Shared from the 10/19/2020 The Denver Post eEdition
By Jonathan Romeo The Durango Herald
DURANGO» A decades-long effort to restore the Colorado River cutthroat trout to the upper reaches of Hermosa Creek has been completed, resulting in the largest continuous stretch of waterway for the native fish species in the state.
“This is a 35-plus-year vision come true,” said Jim White, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
After Western settlement in the late 1880s, the Colorado River cutthroat trout were fished to the point of extinction. Then to make matters worse, settlers dumped other, more competitive species of trout into the cutthroat’s habitat.
All of the factors — habitat loss, over-fishing and competition with nonnative species — led to a dramatic decline in the cutthroat’s historic range, which once spanned Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Some estimates show cutthroats are now found in just 14% of their historic natural habitat.
As a result, over the years, there’s been the possibility of listing the cutthroat on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s endangered species list.
Wanting more local control and less restrictive federal regulation, however, three states — Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — entered an agreement to lead an aggressive reintroduction program to avoid the endangered species list.
The upper reaches of Hermosa Creek were instantly recognized as an ideal place for a restoration project, both for its outstanding water quality as well as easy access through a Forest Service road that runs behind Purgatory Resort.
CPW recently stocked an estimated 4,000 cutthroat fingerlings and an additional 475 mature cutthroats in the final stretch of the Hermosa Creek project, giving the waterway back to the native fish for the first time in 100 years.
And now, the project to restore 23 miles of cutthroat habitat is finally complete.
“We’ve worked piecemeal to get to this point,” White said.
“And this is the final project area that’s been completed.”