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Saved from Hayden Pass Fire: Genetically rare cutthroat heading back to mountain streams

Posted at 7:37 PM, Jul 02, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-03 07:36:06-04

CUSTER COUNTY — A cutthroat trout found only in Southern Colorado is on the way back to mountain streams after a disastrous encounter with the 2016 Hayden Pass wildfire. "Subsequent monsoons wiped out the population,” said Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Aquatic Biologist, Josh Nehring. Thankfully Colorado Parks and Wildlife teams recognized the threat to the genetically unique fish and moved a large number of the fish to a hatchery.

Spawning in captivity has gone really well. "They're kind of bursting at the seams with so many fish," said Aquatic Biologist, Carrie Tucker. So many fish, it is a good time to move them to a new home.

Cottonwood Creek in Custer County was identified as a good location to transplant fish. "It's similar area, it's still in the Arkansas Basin,” said Tucker.

Transporting 4,500 fish for release along an eight mile stretch of creek requires a lot of help. “We felt really lucky to be part of it,” said one volunteer named Amber. Some of the fish were placed in plastic bags inside backpacks, hauled by hikers. "Once we put them in the bags they only have about four hours-worth of oxygen left. So, it's pretty imperative that we get them out as quickly as possible,” said Tucker. The most remote locations were reached by mules outfitted with custom tanks.

The plan includes transplanting fish into three or four more streams in the area. “Just to protect them from future wildfires or disease or things that might pop-up,” said Nehring. If Hayden Creek recovers the fish will eventually return to their native waterway.