(COLORADO SPRINGS) — Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has been working for more than a decade to help save the greenback cutthroat trout from going extinct. Part of their efforts to save the state fish include protecting Bear Creek, which is home to a wild and self-sustaining population of greenback cutthroat trout.

“This is a really big deal because we have this one population that has the most diverse genetics that we have of the greenback cutthroat trout right here in Bear Creek,” said U.S. Forest Service Fisheries Biologist, Janelle Valladares. “So right here in Bear Creek, we have the most diverse genetics and so when we come out to spawn these fish, we’re collecting some of those genetics to take into the hatchery.”

On Tuesday morning, CPW and U.S. Forest Service officials worked together in the Bear Creek area to spawn the fish.

Cory Noble collecting the greenback cutthroat trout from Bear Creek on Tuesday morning. Courtesy: Maggy Wolanske.

“The Forest Service and CPW are incredible partners,” Valladares said. “We work together all the time, and the only way that we really are most successful at our work is by working together. Now, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is a state agency and they are the managers of these fish and then the Forest Service is a land management agency and so we’re the managers of the land and the habitat. So… for these fish to successfully reproduce, we have to both have excellent habitat, and we have to take care of the fish themselves.”

On the trial, a sign warning about protecting the greenback cutthroat trout. Courtesy: Sean Scott.

Back in 1937, the greenback cutthroat trout was considered extinct due to pollution from mining, fishing, and competition from other fish species. In 2012, CPW confirmed the greenback cutthroat trout were found in Bear Creek.

“So having this wild population here where they’re naturally reproducing and doing reasonably well, is, it’s extremely important,” said CPW Aquatic Biologist, Cory Noble.

Up-close of the electro-fishing backpack worn by CPW officials. Courtesy: Sean Scott.

Noble had on a heavy electro-fishing backpack to be able to catch greenbacks and collect milt and roe, terms for sperm and eggs, from the fish.

“I’m electrofishing to collect cutthroat trout,” Noble said. “We’re spawning the fish here in Bear Creek today. So, this is how we catch them. We use electricity. We put a current into the water and it briefly stuns the fish. We net them up and stick them in buckets, and then we’ll take them up higher where we’re going to spawn them in a little while.”

One of the fish emptied into a bucket on Tuesday morning. Courtesy: Maggy Wolanske.

The fish were then taken in buckets to be spawned by Noble.

“Once we get them fertilize, then I’ll be stirring and mixing them,” Noble said. “So we’ll put some water in after the sperm and that makes the sperm become active. They start swimming the pores and the eggs open up, allowing the sperm to go through.”

Several of the female fish were successful in giving eggs, Noble approximates he collected around 150 eggs and that it will take weeks for them to hatch. The eggs will be incubated in Salida and then brought to Leadville.

“I believe they incubate and raise the eggs there and then they are transferred to the brood stock that’s held in Leadville Fish Hatchery,” Noble said. “Leadville spawns the fish that are used to repopulate creeks, so the fish they produce go out into out into the wild, out into these new populations being established.”

CPW spawned the fish on Tuesday morning. Courtesy: Maggy Wolanske.

The day’s events are crucial in being able to keep this once nearly extinct species alive throughout Southern Colorado.

“I always get so excited when we come out to work with the greenbacks,” Valladares said. “Being a biologist, it’s always your dream to work with a species that is imperiled and try to bring it back, to try to make it just a little bit better. It’s the dream of every biologist.”

CPW will be spawning the fish two more times in the month of June.