Colorado Outdoors Podcast: Episode 21 – Rescuing the Hayden Creek Cutthroat Trout

Colorado Parks and Wildlife to stock genetically unique cutthroat trout into remote creeks high on Pikes Peak.

Cutthroat trout with unique genetics, rescued by Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologists from the Hayden Pass Fire in 2016, will be 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.

A Hayden Creek cutthroat rescued from a July 2016 wildfire. Photo courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife

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.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologists donned fire-retardant clothing and went in behind fire lines during the July 2016 Hayden Pass wildfire, southwest of Cañon City, to rescue 158 genetically unique cutthroat trout from the South Prong of Hayden Creek.
The fire eventually charred 16,754 acres across the Hayden Creek and Big Cottonwood Creek drainages above the Arkansas River near Coaldale. The 158 rescued fish were the only survivors from the creek. CPW has worked ever since to spawn the fish and restore them to small, fishless creek in the region. Photos are 2016 file photos. Photos are courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

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.”

Written by Bill Vogrin. Bill is a public information officer for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife southeast region. Video by Jerry Neal. Jerry is the senior videographer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Podcast hosted by Mark Johnson. Colorado Parks and Wildlife is a nationally recognized leader in conservation, outdoor recreation and wildlife management. The agency manages 42​ state parks, all of Colorado’s 960-plus wildlife species, more than 350 state wildlife areas and a host of recreational programs from hunting and fishing to the state’s trails program, boat registrations, snowmobiles, off-highway vehicles and more. All of its management is in perpetuity for the enjoyment of Coloradans and its visitors and this podcast is dedicated to telling the stories and happenings in Colorado’s great outdoors.

One Response

  1. Would be interested in hearing more about the Greenback trout. Are the current populations not pure? What about the populations in Rocky Mountain NP – also a cross? Is there no hope for a reintroduction?

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