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Endangered Greenback Cutthroat Trout Feared Lost to Colorado Wildfires

The Gazette

The Hayden Pass wildfire in Colorado may have caused the final extinction of the endangered Greenback cutthroat trout.

A tiny cutthroat trout in Colorado, the family of which is “one of a kind”,  and related to the greenback trout with the same appearance, but with a specific DNA not known to be in any fish anywhere else, may now be extinct.

A wildfire raging through the Sangre De Cristo wilderness due to a natural lightning strike may have scorched the last known thriving habitat of an endangered species of trout that has been living in a three-mile stretch of Hayden creek, possibly for thousands of years.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish biologist Greg Policky said, “There’s no other cutthroat population that shares their genetics, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. We’re hoping they’re not gone.”

Now the Hayden Pass fire has burned over Hayden creek in the Sangre De Cristo wilderness, and the fish is feared to be extinct.

Colorado wildfire

A recent survey from 2014 showed that these particular cutthroat trout were self-sustaining, with some five age groups represented.

While a barrier was built in 2003 at the creek’s confluence to prevent other fish from entering the habitat, two years later a reclamation project removed some brown trout to prevent them from infiltrating the cutthroat’s population, said Policky who estimated the population was about 2,000 before the fire.

“Prior to all that work, they were barely hanging on. Prior to this fire, they were doing very well,” the Colorado biologist said.

In a world where animals are threatened by extinction, seemingly by the day, every species counts including a small indigenous trout from the Colorado Mountains. Now that some 13,000 acres have burned, and over a hundred homes evacuated only a personal inspection by biologists will tell if the greenbacks are still there.

Since the closest known genetic twin to this rare cutthroat was a trout kept by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History from a specimen collected by famed ichthyologist David Starr Jordan in 1889; it is only conjecture now as to how the cutthroat came to exist in Hayden Creek: either they were moved by people at some point or have persisted there for thousands of years.

Photos via The Gazette

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Endangered Greenback Cutthroat Trout Feared Lost to Colorado Wildfires