After nearly two decades of protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which lists the nation’s most endangered species, the future of the greenback cutthroat trout is improving.
The greenback, the official fish of Colorado, was put on the endangered species list in 1973 after overharvesting, habitat destruction by early American settlers, water contamination by area miners and the artificial introduction of competing non-native trout.
The greenbacks were left almost completely extinct. In fact, research from 1937 reported the population to be extinct.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that two populations of pure greenbacks were discovered – one in a tributary of North Boulder Creek and the other in the headwaters of South Poudre River.
Through careful conservation efforts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the greenback population is secure but fragile. Because of the future of the population depends on its survival, the state allows the greenbacks to be fished on a catch-and-release basis only.
Catch-and-release is not the only method of conservation currently in place. Supplemental stock of the native cutthroat had been combined with higher catch limits on native fish to improve the greenbacks’ numbers.
For example, anglers can possess up to eight Brook trout because they are a non-native species; however, catching and keeping any greenbacks is prohibited. The majority of conservation and restocking efforts have taken place in Rocky Mountain National Park.
There are numerous areas to fish for greenbacks in Colorado. According to the park’s website, in order to fish in park waters you must have a fishing license. The price of a fishing license ranges from $5.25 to $40.25. Artificial lures are required; bait and other organic materials are prohibited in catch-and-release waters.
Since greenbacks are catch-and-release only you must be able to identify the various species. Identifying a greenback can be difficult because they look similar to other cutthroat trout. Their spots are larger than any other cutthroats and their spawning colors are more brilliant.
For suggests on how to properly catch and release a greenback to ensure its survival, and for a complete list of open lakes and rivers, visit the park’s Web site at www.rocky.mountain.national-park.com.
For further information on Greenback Cutthroat Trout, CSU professor Brett Johnson suggests visiting www.waterknowledge.colostate.edu/trout/journey.htm.