Saved from a wildfire, rare trout released back into Colorado creeks

Cutthroat trout with unique genetics were rescued by aquatic biologists in 2016 during the Hayden Pass wildfire.

What started as a hike to get special trout out during a wildfire ended by hiking back into the mountains to re-release them. 

Aquatic biologists rescued cutthroat trout with unique genetics in 2016 during the Hayden Pass wildfire. 

"These fish are genetically unique. They share a gene that has only been found in one other population of fish, and those were fish that were collected in Twin Lakes in the 1800s," Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Cory Noble said. "They don't share this gene with any of the other cutthroat trout in the Colorado River drainages."

Staff from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) hiked and crossed fire lines through the Sangre de Cristo mountains to save these fish. They removed 158 cutthroat trout from the stream and took them to the Roaring Judy Hatcher isolation facility. There, the fish were able to be spawned the following spring. 

This week, CPW stocked the fish into remote creeks high on Pikes Peak to ensure these unique cutthroat genes survive. The aquatic biologists, technicians and staff hiked through rain and snow at 12,000 feet on Pikes Peak.

They carried the fish in bags in their backpacks for the five-mile roundtrip hike.  

"Stocking these unique fish into Ruxton Creek is a key step to preserving these unique genes and ensuring we continue to have them on the landscape," said Josh Nehring, CPW assistant aquatic section manager. 

Crews from CPW and USFS established populations of Hayden Creek cutthroats in the Newlin and Cottonwood Creeks. They hope to stock them in up to five streams in the Arkansas basin where these fish could be introduced. 

Spreading them across the region makes them less vulnerable to extinction due to an isolated catastrophic fire, flood or disease outbreak, CPW says. 

"This is the culmination of a lot of work that myself and my colleagues have gone through, and it's a great privilege to preserve these to be able to conserve these fish going forward into the future," Noble says.