Hayden Pass Fire poses concerns for endangered fish species

FREMONT COUNTY, Colo. — A large concern for Parks and Wildlife surrounding the fire is losing a rare and endangered type of fish.

Over the course of three days, more than 12,000 acres in natural forestation has been consumed by flames and in the process destroying the home for dozens of animals. Land that was once home to several species of animals has been reduced to nothing more than ash as the Hayden Pass Fire continues to grow.

“Most of the time wildlife has sort of a sense of these things,” said Kyle Davidson with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “This is nature, it’s been happening forever. Lightning strikes and wildlife has learned to adapt. Most of the time they will move out of the area and find safety.”

One creature unable to do just that is the cutthroat trout, an endangered species now on the verge of extinction.

“This particular population has some genetic characteristics that are not shared with any other population that we have so that makes them distinct and unique and worth protecting,” said Greg Policky, an aquatic biologist who has studied the fish for years with the Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

About 1,500 fish thrive within a three-mile stretch of the Hayden Creek’s south prong, an area that the fire is severely threatening.

“The first thing to do is get in there and assess the situation,” said Policky. “See if we have surviving fish, what the extent of the fire was and start making plans to protect them.”

Other than the risk of losing this one-of-a-kind fish, these types of natural wildfires can actually benefit wildlife habitat by creating new vegetation.

“The ashes mix with the soil and they actually reinvigorate the nutrients within the soil,” said Davidson. “That then springs new life, new growth, new foliage for the animals to come back and be able to eat.”

If the cutthroat trout population does survive the heat of the flames, they’re still at risk when rain hits the area. Officials say ash and sediment will eventually run off into the creek and potentially cut off oxygen to the water, in turn drowning the fish.

 

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