Colorado’s state fish is the Greenback Cutthroat Trout and it is stunning. Emerald green flashes on it’s back while a crimson rose spreads along it’s belly. Once pushed to extinction, we fought to protect this species and bring it back. It’s a beautiful fish, but it’s not my favorite. Not even close. If I could submit any fish native to Colorado for this high honor it would be the mottled sculpin. Small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, speckled to blend in among the rocks, and with spines along it’s back- it looks almost prehistoric. I’ll be the first to admit that the sculpin is not likely to win any beauty pageants.
Greenback Cutthroats get the glory here in Colorado. Posters and plaques, a listing as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act, the list goes on. Meanwhile the sculpin does the incredibly hard work of being lower on the food chain than a trout. Without the sculpin; trout go hungry too, and in the last two decades these small fish have suffered a tremendous decline in the Upper Colorado River. In some areas, they have vanished completely. It’s not just the sculpin either, a recent state study found that in the last two decades there has been a 38% decline in aquatic insects. It’s no wonder the sculpin has vanished since they rely on insects like stone flies and may flies for their own survival.
Sculpins and the insects they eat are suffering because for decades we have diverted water from the Upper Colorado to use on the Front Range of Colorado. Soon, we may divert more water as two water projects are being contemplated in the headwaters of the Colorado. Our namesake river is in trouble, if these new projects come online they’d reduce the flow of the river by nearly 80% of the native flows.
When the insects and sculpin go, trout go too. A loss of our fisheries in Colorado really means a loss of tourism and jobs. Recreation and tourism are a billion dollar a year industry in Colorado many of our local communities rely on those dollars. So when a sculpin goes belly up, we risk our economies going belly up too.
It’s a grim picture and it’s why CEC and our partners are working to Defend the Colorado. Our river needs our help. This week we joined other river advocates to rally on the steps of the State Capitol.
CEC, our members and our partners have spent countless hours attending public meetings on these water projects, writing official comments and letters to our leaders and meeting with decision makers; all with the hopes of keeping our river healthy. We have made progress, just a week ago the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) called for further review of one of these projects.
Several folks spoke out this Wednesday, including Field and Stream Editor, Kirk Deeter. Kirk travels around the world to write about amazing rivers, but he lives here in Colorado because we have amazing rivers and mountains right in our backyard. In his comments, Kirk compared the Colorado River to another Colorado icon: Pikes Peak.
Imagine we woke up tomorrow and learned that Pike’s Peak were 90% comprised of high grade coal. We could build a power plant and burn that coal, providing free power to the cities of Denver and Colorado Springs for 20 years. All we’d have to do is shave off two-thirds of Pike’s Peak. Who’s going to step up and say, ‘Let’s start with a little bit off the top!’ Nobody.
Kirk’s visual is spot on. The Colorado River is an icon, we need to protect it just as we would Pike’s Peak, or the Gold dome of our Capitol. It’s not too late, we can still make sure our iconic river remains. Our river needs heroes. On Wednesday, we asked Governor Hickenlooper to be one of those heroes. It’s time for our state leadership to take their own studies to heart and make sure that we protect our river.
We need you to be a hero for the Colorado river too, take a moment to sign this petition to save our river. Who knows, maybe one day the sculpin will get the glory it deserves.