By Raetta Holdman

MANITOU SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado cutthroat trout with unique genetics are now swimming in waterways on Pikes Peak as Colorado Parks and Wildlife works to make sure a species rescued from a wildfire has a long future.

A team headed by CPW aquatic biologist Cory Noble made a 5 mile round trip hike in cold, snowy weather on the northwest slope of Pikes Peak this week carrying fish in backpacks to put them into the North French Creek.

Biologists and team hike Pikes Peak to stock Hayden cutthroat trout (credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife)

“These are Colorado River cutthroat trout that were descendants of fish salvaged out of the South Prong of Hayden Creek in 2016, following the the wildfire that destroyed all suitable for them in that creek,” Noble explained in a video CPW SE posted on Twitter.

The Hayden Pass Fire destroyed 16,754 acres in July 2016. CPW and the U.S. Forest Service teamed up to save some of the fish before monsoon rains filled the creek with ash and sediment. The team saved 158 of the fish and CPW has spent the past 5 years spawning them at the Roaring Judy Hatchery in isolation to preserve their unique genes.

Cutthroat Trout Rescued After Hayden Pass Fire In 2016 (credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife)

“They share a gene that has only been found in one other population of fish and those were fish that were collected from Twin Lakes in the 1800s,” Noble explained in the Twitter video. “These are Colorado River cutthroat trout but they don’t share this gene with any of the cutthroat trout in the Colorado River drainages. We want to get them to a safe place where they can exist into the future.”

That meant finding high-altitude creeks that didn’t have any other fish, like the North French Creek at an altitude of 10,400 to 12,000 feet. Approximately 3,000 of the trout now known as the Hayden Creek cutthroat were released into the North French Creek. CPW has stocked a total of 20,000 into five creeks. The hope is to develop breeding populations.

Hayden cutthroat swimming in North French Creek on Pikes Peak (credit: Colorado Parks & Wildlife)

For Noble, this five year mission is worth every step on that snowy hike.

“This is the culmination of a lot of work myself and my colleagues have gone through. It’s a great privilege to be able to conserve these fish and protect them going into the future.”

Note: CPW says that genetic difference is a single base-pair substitution in the ND2 gene, a sub-unit of on the NADH dehydrogenase protein in the mitochondria. CPW says it uses just a few base pair differences in the ND2 gene to tell the difference in Colorado species.

Raetta Holdman