Polis Earth Day fish

Gov. Jared Polis talks about how lucky Colorado is to have discovered that the San Juan lineage of cutthroat trout is still present in the San Juan River.

"Every day is Earth Day," announced Gov. Jared Polis to reporters assembled in his office Monday.

To his left was a picture on an easel under a black drape. When he and an assistant lifted the veil, it revealed ... wait for it ... a trout.

On Earth Day, the governor honored a fish.

Polis spent the next few minutes boasting of a scientific revelation: Reports of the demise of the San Juan River lineage of the Colorado River cutthroat trout were greatly exaggerated.

Researchers with Colorado Parks and Wildlife and U.S. Fish and Wildlife researchers made the find last August in two small, remote creeks north of Durango as they survey waterways affected by the 416 Fire.

They removed 58 fish. The suspected subspecies was confirmed when its DNA matched that of a fish caught near Pagosa Springs in 1874 stored with the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

Mike Japhet, a retired senior fisheries biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, had been looking for the fish since 1989 and was pleased to take part in helping identify its return to the San Juan.

"While some may view the recent announcement of the rediscovery of the San Juan lineage of cutthroat trout as a curious wrinkle in the fabric of time, it is also a strong affirmation that fundamental principles of conservation biology, when carefully applied, may prevent ancient, native trout from disappearing from the face of the earth," he wrote in an op-ed in the Durango Herald last November.

The fish species is alive but not so well; the governor hopes to bring it back strong.

The San Juan is a tributary of the Colorado River that begins in Archuleta County in the southern end of the state and flows 383 miles to Lake Powell in Utah.

"Our goal now is to make sure this species can thrive," Polis said. 

The governor said the state would work to secure in-stream flows and use hatcheries to repopulate the native river and streams.

"We have got to get the right program in place to prevent the extinction of this species and rebuild the population to sustainable levels," Polis said. 

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