Will Our State Fish Survive?

The Rio Grande cutthroat trout, the state fish of New Mexico, is a threatened species that needs more attention from the citizens and politicians of New Mexico if we want to see it survive and flourish in its natural environment. The Rio Grande cutthroat was placed on the U.S. Government Federal list of threatened species in 1973, but was never listed on the endangered species list (American Fisheries Society 1988). Maybe it should be placed on the Federal Endangered Species list, since it only inhabits less than ten percent of its native range and can only survive well in headwater streams that do not contain any other fish species (Neary 1999). Environmental groups are filing lawsuits against the federal and state government to get the cutthroat on the Federal Endangered Species List.

The state government refuses to put it on because they feel that the problems with population, hybridization, and diminishing habitat can be solved without putting it on the endangered species list. If the government decided to put the cutthroat on the endangered species list, they would be forced to create a recovery plan and designate a critical habitat (Neary 1999). The government is reluctant since it will cost them a huge amount of money, time, and labor. The government claims they have been taking steps to preserve the threatened cutthroat, which is indeed true. Yet, the results are not outstanding. If their methods were working, the cutthroat would have been taken off the threatened list years ago.

Why is it so important to protect this fish? As native New Mexicans, we need to take interest in our state fish and help protect it. If this species were to become extinct it would be a tragic loss. Our state fish is in danger of vanishing from the world forever. Doesnt that say something about the way we have treated our resources?

Game and Fish doesnt seem to think so. The extinction of the cutthroat would disrupt the ecosystem because they would no longer feed on the native plants, flies, and worms. Anytime an animal is taken away from an ecosystem it has effects on the surrounding area and the creatures that live within it. For example, if you kill every coyote in the state of New Mexico the population of jackrabbits would climb to a record high because they have no predators. This creates a disruption in the equilibrium of nature. In this situation, the population of the rainbow trout is rising while the population of the cutthroat is reaching an all time low. The extinction of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout due to the lack of attention is definitely the worst scenario.

The Rio Grande cutthroat is part of New Mexico history. In 1541, Coronado saw the cutthroat trout in Glorieta Creek and named it the state fish of New Mexico (Johnson & Smorynski 1998). During the eighteenth and early nineteenth century the Rio Grande cutthroat was found all throughout northern and southern New Mexico and parts of Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. Today, only few populations of pure Rio Grande cutthroat exist. There are two locations with substantial amounts of pure Rio Grande cutthroat.

One is in the Indian Creek on the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation and the other is in the headwaters of the Las Animas Creek (Johnson & Smorynski 1998). The diminishing population and the governments lack of interest to provide sufficient funds are two good reasons why this fish should be re-examined and protected better. If the cutthroat ends up extinct, the people will lose all trust in the Department of Game and Fish as well as the federal government. Anglers would never be able to catch the beautiful, red striped, cutthroat trout. Losing the cutthroat trout would be like losing a part of New Mexican history.

The fall of the Rio Grande cutthroat began in the early 1900s when modernization started taking effect. Logging companies, mining companies, and livestock has deteriated the fragile habitat of the cutthroat. One example is when mining companies dumped large amounts of slit into the Pecos River (Stolz & Schnell, 1987). The destruction of the cutthroats habitat was just the beginning of its demise. The introduction of non-native species, like the brown trout, rainbow trout, and brook trout, posed an entirely new threat. Two major changes that occurred with the introduction of the non-native species, the first was the interbreeding between the cutthroat and the rainbow trout, the brown trout and brook trout. A cross between a cutthroat and a rainbow trout is known as a cut-bow. The second major change was that the cutthroat had to compete for food with the highly aggressive rainbow and brown trout (American Fisheries Society 1988).

These changes are detrimental to the cutthroats existence. The cutthroat isnt getting enough food to survive and breed successfully. The rainbow trout and brown trout are more aggressive than the cutthroat and therefore eat the available food while the cutthroat starves. The interbreeding is not healthy because pure cutthroats are not being produced and pure species are becoming scarcer. The passive cutthroat trout was not ready for this sudden change because it was used to a peaceful environment with no competition for food and no other fish species. Beating the cutthroat into these forced submissions will ensure a foggy future.

Due to the hybridization, the pure Rio Grande cutthroat trout can be difficult to find. Some New Mexican residences have neither heard of the Rio Grande cutthroat nor have seen one. Chris Armijo, a fellow angler, states, In the twenty-one years that I have lived in New Mexico, not one cutthroat has come my way. The pure Rio Grande cutthroat can be found in thirty-nine streams in secluded mountain areas in the Santa Fe and Carson National Forests. Cutthroats have also been located in the Sangre de Cristo and the Jemez mountains (American Fisheries Society 1988).

The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish has taken action to preserve the Rio Grande cutthroat without getting rid of the other trout species. The introduction of the rainbow trout was the best moved they made economically, not morally. Their primary objective is to seclude the cutthroat in a natural environment without the presence of other fish. The New Mexico Department of Game and Fish are trying to restore the fish without putting it on the endangered list (Neary, 1999). Noah Greenwald, worker for Southwest Center for Biological Diversity, is working with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish to remove cattle grazing from the cutthroat streams (Neary, 1999). In 1979, the Department of Game and Fish proposed a few solutions to help the cutthroat survive. They decided to transplant the fish into good habitats and protect it by making sure that no other fish enter their streams (Trotter 1987).

Their plans are thought out well, but more action needs to be taken. The Department of Game and Fish have created empty promises that can be filled with help from the federal government. Promised hatcheries of pure Rio Grande cutthroat and protected habitat. They havent dedicated fish hatcheries to producing pure cutthroat trout and the habitat cant possibly be under supervision  twenty-four hours a day. That is why we need help from the federal government, which can only be achieved by putting the cutthroat on the endangered species list. Under water fences cant possibly keep all the livestock out. The minuscule amount of pure cutthroat doesnt reflect hard effort of perseverance.

Some promises were kept, but they raised another issue: The forest rangers are going to use chemicals to eliminate all possibilities of other fish species in the water. Basically, the private landowners dont want chemicals dumped into their water because they think it will cause negative affects on the environment and drinking water. Still, they went ahead and re-introduced the cutthroats in the Santa Fe and Carson Forests after dumping chemicals in the water. Their plan seems to be working and cutthroat trout have successfully been stocked and maintained in the Santa Fe National Forest with steady numbers. The population as a whole is still undersized though. Rio Grande cutthroat can be found in three streams in the Santa Fe National Forest (Propst & Mclinnis, 1972). The Carson National Forest has put up fencing in and around the streams to keep all fish and livestock out of the cutthroats habitat (American Fisheries Society 1988). If The Department of Game and Fish are helping the cutthroat recover then why is it still on the threatened species list?

Environmental groups are close to getting the cutthroat on the endangered list. It will force the federal government to provide more money and make them go to great lengths to make sure that the cutthroat survives. The fish hatcheries in New Mexico make a lot of money by breeding rainbow trout, stocking them in the rivers, and charging outrageous prices for guided tours. The Department of Game and Fish are making big bucks on commercialized fishing. For example, the cost of a half-day guided fishing tour, with a park ranger, will cost you $175. If you want to go for a full day it costs $250 and if you want to bring your buddy it costs $300 (Pecos Department of Game and Fish, 1998). A regular fishing license costs $25 for a New Mexico residence and $50 for a person who is not local.

How much of this profit is going towards the protection and maintaince of the Rio Grande cutthroat? Fight for your native fish. The Pecos Department of Game and Fish spends $200,000 building habitat and structure. They claim that Years of careful fish and habitat management have been employed and creating an outstanding fishery (Anonymous Source, Fly Fishing in New Mexico on the Pecos River). If all this money is going to maintain the habitat, then why are cutthroats so rare and still cross breeding with rainbow trout? They need to focus on breeding pure cutthroats, releasing them in to a sustainable habitat, and make sure that they are safe from other species of fish. Careful planning, community support, and donations are the key factors for the cutthroats existence.

Donation funds and fund raising are two simple ways to preserve the cutthroat. If the people of New Mexico do not attempt to save the cutthroat, it will surely become extinct in time. The common rainbow trout, will replace our unique red neck cutthroat. If we fail to voice our opinions and take the proper procedures to conserve the cutthroat, our state fish will surely not survive.


Works Cited

Johnson, R., & Smorynski, R. (1998). Fly-Fishing in Southern New Mexico. University
of  New Mexico Press. Pages 14-24
Chapter two was helpful for my report. It has information on the Rio Grande
cutthroat trout as well as all of the other trout species in New Mexican rivers. The
book explains the introduction of the non-native trout into New Mexico waters and
the impact it has on the cutthroat.

Piper, T. (1989). Fishing in New Mexico. University of New Mexico Press.
This book has a detailed description of every stream, lake, and river that New
Mexico has to offer. Towards the end the author describes the cutthroat and other
Native fish. A person who is unfamiliar with the fishing areas in New Mexico can
Benefit from this book.

Propst, D., & Mclnnis, M. (1972). An Analysis of Streams Containing Native Rio
Grande Cutthroat Trout in the Santa Fe National Forest. WICHE Library.
An old report done by two college students: one from NMSU. The report is boring
and long. Interesting facts about the chemicals found in the water caught my eye.
The native fish cant live in polluted waters. The levels of high toxins was a reason
the cutthroat became endangered.

Prosek, J. (1996). Trout. Alfred A. Knoff Inc. Pages 109-111.
Colorful pictures and short descriptions fill the pages of this book. A nice segment
was dedicated to the Rio Grande cutthroat which proved helpful.

Status and Management of Interior Stocks of Cutthroat Trout. (1988). American Fisheries
Society. Pages 90-93.
This book sets the standard for explaining how the Game and Fish Department
maintain the cutthroat trout.  It also has some interesting facts about cutthroat

Stloz, J., & Schnell J. (1987).  The Wildlife Series Trout. Colorado Associated Press.
Pages 169-183.
When I read the last few chapters it really made me think about the future of our
state fish. Will the rainbows take over? Schnell and Stloz state that the fish we
introduced to New Mexico and technology will eventually lead to extinction of the
cutthroat trout.

Trotter, P. (1987). Cutthroat, Native Trout of the West. Colorado Associated University
Press. Pages 169-183.
A well written chapter about the Rio Grande cutthroat trout. Trotter talks about the
existence of the cutthroat. He talks about the decaying habitat and proposes solutions.
Web Sites:
Groups file suit to put Rio Grande cutthroat on endangered list.
Ben Neary, The New Mexican 6/9/99. www.askjeeves.com
Keyword: Cutthroat
Ben Neary discusses the governments role in placing the cutthroat trout on
the endangered lists and the action they are taking.

Native Fishes of Major Drainages, East of the Continental Divide, in New Mexico.
Retrieved from www.altavista.com , keyword: endangered fish
A table listing the endangered fish and where they live. Unknown author.

Trout Species. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. Retrieved from
A nice brief description of every trout species that New Mexico has to offer.
It contains tips for fishing as well as a restoration act.

Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout. New Mexico Department of Game and Fish.
This information about appearance, habitat, competition, feeding,
Cutthroat restocking and transplants was useful. The information
Was sort of vague but it proved to be helpful.