Colorado biologists confirm finding species of cutthroat trout previously thought extinct
September 9, 2018
Biologists with Colorado Parks and Wildlife have verified that a unique genetic lineage of the Colorado River cutthroat trout thought to be extinct hasn't been lost to the ages after all.
According to a news release, the agency will continue to evaluate the findings and collaborate with agency partners to protect and manage populations of this native trout, which the agency previously thought had died out.
The discovery was made official with genetic testing and officials say it demonstrates the value of applying state-of-the-art science to decades of native cutthroat conservation management and understanding.
"Anyone who just looked at these fish would have a difficult time telling them apart from any other cutthroat; but this is a significant find," said Jim White, aquatic biologist for the agency, in a prepared statement. "Now we will work to determine if we can propagate these fish in our hatcheries and reintroduce them into the wild in their historic habitat. It's a great conservation effort and a great conservation story."
Eight small populations of the rare trout have been found in streams of the San Juan River Basin within the San Juan National Forest and on private property in southwest portions of the state. The populations are in isolated habitats and sustained through natural reproduction.
According to CPW, cutthroat trout originated in the Pacific Ocean and remain one of the most diverse fish species in North America with 14 different subspecies.
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Three related subspecies are found in Colorado, including the Colorado River cutthroat trout west of the Continental Divide; Greenback cutthroat trout in the South Platte River Basin; and the Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the San Luis Valley.
A fourth subspecies, the yellowfin cutthroat trout that was native to the Arkansas River Basin, went extinct in the early 1900s.
Developing a brood stock of the newly rediscovered trout species so that they can be reintroduced into San Juan River headwaters streams will be a key conservation strategy for their long-term stability, according to CPW.
Senior aquatic biologist for CPW's Southwest Region John Alves said the discovery shows the dedication of the agency's biologists.
"These fish were discovered because of our curiosity and our concern for native species," he said. "We're driven by scientific inquiry that's based on hard work and diligence. This is a major discovery for Colorado and it shows the critical importance of continuing our research and conservation work."