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Reading the local paper the other day, during a slow spot at work, I came across the most amazing and hopeful article I have read in a long time.  The article “Pure Greenback Cutthroat Trout Confirmed in Remote Colorado Stream“, immediately caught my eye.  Not only that, the “remote stream” the article mentions, is just outside my hometown.  Before I was done reading I literally had tears in my eyes.

The Greenback Cutthroat Trout, once thought to be common to rivers in Colorado has turned out to be anything but.  After some DNA tests were conducted on various “Greenback” populations of fish in different parts of the state, it turned out that none of them were pure greenbacks.  This raised serious concerns that the fish was in fact extinct.  Crazy thing is, they would be if it weren’t for an old hermit named Joesph C. Jones.

Joseph Jones lived in what in now known as Jones Park, a valley in the mountains southwest of my fair city of Colorado Springs.  Jones, a prospector and explorer, ended up buying the land in 1873 for $200. Hating to make frequent trips into town for food and supplies, Jones brought the then pure Greenback Cutthroat from the South Platte River, dug out some pools in Bear Creek, and stocked them there.  There they would survive; while the rest of the Greenbacks were slowly decimated by habitat destruction, disease, and the introduction of the non-native species of trout.  The article says:

A study unraveling the genetics of Colorado’s state fish, the greenback cutthroat trout, has found that pure greenbacks exist only on a 4-mile stretch of a creek southwest of Colorado Springs.

The University of Colorado study using DNA analysis and historical specimens also is triggering a federal re-evaluation of the biological status of greenback cutthroats, which are listed as ‘threatened’ rather than ‘endangered.’

‘We’ve known for some time that the trout in Bear Creek were unique,’ said Doug Krieger, senior aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. ‘But we didn’t realize they were the only surviving greenback population.’

Because of this amazing find, and the efforts of an old hermit, the Colorado Department of Wildlife has now begun a breeding program to breed and release over a thousand pure Greenbacks back into the South Platte sometime next year.

But like many stories of endangered species this one has it’s dark side.  A nearby trail, within the Bear Creek watershed is open to motorcycle use.  A few weeks back the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the US Forest Service to close the trail to motorcycle use over concerns that turbidity (a fancy term for excess dirt in the water) may cause harm to the now rare fish.  So here we have the classic dichotomy between the “enviros” and the “dirt bikers”.  From my point of view, considering how close this species is to extinction, a temporary closure would be a good idea, but to be fair, should include hikers as well.  I will be drafting up a letter to the Forest Service in the coming weeks to say just that.

Despite the arguments over the trails, I was ecstatic.  The idea that through the agency of Ol’ Jones, the Gods had made a place for this fish to survive, filled me with immense hope.  It has been an example to me of how man can *help* rather than harm.

May the Gods bless the Greenback!

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