Ever heard of these threatened critters? | VailDaily.com

Ever heard of these threatened critters?

Melanie Wong
Vail, CO Colorado
Colorado Division of WildlifeWhile not federally recognized as endangered, the local Forest Service lists the trout as a "species of concern." At least one population of the fish have been found in the Eagle/Holy Cross wilderness.

VAIL, Colorado – In her best imitation of a razorback sucker, Edwards resident Casey Charlebois put her fingers next to her mouth and made a fish face.

“I think of it as a little fish with little things sticking out like this,” she said, laughing.

And really, what would you guess if you were asked what you thought a razorback sucker was? Actually, it is a rather large fish with an O-shaped mouth and a ridge behind its head and is one of several federally listed endangered or threatened species that live in the area’s forests and rivers.

While some local residents said they were concerned about locally threatened critters, many had a hard time naming any other than the well-publicized Canada lynx, which are classified as endangered animals.

“I think of pine martens, and aren’t some badgers on the sensitive list?” guessed Eagle-Vail resident Colin Davis.

Raised awareness

However, Davis said he thinks that while many area residents may not be able to describe a humpback chub, they are aware that human development affects the local fish and wildlife.

He said he is more aware of the impact of development and ski areas on wildlife thanks to the media and news stories over the past few years.

“The incident with Two Elk really brought it to my attention,” he said, referring to a 1998 arson on Vail mountain allegedly started by a group of radical environmentalists. “It was supposed to be a case of ecoterrorism.”

Charlebois agreed, saying that the U.S. Forest Service and Vail Mountain should continue efforts to educate the public.

“It’s good that locals are aware, that way during the season, we can help educate people who come visit,” she said.

A fishy situation

Fish usually aren’t the first thing people think of when thinking of endangered species, but a good part of the list is made up of fish that suffer from man-made dams and human use of the Colorado River, said Matt Grove, U.S. Forest Service fish biologist.

“What we do up here affects stuff downstream,” he said. “Sometimes ski areas want to take water to make snow, and we have to see what the affect is. Or people take water for irrigation or personal use – if you take water out of the Colorado (River), you’re affecting those fish.”

Biologists carefully monitor the threatened fish and help protect them in several ways, said Randy Hampton of the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The strategy includes building “fish ladders” that allow the fish to get around dams to reach their traditional spawning grounds upriver and removing other fish that prey on the endangered species, Hampton said.

“Fish recovery can become very controversial,” he said. “The good thing about the upper Colorado River program is that for the most part its very cooperative. It has brought water users, environmentalists, energy people and the governments all to the table.”

Here is a look at federally recognized threatened or endangered wildlife in the area that you may not know about:

Boreal toad

These can be found in the area, with several documented breeding sites in Eagle County. They live and breed mainly in shallows of ponds and wetlands at elevations of 8,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. They’re pretty small, growing up to about 4 inches in length.

Northern leopard frog

These frogs are not documented in the area, but are usually found near water at elevations of below 11,000 feet. They could very well be in the area, and some have been found just south of Eagle County in Lake County, Hampton said.

Their population has been affected by spread of disease and fungus as well as loss of habitat.

Humpback chub

Davis guessed that the chub was some sort of groundhog – while a good guess, the chub is a fish that is now usually found further downstream in the Colorado River, although they once might have lived as far up as Glenwood Canyon.

They grow up to 18 inches in length and are marked by an abrupt hump behind the head. They eat mostly small insects and algae.

Razorback sucker

The razorback sucker is a large, bronze to yellow fish that grows to a weight of about 15 pounds and has a sharp-edged keel behind the head. They used to be widespread along the Colorado River all the way up to Glenwood Canyon, but now are mostly found near Grand Junction in the muddy, quiet backwaters.

They eat mostly plants and animal matter.


This fish is related to the humpback chub, but with less of a head bump and larger fins. Hurt by damming, they’re very rare in Colorado but can be found in Utah, Arizona and Nevada.

The fish, which can grow up to two feet in length, mostly eat insects, plankton, algae and plants.

Greenback cutthroat trout

While not federally recognized as endangered, the local Forest Service list the trout as a “species of concern,” said Grove. At least one population of the fish have been found in the Eagle/Holy Cross wilderness.

These fish aren’t native to the area, but were probably introduced to area waters by early miners and settlers, said Grove.

They were thought to be extinct in 1937 but since have been making a comeback thanks to extensive research and recovery programs.

Colorado pikeminnow

They can reach six feet in length and 80 pounds in weight.

While fish ladders and removing non-native fish have helped the pikeminnow, they’re listed as federally endangered, thanks to dam construction and other water diversion projects. They mostly eat other fish and insects.

Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly

These little butterflies are hard to find, but usually live in the alpine tundra around a very specific plant called a dwarf snow willow, said Lara Duran, a Forest Service wildlife biologist.

They’re listed as federally endangered and have only been found in the San Juan region. However, they could live in this area, Duran said.

Canada lynx

The lynx are probably the most well-known of endangered animals in the Vail area, due to extensive research and re-introduction programs as well as public education programs, Duran said.

The large, big-footed cats are live in high elevation forests, and are closely linked to the snowshoe hare, which is their main food source. Earlier this week, scientists found 10 new lynx kittens, some in Eagle County.

It is the first documented kitten finding since 2006.

Staff Writer Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2928 or mwong@vaildaily.com.

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