Colorado Stocks Unique Cutthroat Strain in Pikes Peak Creeks

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Colorado Stocks Unique Cutthroat Strain in Pikes Peak Creeks

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Cutthroat trout with unique genetics, rescued by Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologists from the Hayden Pass Fire in 2016, were stocked into remote creeks high on Pikes Peak next week as part of a cutthroat restoration project.

Tiny South Ruxton Creek, located at about 10,000 feet altitude on the South Slope of Pikes Peak in the Pike National Forest and Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU) property, will become the third stream in the region where CPW aquatic biologists are working to restore the trout, informally called Hayden Creek cutthroat.

In addition to South Ruxton Creek, Hayden Creek cutthroat will be introduced by CPW into North French Creek above 10,400 feet on the northwest slope of Pikes Peak next week, as well.

CPW began looking for remote, fishless, high-altitude creeks like South Ruxton and North French to serve as a possible new homes for these important cutthroat trout not long after the July 2016 fire charred 16,754 acres and filled the South Prong of Hayden Creek with ash and debris, making it uninhabitable for the fish.

As the fire raged, staff from CPW and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) crossed fire lines to rescue a portion of the population before monsoon rains came, flushing the creek with choking sediment and ash.

CPW removed 158 cutthroat trout from the stream, took them to the Roaring Judy Hatchery isolation facility near Crested Butte and spawned the fish the following spring. Now, CPW is  stocking them into several streams within the Arkansas Basin to ensure these unique cutthroat genes survive.

CPW is taking extraordinary steps to preserve the fish because they contain genetic markers that match a museum specimen collected from the Arkansas River basin in 1890.

CPW and the USFS have established populations of Hayden Creek cutthroats in two creeks  – Newlin and Cottonwood – and 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.

“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.

Last fall, CPW aquatic biologist Cory Noble identified Ruxton Creek as a rare fishless creek and determined its habitat would be favorable for Hayden Creek cutthroat. Lack of fish makes the process of establishing a population much easier. And a waterfall creates a natural barrier to any non-native fish invading the stocked stretch of water, Nehring said.

Ruxton also is ideal, he said, because of the cooperation CPW enjoys from USFS and CSU.

“We have great partnerships with the USFS and Colorado Springs Utilities,” Nehring said. “We have had lots of discussions about this possibility and all of the agencies have agreed to move forward because it will mean a lot to the conservation of this fish.”