Greenback Cutthroat Trout

The Greenback Comeback

In 1973, the first published Endangered Species List included the Greenback Cutthroat Trout, the official Colorado State Fish. A small wild trout, the Greenback Cutthroat migrated to the Colorado area during the last ice age and evolved separately from the Blueback Cutthroat, Brook Trout, and Rainbow Trout species of the Pacific Coast. Excitement abounds among environmentalists as a new artificial migration is currently taking place.


The Greenback is the only natural Colorado area trout. Indians netted them for sustenance; pioneers used them as food with the remains used as fertilizer, and many native wildlife species augmented their diet with the fish. As the human population in the area increased, pollution from stock animals began to take its toll on the environmentally sensitive Greenback. Mining for the rich mineral deposits of Colorado left large portions of streams uninhabitable for the small and delicate fish. As industries grew, the use of the water supply as a dumping ground for industrial waste further impacted the Greenback. Even more damaging was the practice in the early 1800s of farmers and entrepreneurs stocking Colorado streams with non-native trout populations.

Fish species like the Rainbow Trout and the Brook Trout were introduced for sports fishing and a more abundant source of food. The larger fish species absorbed a significant portion of what food remained available in the waters of Colorado. And the Greenback readily bred and hybridized with the large Rainbow driving the pure Greenback into isolated pockets where the larger fish had difficulty surviving. The Greenback was unable to compete and in 1937 was declared an extinct species.


In 2012 scientists, much to the glee of environmentalists, announced the discovery of a pure Greenback Cutthroat Trout population in a small tributary of the Arkansas known as Bear Creek. Authorities moved quickly to cut the area from hiking lists and barred camping along the stream. Declared no longer extinct, the Greenback remains on the endangered species list. The Colorado state government is currently experimenting with transplanting the delicate species into other sections of Colorado streams that have returned to their naturally pristine condition, largely through the efforts of volunteers and concerned scientists.

The hope is that the transplantation efforts will prove the viability for more programs to revive other, smaller water life. Excitement abounds among environmentalists who point out nature’s resiliency. If the small delicate Greenback Cutthroat Trout can return to abundance, then the possibilities for hardier and more robust species are unlimited. All it takes is a little care; a little know-how, and a little effort; nature takes care of the rest.

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