NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – The Rio Grande Cutthroat trout is a staple in the waterways of New Mexico but that landscape was left nearly unrecognizable in the wake of the Hermits Peak Calf Canyon Fire in northern New Mexico. In June, conservationists scrambled to rescue the trout from streams north of Las Vegas.

The chief concern is destructive mudslides from monsoon rains that can smother stream bottoms where the fish spawn and clog their gills with ash and mud. “It’s after the high-intensity fire when there’s no vegetation right before the monsoon seasons that we need to go in and remove those fish so the mudslides don’t kill them,” said Bryan Ferguson, Fisheries Biologist, New Mexico Game & Fish.

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The cutthroat trout are no strangers to being forced from their homes. It took two years after the 2018 4-16 Fire for the fish to return to the waterways of southwestern Colorado.

For this latest project, crews from the U.S. Forest Service and New Mexico Game and Fish used electrofishing gear to stun as many fish as they could. They scooped them up and trucked them more than 300 miles to Las Cruces. “New Mexico State University has a fish holding facility. And then they’ll stay there while we either, in this case, we needed to prep a stream for them to be placed into,” said Ferguson.

Now the fish have headed back north. The team strapped buckets of fish to their backs and lugged them to the banks of a creek northeast of Red River. “Doing active management like we’re doing is a way to make sure that they remain on the landscape and we can keep as many populations as we can,” said Ferguson.

The Rio Grande Cutthroat has experienced dwindling numbers in recent decades because of disruptions to its habitat. It has also been forced to compete with non-native species stocked in local streams for sport angling.