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Crews rescue endangered trout feared to be wiped out by Hayden Pass fire

July 21, 2016 Updated: July 21, 2016 at 3:06 pm
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There is hope for endangered trout whose home was burned by the Hayden Pass fire.

Personnel with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service arrived Wednesday at Hayden Creek's south prong in the Sangre de Cristo wilderness west of Cañon City to gather survivors of what is believed to be the sole habitat of a cutthroat trout. The subspecies is genetically unlike fish anywhere else, according to Greg Policky, Parks and Wildlife's aquatic biologist.

"We were able to take out as many as I hoped we would," he said. "The worry was if we didn't do anything, we'd lose this population and that'd be it. They'd be done."

Policky said 194 fish were rescued from the lowest mile of a 3-mile stretch where the habitat had thrived, following years of containment efforts that included the placement of a barrier in 2003 intended to keep other fish away from the endangered family. The 2 miles up the creek was "burned out real bad," Policky said - a casualty of the wildfire that has burned more than 16,400 acres in 13 days since lightning started the blaze.

"We were lucky they survived down in there," Policky said. "I don't know what happened to the ones higher up. They may have perished. I don't know."

The crew sent an electric shock through the stream Wednesday, temporarily stunning the trout for retrieval. The team netted 158 fish and placed them in a tank that was driven to an isolated hatchery in Almont, west of Buena Vista. The other 36 were placed in plastic bags and taken to a creek near Cañon City. The plan, Policky said, is to isolate the fish in the creek; their adipose fins were clipped for the purpose of later identifying them among other cutthroats.

Their appearance is not so unlike the pure greenback species found in the Bear Creek Watershed west of Colorado Springs that are being protected by the ongoing alteration of nearby roads and trails. The Hayden Creek cutthroat's DNA is "one of a kind," Policky said, closely related to specimen kept by the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History: trout collected in 1889 at Twin Lakes.

At the hatchery, he said, specialists will look for spawning in the spring.

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Contact Seth Boster: 636-0332

Twitter: @SethBoster­­

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