Preserving the Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout: Lessons in Environmental Activism



When we first moved to our mountain community we learned that the creeks in our community contained native species of trout. The streams and their clear sparkling water are perfect habitat for abundant native trout that have been in the streams for millennia. The trout and their habitat were being monitored by the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Colorado biologist would make periodic visits to ensure non-native fish were not overpowering the native fish. The Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout have specific genetic markers that set them apart from other cutthroat trout, which makes them unique to the San Luis Valley.

We are therefore privileged to reside in an area that holds native trout which have been in the stream for thousands of years. Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado had only a few streams that contained these native species and they had been close to being put on the endangered species list over the years if not for the intense conservation efforts. 

Suddenly Placed In Danger. One day when on a picnic with friends by the stream, I noticed a white pipe sticking up out of the stream and went to investigate. I found the stream had recently been dammed up. Fish were no longer able to swim up and down the stream and were cut off from being able to protect themselves during our harsh winters here in the mountains. Unable to reach the deeper holes up/downstream, it would ultimately endanger the native population in our stream. I have been involved in environmental issues over my lifetime and I could not stand by and allow this to happen. I also reported on this via a blog post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

No Legal Protection? I soon had the state biologist looking at the dammed up portion with me. He sadly reported that there were no state laws to prohibit this. That has since been remedied by New Mexico and Colorado coming together to pass a law in 2009 that will now protect our waters and the native fish. I subsequently contacted a friend in Denver who is a U.S. government investigator for advice and the next thing I knew there were 5 different government agencies who did have the legal authority to address this illegal procedure.

Federal Government Stepped Up Big Time. As I was speaking with my friend, he was able to access a satellite view of the creek and determine it originated on federal land and therefore they had jurisdiction. Next, the US Army Corp of Engineers delivered a letter to those responsible giving them 10 days to restore the creek to its original condition or face fines up to $50,000.00 a day until it was restored. The threats I had been getting from those responsible suddenly stopped and the culprits focused on trying to intimidate the government agencies but the creek was restored to its near original condition within the allotted time.

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