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Members of Evergreen Trout Unlimited want to become trout parents of sorts.
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They are looking for places along Bear Creek and its tributaries that would be perfect to breed native greenback cutthroat trout, which is Colorado’s official state fish. ETU wants to help this threatened species thrive in the Upper South Platte River drainage area, which includes Bear Creek.
The species was thought to be extinct until a small population was found west of Colorado Springs 10 years ago. It also has been reintroduced in Herman Gulch off Interstate 70 near Loveland Ski Area, and Colorado Park and Wildlife is looking at other locations.
That’s where ETU comes in. Members have placed temperature loggers in 10 locations and track water temperatures to determine whether the areas will be conducive to introducing the trout. ETU has four years of data, and things look promising.
“We thought the Bear Creek drainage would be an ideal place for reintroducing the trout locally,” said Mike Goldblatt, who has been heading up ETU’s efforts for a decade. “We are looking for summer temperatures in the low to mid-50s for cutthroat to flourish and reproduce.”
Bear Creek is a tributary of the South Platte River, starting as a small creek in the Mount Evans Wilderness and making its way through Evergreen, Kittredge, Idledale and Morrison and eventually into the South Platte River. All of ETU’s test locations are west of Evergreen.
Jeff Spohn, Platte Basin senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, explained that reintroducing the greenback trout comes down to the water, habitat, temperature and the need for a barrier to keep other species away. Common trout species like rainbow trout can hybridize with the greenback.
Whether the greenback will be reintroduced in Bear Creek depends on all of these factors, Spohn said, and it will take several years before it gets to the point whether CPW and the U.S. Forest Service will move forward with a location.
After that, it takes three to four years for the young fish to mature enough to reproduce.
“This is important because the greenback is one of the native, relic species to (the Upper South Platte),” Spohn said.
Goldblatt says ETU’s data is encouraging.
“Our next steps are to check for natural barriers or whether barriers can be added to keep alien fish — brook, brown and rainbow trout — from invading," he said.
The brook, brown and rainbow trout have been in Colorado streams since the 1880s, Goldblatt said.
“The greenback has been here for eons,” he said. “We are correcting a mistake made 140 years ago. The natives should be there.”
Then ETU will check for diseases in the stream to make sure they don’t kill cutthroat trout.
For ETU members Bill Solis and Jimy Murphy, hiking through all sorts of weather to collect data from the temperature loggers is a labor of love.
“It’s kind of unique to catch a native fish in Colorado as it is to chase a native grouse or elk or deer,” Solis said. “We are just trying to figure out how to deal with invasive species, specifically brook trout. There were well-meaning anglers, who introduced the invasive species, but especially the brook trout have outcompeted the native species.”
Murphy said he signed up to monitor the temperature loggers because he grew up here and has hiked the area for decades.
“Being an Evergreen native, we natives have to stick together,” Murphy said, chuckling.
More seriously, he added: “I’m very sensitive to the impact of creatures coming into this environment that take out the native species. That is what has happened to the native cutthroats. That is something I’m interested in no matter what the species. We hate to lose things that go extinct.”
Goldblatt is optimistic that greenback cutthroat trout will be reintroduced along Bear Creek in the next three to five years.
“I’ve been with ETU for 35 years,” Goldblatt said. “Native trout are important to me. I want to see that native trout are here forever, so fishermen can catch and release them.”
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