DENVER — Colorado’s state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout, is gradually being brought back from the brink of extinction after more than a decade of intensive efforts by Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW).

The Greenback Cutthroat was discovered to be naturally reproducing in Herman Gulch, one of the first places CPW stocked the trout in its native South Platte River drainage, according to a press release.

…The fact that they are now successfully reproducing in the wild is exciting for the future of this species,” said Governor Jared Polis. “This is a huge wildlife conservation success story and a testament to the world-class wildlife agency Coloradans have… Colorado’s ecological diversity strengthens our community, supports our anglers, and our thriving outdoor recreation economy.”

In 1937, the greenback cutthroat trout was considered extinct. According to CPW, it was believed that only the Colorado River and Rio Grande cutthroat trout were two native species that survived. Pollution from mining, pressure from fishing and competition from other trout species threatened the greenback and yellowfin cutthroat trout to extinction, said CPW.

In 2012, CPW confirmed a population of wild greenback cutthroat trout in Bear Creek, located on the southwest edge of Colorado Springs and in the Arkansas River drainage. CPW said the greenback population is believed to have been brought to Bear Creek for a tourist fishing enterprise in the late 1800s from the South Platte Basin.

The discovery triggered a massive effort by CPW and the Greenback Recovery Team to protect the three-and-a-half-mile stretch of water that was home to the only known population of naturally reproducing greenbacks, according to CPW.

CPW states that the population in Herman Gulch marks a major milestone after a decade of work committed to protecting and reproducing the greenback species.

“It’s just great to see all the hard work everyone has put in to save these fish is starting to pay dividends,” said Kevin Rogers, a CPW aquatics researcher who has devoted much of his career to rescuing the greenbacks. “This is just another affirmation that our conservation practices work and that we can save species on the brink.”

CPW and its partners including the U.S. Forest Service worked to protect and improve the Bear Creek habitat and surrounding watershed in the years since the 2012 confirmation of greenbacks. A brood stock, or small population of fish, was kept in a hatchery with optimal conditions to maximize breeding potential.

Every spring, CPW’s aquatic biologists make the difficult trek up Bear Creek with heavy electro-fishing backpacks to collect milt and roe, said CPW.

“Despite more than a decade of setbacks and frustrations, CPW staff worked as a team across departments and across regions, stayed focused on the goal and now we have this great news. It’s a great day,” said CPW Acting Director Heather Dugan.

Over the years, CPW aquatic biologists said they have feared the loss of the greenback population in Bear Creek. Flash floods, invasive and aggressive brook trout, wildfires and increased recreation from nearby roads have posed a constant threat to the species.

“This is just the start,” said Bryan Johnson, hatchery manager at Mount Shavano Fish Hatchery in Salida. “We need more. We’ve only got a few places where we have greenbacks on the landscape. But it’s awesome to see natural reproduction in Herman Gulch.”

Harry Crockett, CPW’s native aquatic species coordinator and chair of the Greenback Recovery Team said he’s confident about increasing greenback populations in Herman Gulch.

“We found a greenback that was born in Herman Gulch that was already a year old,” Crockett said. “This indicates successful reproduction both this year and last, plus overwinter survival. This is important because trout that survive to one year are likely to live even longer.”