State defends native trout program | AspenTimes.com

State defends native trout program

Judith Kohler
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

A colorado greenback cutthroat trout. (Colorado Division of Wildlife)

DENVER ” State officials are defending efforts to restore a rare native fish to Colorado rivers despite a study showing that some waterways have been stocked with the wrong fish.

In a letter sent Wednesday to four legislators demanding an accounting of the program, state natural resources chief Harris Sherman said biologists are taking the results of the University of Colorado study seriously.

But, Sherman added, the study’s findings were based on a new method of genetic testing previously unavailable and are being evaluated by other scientists. He said the study, released last month, was funded in part by the Colorado Division of Wildlife as part of ongoing input into the program.

The three-year study led by CU researchers and published online in Molecular Ecology on Aug. 28 said that a 20-year government effort to restore the population of greenback cutthroat trout in Colorado has made little progress because biologists have been stocking some of the waterways with the wrong fish.

The recovery effort by Colorado and federal biologists was thought to be close to its goal of 20 self-sustaining populations of at least 500 fish each. But researchers said DNA tests showed that out of nine populations of fish believed to be endangered greenback cutthroat trout and descendants of survivors, five were actually the Colorado River cutthroat trout, which look similar but are a separate and more common subspecies.

Sherman’s letter is a response to one sent Sept. 7 by four Republican legislators to Mark Konishi, acting DOW director. Reps. Jerry Sonnenberg and Cory Gardner and Sens. Josh Penry and Greg Brophy said “this significant scientific blunder” is a waste of taxpayer dollars and raises questions about the adequacy of scientific controls in state and federal programs.

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“For these reasons, we urge the Division to undertake an immediate top-to-bottom review of all scientific controls surrounding fish and wildlife recovery programs in Colorado,” the four wrote.

Penry said Thursday that he met with DOW officials before Harris sent the letter. “I’m comfortable that they’re taking the issue seriously and aggressively pursuing this,” he added.

The greenback cutthroat trout program and other efforts to restore species help avoid federal mandates, Penry said.

Greenback cutthroat trout were historically found in the drainages of the Arkansas and South Platte rivers in Colorado and a small part of Wyoming. They were declared extinct in 1937, but remnant populations were found in the 1950s in tributaries and provided brood stock for fish raised in federal and state hatcheries to be released in their native habitat.

The fish was added to the federal endangered species list in 1978.

DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield said biologists met earlier this week to discuss the report.

“I think the jury’s still out as to how this is going to affect what work we do,” Baskfield said. “One thing we’ve learned is when it comes to this type of science, there are many different schools of thought on it.”

The state wildlife agency has spent an average of $320,000 annually for the past five years to restore the greenback, Harris wrote to the legislators. He said most of the money has come from Great Outdoors Colorado, which spends state lottery revenue on open space, wildlife habitat and parks.

“The Colorado Division of Wildlife has not spent any general funds (state tax dollars) on this project,” Harris said.

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