneras que atrajeran a los latinos, según Sánchez. Los trabajadores de las industrias de servicios de bajos salarios a menudo no podían tener suficiente tiempo libre para vacunarse, por lo que Voces Unidas estableció lugares de vacunación cerca de los centros de trabajo de alta concentración.

“No tenemos por qué vacunar a la gente, pero teníamos que hacerlo,” dijo Sánchez. “Cientos, si no miles, vinieron.”

El esfuerzo vacunó a unas 3.000 personas y proporcionó un modelo para los departamentos de salud pública en áreas con una alta población de residentes latinos, dijo. Sin embargo, teme que las lecciones aprendidas se olviden a medida que las inyecciones de refuerzo estén más disponibles.

Los hallazgos clave adicionales de la encuesta estatal incluyeron:

* El 60% de los latinos tuvo horas de trabajo o recortes salariales, o alguien en su hogar perdió su trabajo en algún momento de la pandemia.

* El 56% de los encuestados dijo que tenía problemas para pagar sus facturas o servicios públicos.

* El 14% dijo que se mudó o cambió su situación de vivienda debido a las dificultades de la pandemia.

* El 37% dijo estar “muy seguro” de que puede pagar los gastos básicos de vida, como bienes, vivienda y servicios públicos.

* El 43% de los encuestados dijo que alguien en su hogar tuvo COVID-19.

No hubo resultados específicos para la comunidad latina de Roaring Fork Valley. Sin embargo, los resultados de la encuesta deberían servir para “bajarnos de la nube” en el valle, dijo Sánchez, porque los problemas de los latinos en el valle a menudo se ven agravados por el alto costo de vida, específicamente la vivienda.

Además de la encuesta, hubo un sondeo en línea que investigó más profundamente que la encuesta y Voces Unidas organizó una reunión frente a frente de un día completo con líderes latinos desde Aspen hasta Parachute para tener una mejor idea de sus preocupaciones.

Sánchez dijo que Voces Unidas abogará por más programas de vivienda para ayudar a los trabajadores de bajos salarios en las industrias de servicios. Al diseñar programas para ayudar a quienes tienen las mayores barreras de acceso a viviendas asequibles, ayuda a todas las personas que necesitan una vivienda asequible, sostuvo.

Dijo que los resultados de la encuesta confirman que la pandemia afectó significativamente el bienestar económico de las familias latinas en todo Colorado.

“Es casi imposible poder exagerar el impacto de la pandemia en la comunidad latina en Colorado,” dijo Sánchez. “Cuando se trata de indicadores económicos básicos, como tener dinero para pagar las facturas para tener un techo sobre sus cabezas y poner comida en la mesa, la encuesta ofrece una visión aleccionadora de lo difícil que ha sido la recesión económica causada por la pandemia para la minoría étnica más grande del estado.”


On the Fly column: Shorter days, cooler nights put trout in feeding frenzy

A Fryingpan River spawning bed, which all fishermen try to avoid during fall to encourage healthy natural reproduction. Scott Spooner/Courtesy photo

The shorter days and cooler temperatures of autumn kick our trout into high gear as they sense these changes, and a primal urge to feed on anything and everything takes over. This especially applies to the thousands of brown trout here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Fall brings spawning season every year for brown trout, and they begin to pair up and create beds to spawn. Females will brush the river bottom with their tails to create a clean area for procreation; usually, shallow and gravelly bottomed areas are preferred.

Once eggs are deposited on the river bottom, males fertilize them and tend to guard the bed with a vengeance. When you come across these clean beds (redds) this fall, be sure to give them a wide berth and cross downstream of them, if you need to cross the river. When we cross upstream of these beds, we cover the eggs with mud and moss, which prevents the eggs from fertilizing and developing properly.

As we mentioned last week, fall is the absolute best time to cast larger flies (streamers) here in the valley. This is primarily because of these aggressive behaviors that come along with spawning, in addition to the shorter days and cooler nights triggering the need to bulk up as reliable food sources begin to wane. The days of size-10 green drakes are over, and soon there won’t be much forage besides the occasional midge or winter stonefly for local trout.

As fall takes over here in the valley, be sure to spend some days on your favorite section of river. A riffle or pool that was a little slow over the past few weeks just might surprise you. Keep an eye out for those beds, give them a wide berth, and enjoy the beauty of autumn out there.

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 TaylorCreek.com.

Basalt football skirts Rifle rally to win in overtime; Glenwood tops Eagle Valley; Skiers roll over Coal Ridge

Basalt’s Cooper Crawford braces for a Rifle tackle during the game on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

The Basalt High School football team overcame a Rifle rally to hold on for a 29-28 overtime win over the Bears on the BHS field, keeping its 2A playoff hopes alive and well with a week to go.

“Credit to them. They got a lot of their offense going in the fourth quarter, and we had a really hard time and were on our heels,” Basalt coach Carl Frerichs said after Friday’s game. “Really, really proud of Basalt football, and I really feel like we are in a good place.”

Rifle, the defending spring state champion in the one-off 3A pandemic season, trailed 21-7 after three quarters but managed to force the extra session. In the alternating possession OT period, Rifle had first go and scored on a 7-yard TD pass from quarterback Trey Caldwell to Gavin Peterson to take a 28-21 lead.

A pass interference call on the Rifle defense on the first play of Basalt’s possession led to an easy TD run by Basalt’s Cooper Crawford to make it 28-27. After a couple of timeouts, BHS coach Carl Frerichs elected to try for the 2-point conversion, and Crawford again ran it in to give the Longhorns the win.

“We just felt like defensively we were hanging on, and we are on the 3-yard line, and we got some big running backs and an offensive line that was playing pretty well,” Frerichs said of the decision to go for the 2-point conversion in overtime, “so we just felt like percentages, that was our best opportunity to pull off the win. Cooper ran extremely hard and actually broke a tackle before he got in the end zone.”

Basalt had a chance to win the game in regulation, but a 28-yard field goal attempt by Carlos Palomares was blocked with 14 seconds to play, and to overtime the teams went.

The Longhorns controlled most of the first half. After a scoreless first quarter, BHS would take a 7-0 lead into the halftime break after Crawford scored on a 4-yard run set up by a Rifle fumble when trying to field a punt.

Basalt’s lead grew to 14-0 early in the third quarter, a 44-yard TD run by Sam Sherry on a reverse extending the advantage.

Rifle got back into the game later in the third quarter when Caldwell broke free for a 77-yard TD run, but Basalt answered just minutes later with another long Sherry scoring run, this time from 58 yards.

Down 21-7, the Bears had all the answers in the fourth quarter. Toto Fletchall scored on a short run to make it 21-14 with just over 10 minutes to play, and it was Caldwell who tied the game on another short TD run with four and a half minutes to go.

This led to Basalt’s blocked field goal attempt in the final seconds and then the dramatic overtime period.

“They started to figure out some things that worked, and we started to get on our heels a little bit,” Frerichs said. “We knew they were going to be a physical team, because we really felt like all season they played well on the defensive side of the ball, so we knew offensively we were going to have our work cut out for us. Defensively we thought we played really, really well for three quarters and then once that quarterback started to get a little loose we had some problems with him for sure.”

The loss dropped Rifle to 3-5 overall and 1-3 in Class 2A Western Slope League play and likely eliminated the Bears from any chance at the postseason, as slim as it was entering Friday’s game. They play Delta next week in the regular-season finale.

Basalt, ranked No. 10 in 2A this week, bounced back from a 42-14 loss to Delta last week to improve to 6-2 overall and 2-2 in league play. The win should have the Longhorns feeling good about making the 16-team playoff field with only a home game with Aspen remaining on the schedule next week.

“We knew going in, even if we were to win or lose, it’s more we are playing for playoff seeding,” Frerichs said. “All you want is to be in the playoff bracket, but then your seeding does make a difference. We have an outside shot at even a home playoff game. That’s exciting for our kids.”

Glenwood Springs notches a ‘W’

In Class 3A action at Gypsum Friday night, the Glenwood Springs Demons got back to their winning ways, downing the Eagle Valley Devils in a nonconference affair, 35-20.

It was the first win in five outings through the middle stretch of the season for Glenwood, including a pair of tough 3A Central West losses to Summit and Steamboat Springs the past two weeks.

Glenwood controlled the game at Eagle Valley from the start, opening a 21-6 halftime lead and adding touchdowns and ensuing extra points in the third and fourth quarters to match a string of TDs for the host Devils. Game details and individual statistics were not yet posted to MaxPreps as of Sunday.

The Demons improved to 4-4 overall, and stand at 0-2 in league going into the final two games of the season against league-leading Palisade (6-2, 3-0) at home Friday, and Battle Mountain (2-6, 1-2) on Nov. 5, also at Stubler Memorial Field.

A win over the Bulldogs Friday would launch the Demons right back into the 3A playoff picture. Game time is 7 p.m.

Coal Ridge falls to Aspen

The Skiers hosted winless Coal Ridge on Friday, rolling to a 48-7 victory on the AHS turf. Aspen improved to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in WSL play, its other league win having come 34-19 over Rifle on Oct. 1. While certainly not eliminated from playoff contention, AHS faces an uphill climb and almost certainly would have to upset Basalt next week to get in.

In the league’s biggest game on Friday, No. 5 Delta held on for a 17-14 home win over No. 4 Moffat County to essentially lock up the league championship. The Panthers are now 7-1 and 4-0 in the WSL, while Moffat lost for the first time, falling to 7-1 and 3-1 in league play.

Gunnison trounces Roaring Fork

Roaring Fork had its chances in a 1A homecoming battle against the Gunnison Cowboys Friday night in Carbondale, but interceptions kept the Rams out of the end zone and off the scoreboard in the 38-0 shutout.

Scoring details and stats had not been reported to MaxPreps as of Sunday. The Rams fall to 1-7 overall and 1-4 in the 1A Western Slope League, as the Cowboys kept pace for a possible post-season playoff bid.

Roaring Fork closes out the season Friday at Cedaredge.

Glenwood’s Johnson wins 4A XC regional; area 3A prep cross-country runners qualify for state

Runners from Coal Ridge, Basalt and Alamosa lead the pack early in the race during Friday's Colorado 3A Region 1 XC meet at VIX Park in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Glenwood Springs High School senior cross-country runner Ella Johnson won the Class 4A Region 1 cross-country meet Friday in Evergreen, pacing her Demons team to the fourth and final team qualifying spot for this week’s state championships.

Johnson covered the 5-kilometer course in 18 minutes, 41.8 seconds, outrunning Grand Junction Central’s Tristian Spence by 13 seconds, with Eagle Valley’s Samantha Blair in close pursuit only 1.6 seconds back of Spence.

Johnson’s Demons teammate, junior Sophia Connerton-Nevin, was seventh overall in 20:03.8, and Glenwood had runners in 25th (Maria Carlson, 21:33.5), 43rd (Alexa Helms, 22:28.9) and 57th (Taia Nykerk, 23:52.5) to finish fourth in the team competition behind regional champion Battle Mountain, Mullen and Golden.

Meanwhile, at the 3A Region 1 meet held in New Castle Friday, other Garfield County teams just missed out on qualifying for state as teams but will be sending some individual representatives to state.

The Basalt High School girls finished second behind juniors Katelyn Maley and Ava Lane. The state qualifier, held at VIX Park, was dominated by the Alamosa girls, who won with 31 points to Basalt’s 68 points.

Alamosa sophomore Sarah Delacerda won the girls race in 19 minutes, 18.2 seconds, holding off Maley (19:23.8), who is the defending 3A state champion. Gunnison freshman Madelyn Stice was third (19:41.9), and Lane was fourth (19:44.1).

Also showing well for the Longhorns were freshman Isabella Moon (16th, 21:06.4) and junior Sarah Levy (17th, 21:09.4).

Meet host Coal Ridge placed fifth in the girls race and seventh for the boys. The Rifle boys placed fifth, two points behind fourth-place North Fork.

According to the Colorado High School Activities Association cross-country bulletin, the top four teams from each regional plus the top 15 individual runners qualify for state for divisions 3A and up. Class 2A still takes the top 15 individuals, but includes the fifth place team.

For the Titans and Bears, that meant narrow misses to qualify for state as teams.

Coal Ridge junior Mikayla Cheney finished sixth overall (19:55.9), and senior Araceli Ayala (22:42.7) finished 11th. Rifle freshman Ana Robinson came in 15th (21:00.1) to grab the last state qualifying spot.

In the boys race, Titan junior Tyler Parker led local athletes with an eighth-place finish (17:51.3). Rifle senior Jace Coller took 14th (18:30.3) to qualify for state.

In the 2A Region 4 meet at Delta Friday, Colorado Rocky Mountain School of Carbondale qualified its girls team for state, with a fourth place finish behind Soroco, Mancos and Caprock Academy. Top individual finishers for CRMS were: Morgan Karow (third, 20:42), Lola Villafranco (11th, 21:44), Mandy Lei (25th, 23:00), Scarlett Kerr (34th, 23:44) and Chantel Hope (38th, 23:49).

The top finisher for the CRMS boys was Sawyer McLernon, placing 21st in 19:02 but out of the qualifying. Also competing at the 2A regional in Delta was Grand Valley, though no runners qualified for state.

The state cross country championships will be held at Norris Penrose Event Center in Colorado Springs on Saturday, Oct. 30.

Runners from Rifle and Coal Ridge High school run with the rest of the pack during the start of Friday's Colorado 3A Region 1 XC meet at VIX Park in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
An Aspen High School runner crosses the finish line at Friday's Colorado 3A Region 1 XC meet at VIX Park in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
A Coal Ridge High School runner looks to the runner behind him while pushing it to the finish line at Friday's Colorado 3A Region 1 XC meet at VIX Park in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Basalt High School's Katelyn Maley finishes second place at Friday's Colorado 3A Region 1 XC meet at VIX Park in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Basalt High School's Katelyn Maley battles with a runner from Alamosa during Friday's Colorado 3A Region 1 XC meet at VIX Park in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Runners from Aspen High School compete in the Colorado 3A Region 1 XC meet at VIX Park in New Castle on Friday afternoon.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Basalt High School's Ava Lane finishes in fourth place at Friday's Colorado 3A Region 1 XC meet at VIX Park in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent
Runners from Coal Ridge, Basalt and Alamosa lead the pack early in the race during Friday's Colorado 3A Region 1 XC meet at VIX Park in New Castle.
Chelsea Self/Post Independent

Glenwood Springs Post Independent reporters Rich Allen and John Stroud and visual journalist Chelsea Self, and Aspen Times reporter Austin Colbert contributed to this report.

Lesh found guilty of illegal snowmobiling on forest lands

David Lesh enters the federal courthouse in Grand Junction after a break in his trial on Aug. 5. A judge found Lesh guilty Friday of two petty offenses.
McKenzie Lange/Grand Junction Sentinel archive

David Lesh’s love of media attention finally caught up with him and played a role Friday in his conviction on two federal petty offenses.

Lesh was found guilty of riding a snowmobile illegally at a terrain park at Keystone Resort on April 24, 2020, and of undertaking an unauthorized commercial venture on national forestland.

A one-day trial took place in U.S. District Court in Grand Junction on Aug. 5 before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gordon Gallagher. Lesh wasn’t entitled to a jury trial because the charges are petty offenses. Gallagher wrote in his ruling that he will sentence Lesh after it is determined if there is a dispute over restitution.

Lesh’s posting of pictures of himself undertaking or faking activities on national forest land played a role in the conviction, according to the judge’s ruling. Lesh posted two photos of himself snowmobiling at Keystone after the ski area was closed during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lesh also posted photos of himself seemingly defecating in Maroon Lake southwest of Aspen on Oct. 21, 2020, and walking on a log on Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon on June 10, 2020. Lesh said the lake images were digitally altered and the government didn’t argue their authenticity. However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Hautzinger, the prosecutor in the case, said those photos showed a pattern of Lesh promoting his business, a small outerwear company called Virtika, with controversial images of him on public lands. That led to the petty offense charge that Lesh was “selling or offering for sale any merchandise or conducting any kind of work activity or service without authorization upon lands administered by the United States Forest Service.”

The judge determined Lesh’s social media campaign with photos on or pretending to be on public lands constituted a commercial venture.

“The advertisement and marketing campaign with which Defendant embarked, beginning with the Keystone Resort photographs, was one that relied upon social media trolling as a way to stir up controversy and free press while using NFS lands as the location or backdrop ….” Gallagher wrote.

Lesh’s interview for an extensive Jan. 11, 2021 article in The New Yorker, “Trolling the Great Outdoors,” also played into his conviction on the sale or attempted sale of merchandise. In the article, Lesh bragged about how his actions, the public backlash and the government’s efforts to prosecute him were boosting his company’s sales.

The judge wrote in his decision: “Defendant assisted the Government in proving his motive, opportunity, and intent when he stated in The New Yorker article, ‘[t]he more hate I got, the more people got behind me, from all over the world. It was an opportunity to reach a whole new group of people — while really solidifying the customer base we already had.”

The judge also noted that Lesh said his legal troubles had boosted sales.

“Thus, the Court finds that Defendant’s activity while trespassing at the Keystone Resort was commercial in nature and that the activity was on lands encompassed by the regulation and without a special use authorization,” the ruling said.

The New Yorker article and an unrelated podcast also played into the conviction for illegal snowmobiling at Keystone. The judge wrote that the government provided persuasive evidence that no Keystone workers made the snowmobile tracks in the terrain park at the closed ski area. Resort employees found the tracks on April 25, the same day that Lesh posted two photos on his social media account that purported to be him snowmobiling at Keystone.

The author of The New Yorker article wrote that Lesh posted the photos of himself snowmobiling off jumps in the terrain park. In a podcast after the article came out, Lesh said “nothing that (the author) said was untrue or unfair.”

The judge wrote: “The question is whether Defendant manifested an adoption or belief in the truth of the statements in The New Yorker article. This Court finds that he did.”

Later in the ruling, Gallagher wrote, “With the combination of circumstantial evidence plus Defendant’s adoption or belief in the truth of the article’s statements, this Court finds beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant possessed or operated an over-snow vehicle on NFS lands on or about April 24, 2020, that such operation or possession of an over-snow vehicle was outside of the roads, trails, and areas designated for over-snow vehicle use because the Keystone Resort was closed due to the DOVID-19 pandemic and the terrain park was not a designated route, and that defendant’s conduct did not fall within any of the regulatory exemptions.”

Lesh’s attorney, Eric Faddis, attempted to show during the trial that Lesh couldn’t be identified from the photographs as the person riding the snowmobile at Keystone.

Faddis also attempted to block admittance of The New Yorker article at the trial because he said it was hearsay and couldn’t be verified.

Faddis contended at the trial that the government was going after Lesh because he is a “controversial figure.”

Lesh first popped into the limelight in Aspen in July 2019 when he was spotted riding his snowmobile in an off-limits area near the Upper Lost Man trailhead on Independence Pass. Forest Service investigators tracked him down by using photos Lesh posted of himself on social media.

Lesh reached the federal court equivalent of a deferred judgment in the Independence Pass case. He didn’t admit guilt but paid a $500 fine and served 50 hours of community service.

In the Keystone case, the judge has wide latitude in sentencing. Lesh is currently banned from entering national forestlands.

Gallagher ruled that the U.S. Attorney’s Office must file a request for restitution, if any is sought, by Nov. 15. Lesh will have 14 days to respond. If the amount is disputed, either party can request a hearing.

“The Court will later set a sentencing date after the parties have determined whether restitution is at issue,” the judge wrote.

Faddis couldn’t be reached for comment Saturday on the ruling or the possibility of an appeal. The judge wrote in the ruling that a final judgment won’t be entered until the day of sentencing. The window for appeal will start when the final judgment is entered.


‘The new normal:’ One year after the East Troublesome Fire made its historic run, federal agencies are adjusting to meet growing wildfire demand

The East Troublesome Fire is pictured from Cottonwood Pass on the evening of Oct 21, 2020, in Grand County. One year ago, the blaze grew more than 87,000 acres in a 24-hour period from Oct. 21-22, 2020.
Andrew Lussie/Courtesy photo

Wildland firefighting is changing on a national scale.

For the past 20 years or so, fire officials and everyday community members have seen an unmistakable pattern of growing wildfire danger across the western United States.

According to data provided by the National Interagency Coordination Center, more than 3.2 million acres of forest burned in wildfires across the country on average between 1983 and 2000. Between 2001 and 2020, that average jumped to more than 7 million acres — over 10,977 square miles — and the only three recorded years with more than 10 million acres burned have all occurred since 2015.

There are a number of factors contributing to the trend, including past land management policies, climate change and expanded human development into the wildland urban interface, to name a few. But one thing is clear: America is burning.

“Overall, we are seeing an increase in large wildfire activity,” said Jessica Gardetto, a spokesperson for the National Interagency Fire Center based out of Boise, Idaho. “On average, we’re seeing fire years extend by about 60 days on either end of the spring or the fall. It’s been gradual over the last 20 years, but it’s definitely occurring.”

As the size and severity of wildfires continues to grow, so too does the demand on federal firefighting resources. And officials say they’re changing the way they approach firefighting to try and stay ahead of the game.

Preparing for the unexpected

A strong attack on the ground is key in wildfire suppression and containment, but it’s getting more dangerous to place firefighters in the path of what are becoming increasingly unpredictable blazes. The best example is here on the Western Slope.

In about a 24-hour period from Oct. 21-22, 2020, the East Troublesome Fire exploded, growing more than 87,000 acres — fueled by high winds, drought conditions and beetle-killed trees that served as the perfect kindling for the fire’s rapid growth.

That kind of fire behavior, especially overnight, is extraordinary by any measure. But officials say it’s now what they’re forced to plan for.

“I think we’re at the point now where that’s normal,” said Adam Bianchi, district ranger for the Dillon Ranger District of the White River National Forest. “… We just have seen fire behavior change and do things differently that historically we have not, and we’re just learning differently with that. That goes also back into the safety aspect. Where we would historically feel comfortable in certain situations knowing how fire typically burns, now we may not be as aggressive. …

“With lower (relative humidity) and cooler temperatures, we felt like nighttime was always a good opportunity to make good headway on any sort of suppression or containment. That’s not necessarily the truth anymore, so we’ve had to adjust, I think, on our tactics and just accept that it’s not unprecedented. This is it: This is the new normal, and we need to be prepared for the unexpected.”

Perhaps the biggest change in the wildland culture over the past decade-plus is a movement away from more traditional and aggressive tactics on the ground, pulling firefighters away from situations where they could be killed or injured — futilely facing down a flaming front or moving through areas with dead-standing trees — and putting them in a position where they can actually succeed.

Firefighters often rely on firebreaks to find safe places to engage a fire, whether that’s a road, a natural barrier or an area that’s been treated by a hazardous fuels mitigation project. But those projects are expensive.

Bianchi said that in the past, companies would pay the U.S. Forest Service to come in and harvest timber. In places like Colorado, he said that industry has shrunk to the point where fuels-mitigation projects leave the service in the red, and it’s reliant on partnerships with local governments to subsidize the work. That means federal officials have to be careful with where they plan projects to get the most bang for their buck.

“That’s where we struggle, and so our philosophies had to change,” Bianchi said. “Instead of doing these really large, landscape-scale projects with a lot of acres, it’s about being strategic. We have a finite amount of money, and we really have to rely on partners … putting in dollars to help us manage it.”

Aviation resources are another major expense, but they’re also key in helping to reduce extreme fire behavior and giving firefighters on the ground a chance to do their work. Given the extensive demand for those aircraft in recent years, federal officials have had to prioritize what goes where.

Gardetto said the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group — a collaboration of fire managers from various agencies — meet twice daily to determine where the most highly requested resources should go.

“We have to be really strategic in years like this and like last year when we have a significant number of large wildfires burning across the landscape,” Gardetto said, adding that it’s similar to the military moving soldiers and military resources around during war.

“(It’s) involved, and in some cases, (resources) can be moved daily or even a couple times in a day with something like aerial resources that can move quickly,” she explained.

Gardetto said that federal wildland fire agencies are looking into expanding the nation’s fleet of aircraft to meet growing demand along with additional employees to facilitate the associated contracting work.

“It’s not just adding the actual metal that’s flying in the air; it’s all the support personnel that come along with it,” she said.

Supporting firefighters

Firebreaks and slurry drops do little good without men and women on the ground doing the dirty work.

Gardetto said there is an ongoing effort at the national level to transform the wildland firefighting workforce. She noted that the Bureau of Land Management is working to create a ratio of 80% full-time to 20% seasonal employees — she said about one-third of employees are currently permanent — and that other federal agencies are working on similar initiatives.

With wildfire season rapidly expanding into the fall and winter months in some areas of the country and more mitigation projects needed, a more permanent wildland workforce would be ideal. But lately, federal agencies have had difficulties recruiting and retaining those firefighters. Officials say the problem is poor wages, limited benefits and brutal working conditions.

“We’re seeing people leave and take other jobs, and we’re seeing competition with private industry,” Gardetto said. “Some places like Costco are offering higher starting wages than entry-level fire positions. … We want to increase wages to give firefighters a living wage and then ensure that they have meaningful careers: providing permanent positions with benefits and increasing our workforce so that we can allow firefighters to take time off in the summer to ensure a work-life balance. Right now, being a wildland firefighter often means being gone from your family and away from home for months at a time.”

There has been a push in Congress to address funding issues. The infrastructure funding bill would allocate about $3.4 billion toward wildfire risk reduction efforts, including hazardous fuels reduction programs, community wildfire mitigation grants and wage increases for firefighters.

U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado, co-chair of the bipartisan wildfire caucus, last month passed a pair of measures through the U.S. House of Representatives centered on improving housing opportunities and mental health programs for federal firefighters as part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, Neguse and his co-sponsors unveiled the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act, named for a smokejumper who died in the line of duty in New Mexico earlier this year. If signed into law, the bill would raise federal firefighter pay to at least $20 an hour, ensure firefighters earn retirement benefits and create a new federal wildland firefighter employment classification so they’re recognized for the dangerous work they’re doing, among other changes.

According to Neguse, federal firefighters are currently classified as forestry technicians, make an average entry wage of about $13.45 per hour and are infrequently provided with adequate health care benefits.

Finding solutions together

Wildfires are changing here in Colorado and around the country, and finding and implementing the right solutions to fight back isn’t going to be easy.

Officials emphasized that in addition to expanding federal and state firefighting capabilities, local communities need to understand their role in preventing catastrophic wildfires.

“Historically, many communities have had the attitude of, ‘Well, it’s not going to happen to us,’” Gardetto said. “So they don’t take proactive measures to reduce the wildfire risk around their communities.

“That’s something that, while the federal government can assist with grants and conduct treatments around communities on federal properties, it’s really the responsibility of homeowners to make sure their property is resistant to fire. Thankfully, that’s something we’re seeing. People are making firewise efforts. We’re seeing more firewise communities. However, we still have a ways to go.”