By Tina Mitchell
As the Hayden Pass fire exploded in July, people and their beloved animals had to evacuate. Another group of local residents faced relocation as well. A rare subspecies of cutthroat trout protected by the Endangered Species Act lives in a three-mile stretch of the south prong of Hayden Creek – and even as humans were fleeing, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) staff were scrambling to create a plan to protect these fish.
Named for the slash of red below its jaw, the cutthroat trout’s historical distribution covered the broadest range of any stream-dwelling trout in the Western Hemisphere. The rugged topography of the species’ range isolated groups of cutthroats from each other, allowing the evolution of a whopping 14 distinct subspecies. Four closely related subspecies are native to Colorado: the Colorado River cutthroat, on the Western Slope; the Rio Grande cutthroat, in the San Luis Valley; the now-extinct yellowfin cutthroat; and the greenback cutthroat, the easternmost subspecies, found east of the Continental Divide.