|Gila trout. Photo by Craig Springer/USFWS
Craig Springer tells how a trout that once stared at extinction offers wilderness angling opportunities.
The trout stole its color from a southern New Mexico summer sunset.
Gila trout sport a painter’s pallet of pink and olive, rose, yellow and copper and a few tones in between. Beneath the black pepper flakes that fleck its side lies a lexis—a language carried forward from another time. It’s an ancient language coded in molecules of proteins written by the press of time and experience in a land turned arid.
Gila trout, native only to headwater streams that vein over the Mogollon Rim of New Mexico and Arizona, have expressed in their genetic makeup a mapping of how to survive in the vestiges of what surely was a large and contiguous range. Their genetics equip them to face what nature may hurl at them in an already harsh environment.
It’s those innate characteristics coiled in the double-helix of DNA that Service biologists strive to preserve in the fish. Conservation genetics is at its heart an investment in the future with an eye on the past. Dr. Wade Wilson with the Service’s Southwestern Native Aquatic Resources and Recovery Center in Dexter, New Mexico, knows Gila trout like few others can; he’s a geneticist who can de-code the language. It’s his charge in the conservation of Gila trout to help ensure that the diversity of genetic characters unique in this fish stay in the fish going forward.