Wiped off the state map, or so it was thought. Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists, working a decades-long fish forensics case, announced this week the discovery of a believed-to-be extinct cuttie found alive and well in a handful of remote streams.

Eight naturally breeding populations of the mystery trout had been previously identified in the San Juan River Basin, within the San Juan National Forest and on private lands. Using cutting-edge testing, and following leads dating back to 1874, biologists bridged a DNA gap that revealed genetic links between specimens living on shelves in the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C., and those they found living in isolated southwest Colorado tribs. And now after years of speculation, the San Juan River cutthroat is officially back.

“We always ask ourselves, ‘What if we could go back to the days before pioneer settlement and wide-spread non-native fish stocking to see what we had here?’” said Jim White, aquatic biologist for CPW in Durango. “Careful work over the years by biologists, finding those old specimens in the museum and the genetic testing gave us the chance, essentially, to go back in time. Now we have the opportunity to conserve this native trout in southwest Colorado.”

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