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Colorado Wildlife Officials Right Trout Wrong

Glenn Asakawa
University of Colorado
CU-Boulder Professor Andrew Martin and Senior Research Associate Jessica Metcalf release endangered greenback cutthroat trout into Zimmerman Lake west of Fort Collins, Colo. on Aug 8.

A few years ago, wildlife biologists responsible for protecting and stocking a rare, native Colorado fish – the greenback cutthroat trout – learned they'd been saving the wrong fish.

The mix up was understandable – different subspecies of cutthroats are hard to tell apart. In 2007, University of Colorado researchers posed the question of species confusion, and in 2012 genetic testing confirmed the correct cutthroat subspecies only existed in a creek called Bear Creek  in the Arkansas River drainage.

Now, after two years of breeding the right fish in federal and state fish hatcheries, the greenback cutthroats, which are the state fish and a threatened species on the federal endangered species list, have been released into the wild.

Recently, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder took some of the small trout from hatcheries and released them into Zimmerman Lake, west of Fort Collins.

University of Colorado professor Andrew Martin, who was one of the researchers who discovered the trout in 2012, said he and others will be monitoring how the young trout succeed in a new environment.

"Living in Zimmerman Lake in the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forest at an elevation over 10,000 feet will be very different from living in Bear Creek at 6,100 feet or living the 'cushy' life in a hatchery," said Martin in a press release.

Scientists took DNA samples of the fish and will follow the newly released fish to see how successful they are. The question of their success is an open one; check out this in-depth Westword article to learn more.

Stephanie Paige Ogburn has been reporting from Colorado for more than five years, primarily from the Western Slope.
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