KUSA — One type of cutthroat trout with unique genetic lineage was supposed to be extinct … but earlier this year, wildlife officials found pockets of this type of fish in small streams in the San Juan National Forest.
Jim White, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Durango, said in a news release that it would be “difficult” to tell these trout apart from any other type of cutthroat – but advances in genetic testing revealed how truly special they are.
White is one of the biologists who have been surveying small creeks in Colorado for decades, looking for isolated populations of cutthroat trout. They then compared DNA results from these trout with ones from fish that had been stored in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. for more than 100 years.
“Careful work over the years by biologists, finding those old specimens in the museum and the genetic testing gave us the chance, essentially, to go back in time,” White said in a news release. “Now we have the opportunity to conserve this native trout in southwest Colorado.”
In a news release, CPW said wildlife officials hiked to two creeks in the fire’s path and removed 58 of the unique trout. The concern was that ash flows from the fire could have posed a significant threat to these small populations.
Now, CPW is attempting to develop a broad stock of these unique trout to reintroduce them into the San Juan River headwaters.
One of the challenges will be protecting these fish from disease, habitat loss and over-harvest, according to CPW.
Protecting rare cutthroat trout populations is something CPW has been doing for decades.