These cutthroat trout survived in only one Colorado creek, until it was choked out by wildfire ash — @ColoradoSun

From The Colorado Sun (Jennifer Brown):

Now their offspring are getting a fresh start after hitching a ride in saddlebags up a mountain stream

CPW staff spawn unique cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Pass fire. Photo credit Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The fish are the descendants of a unique species of cutthroat trout rescued from Hayden Creek in 2016 as a wildfire ripped through the Sangre de Cristo mountains, scorching nearly 17,000 acres near Coaldale.

In 2016, as the fire burned only a quarter-mile away, parks and wildlife fish biologists led by a fire crew hiked behind the fire line to remove about 200 of the fish from Hayden Creek. Wearing electrofishing backpacks, they shocked the water and waited for the stunned fish to float, netting as many as they could.

The biologists knew that particular type of cutthroat trout lived nowhere else but Hayden Creek and that the ash-filled runoff after the fire likely would kill them.

They were right. Monsoons that followed the fire sent ash and sediment into Hayden Creek, which turned the water acidic and depleted its oxygen. The remaining cutthroat suffocated. When biologists returned after the rains, they could not find one fish.

Trout rescued from Hayden Creek were taken to a hatchery near Gunnison, where they were isolated from other subspecies. Some were released in Newlin Creek, near Florence, and this week, 4,500 of their offspring were loaded into a hatchery truck headed for Westcliffe…

The fish, with orange-red splotches on its throat and across its belly, is hardly distinguishable from other cutthroat trout. Yet, the Hayden Creek cutthroat trout are the only fish known to share the genetics of a pair of fish now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. The fish were caught in Twin Lakes, near Leadville, in 1889 by an ichthyologist — the type of zoologist that studies just fish — named David Starr Jordan.

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

Colorado has three remaining subspecies of cutthroat trout that are native to the state: the greenback, the Colorado River and the Rio Grande. A fourth native cutthroat, the yellowfin, is presumed extinct.

The Hayden Creek cutthroat are part of the Colorado River subspecies, but have genetics unique even from Colorado River cutthroat.

Nehring released his fish one at a time Monday and watched afterward as they darted around in the clear water. Even at 4-inches long, they held their own against the current…

A parks and wildlife team will return in the fall to check on the trout, using electrofishing to catch and measure them. The hope is that they not only will survive, but will begin reproducing in about two years.

They will fill an important niche in the ecosystem, Nehring said. The fish eat mayflies, stoneflies, caddisflies and worms, and are food for bears, raccoons and other animals.

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