Colorado: a rare trout is now breeding in the wild



The greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado’s state fish, was declared extinct more than 50 years ago. But last week officials found the first confirmation that trout were breeding again in the wild.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife found trout to breed naturally at Herman Gulch in Summit County, according to a press release.

The discovery serves as proof that the department’s intensive reintroduction program has succeeded in bringing the fish back from the brink of extinction.

The species was thought to have become extinct in 1937 due to pollution from mining, fishing and competition for resources with other trout, according to the press release. But in 2012, Colorado Parks and Wildlife discovered a small population of greenback cutthroat trout in Bear Creek on the southwest edge of Colorado Springs, likely descendants of fish brought in for tourists to fish.

This sparked a multi-agency effort to protect the small body of water where the endangered fish were breeding, the statement said.

Besides protecting the trout habitat, the authorities have also developed a captive population in a hatchery. Starting in 2016, they began releasing young greenback cutthroat trout from these captive-bred populations, including Herman Gulch, into the wild.

Herman Gulch trout are the first to reach adulthood and start reproducing on their own, the statement said. There are other populations of captive-born young in several other waterways in the basin, but they are not old enough to reproduce.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis hailed the discovery as a victory for conservation.

“While we will continue to stock greenback trout in our hatcheries, the fact that they are now breeding successfully in the wild is exciting for the future of this species,” he said in the statement. “This is a huge wildlife conservation achievement and a testament to the world-class wildlife stewardship the Coloradans have in Colorado’s parks and wildlife.”

Biologists who hauled bags of fish up steep mountain trails in hopes of saving the rare fish also expressed excitement over the discovery.

“Our team of field technicians literally tapped the creek when we captured the first fry to spawn this year,” Boyd Wright, an aquatic biologist who led the reintroduction project, said in the statement. The fry were proof that fish born in captivity reproduced well on their own. “When moments later we caught a yearling fish produced in 2021, we were truly beside ourselves.”

“After many years of hard work and dedication, it is extremely satisfying to see our efforts rewarded,” he said.


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