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Bollock: The Cutty Alliance holds on

Heath Bollock
Guest Commentary

If it looks, smells, and acts like a cutthroat trout, it must be a cutthroat trout, right?

Perhaps the vast majority of environmental and fishing enthusiasts do not seem to care, either. The years have gone by, and there is still no affirmative answer on the status of our western Colorado native the Colorado River cutthroat trout.

Recently, groundbreaking science — modern DNA analysis — has concluded that there are four distinct subspecies of cutthroat trout in Colorado: Rio Grande, greenback, Yampa (new discovery) and the Colorado River cutthroat trout. Along with the extinct native yellowfin cutthroat trout, a San Juan cutthroat, also extinct, was discovered recently through studying museum samples.

With recent focus on the greenback cutthroat trout, now considered to only exist in a four-mile stretch of a headwater creek, biologists and the public shall soon know of the conditions of any remaining genetically viable Colorado River cutthroat trout. In order to understand this wildlife-management debacle, a person would have to study in depth both past and present biological research to arrive at a conclusion that our state and federal agencies responsible for managing these trout have missed the mark continuously for more than a century.

To give credit to these contributing government agencies and their environmental stewards, the science needed to discover the true identity of these various cutthroat trout is relatively new. What should be scrutinized is the lack of accurate information given to the public and the near-secretive manner in which these agencies operate. Perhaps if these agencies were important enough to a larger population, then we may have corrected the genetic genocide much earlier.

I have been studying this subject since the summer of 2009. I have looked at scientific surveys from the distant past and the most present science as it becomes available, and the answers and lack of change in the protective status for these native fish is bewildering. I am not a scientist, just a trout enthusiast who has spent close to 200 hours to date delineating published information to conclude my position.

My first position on this subject was summed up in a documentary I produced in 2010 titled “Cutthroat & Company.” Initially, my study and documentary effort led me to the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Division Of Wildlife (now Colorado Parks and Wildlife). I was hoping to work with these particular agencies and inform the public of the fragile existence of these few remaining genetically pure fish. These government agencies became skeptical of my work, and eventually they severed any contact and stopped the flow of new information.

After publishing the documentary video and holding one public viewing, I put the project to rest for a year. It was not until two months ago that I was informed that there has been a scientific breakthrough and that the accurate genetic identity and lineage of these Colorado cutthroat trout now have been truly defined.

With this new, exciting information, I immediately started communicating with my previous contacts and the newest parties contributing to the debate. With a little patience, I have received response from contributing geneticists and biologists as well as obtaining the genetic survey for these trout. Also, I have been given an opportunity for a new interview with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Comparative genetic and ecological research data for the coastal cutthroat trout of Oregon may be insight that not only genetic integrity shall be of concern but also geographic diversity. With hundreds of thousands of genetically impure Colorado cutthroat trout having been stocked over the years — and the fact that our native trout have lost the majority of their native geographic range — I am still skeptical of the genetic viability of our remaining populations and especially my close neighbor and hero, the Colorado River cutthroat trout.

Unfortunately, the history of our Western native waters is at stake. Because of the complexity of this subject and what seems to be self-serving interests of the government, certain sportsmen’s organizations and even some environmental groups, the answers and movement to address this issue will take more involvement from the public than what has been given thus far.

Be patient as my small group, the Cutty Alliance, pushes for honest answers and formulated assessments for which we can promote and save these remaining native trout.

For more information and to contact contributing author Heath Bollock, visit the Cutty Alliance on Facebook or email cuttyalliance@gmail.com.


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