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Documentary focuses on biologists’ effort to save San Juan cutthroat trout after 416 Fire

‘The Fish & the Flame’ shows government agencies working with private land owners to save fish
New documentary film “The Fish & the Flame” features Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist Jim White and his efforts to keep the San Juan cutthroat trout alive after the 416 Fire. (Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

A new documentary, “The Fish & the Flame,” highlights the successful recovery of the San Juan cutthroat trout in the wake of Durango’s 416 Fire of 2018.

The 14-minute film details how Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatic biologist Jim White collaborated with Banded Peak Ranch Manager Tim Haarmann to save one of the last remaining populations of the recently rediscovered San Juan cutthroat trout as the 416 Fire threatened to decimate the fish that until 2018 was believed to be extinct.

At one time, the San Juan cutthroat thrived in the streams of southern Colorado, but biologists believe mining pollution, fishing pressure and non-native competitors caused the species to go extinct.

Using genetic data collected from a 146-year-old tissue sample at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, White and his team identified a few tiny holdout populations in 2018. These isolated populations were discovered in streams of the San Juan River Basin within the San Juan National Forest and on private property.

Once thought to be extinct, the San Juan cutthroat trout were rediscovered in 2018. The species of fish faced extinction again after toxic chemicals polluted the watershed from the 416 Fire. (Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife)

Immediately after the discovery, the 416 Fire burned through the watershed and flushed toxic chemicals into streams where one of the eight known populations existed.

White’s crew from CPW and a team from the U.S. Forest Service hiked into the small, remote creeks affected by the 416 Fire and successfully removed 58 fish and took them to the Durango Fish Hatchery.

The film shows how landowners are successfully working with state and federal agencies for the betterment of biodiversity and species such as the San Juan cutthroat.

“It’s really nice to have private partners to work with because it gives us an opportunity to do conservation work we wouldn’t have access to otherwise,” White said. “There are a lot of folks out there that really want to see native species flourish. That gives me hope about the future of cutthroat trout.”

White and CPW continue to restore the San Juan cutthroat trout to streams throughout the San Juan River Basin.

“The awesome thing is that the fish is still around and that we have a chance to not only conserve it but to expand its population,” White said.

“The Fish & the Flame” has made its way around the film festival circuit and is an official selection of the Wild & Scenic Film Festival, Jackson Wild Film Festival, Santa Fe Film Festival, Durango Film Festival and others.


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