Jill Wick, center, with the Department of Game and Fish, releases a Rio Grande cutthroat trout earlier this month in Middle Ponil Creek in the Valle Vidal unit of Carson National Forest. Joining her are Alyssa Radcliff, left, with Carson National Forest, and Nate Caswell of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The fish were rescued from the burn scar of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in June. 

At age 69, Jim Brooks is still traversing the Gila Wilderness with his pack mules and a purpose.

Though he retired from a long career as a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service eight years ago, he says he remains “neck deep” in Gila trout work.

No vehicles are allowed in the wilderness, so Brooks loads up his mules with willow saplings, tools and supplies for trips into remote regions with wildlife agency workers and volunteers, hoping to recreate a suitable home for the Gila trout in areas affected by wildfire.


U.S. Forest Service personnel lead pack mules in the Whiskey Creek area of the Gila Wilderness in June 2012 after the Whitewater-Baldy Complex Fire burned through. At the time, it was the largest fire in state history. This year, it was surpassed by the Black Fire in Gila National Forest and the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, both of which burned over native trout habitat.


Biologists with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Forest Service use electrofishing in June to rescue Rio Grande cutthroat trout from the burn scar of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire. The fish were rescued shortly after the fire burned through, before heavy summer monsoon rains flooded waterways with toxic ash.


Rio Grande cutthroat trout were rescued from the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire burn scar. Within the burn scar, biologists with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish and the U.S. Forest Service rescued 190 cutthroat trout from Rito Morphy in the Canadian River basin, 267 from Alamitos Creek in the Rio Grande basin, and 119 from Rio Valdez in the Pecos River basin.


Tony Jacobson, manager of Seven Springs Hatchery, transfers Rio Grande cutthroat trout from transportation tanks in the pickup bed to buckets of water to be carried to a creek for release.

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A flare up of the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire near Cleveland darkens the sky over over Mora on May 4, 2022. Along with resulting in the evacuation of thousands of local residents and the loss of hundreds of homes, the fire threatened the Mora National Fish Hatchery, which is a key hub in Gila trout restoration efforts. 


Allen Haden, senior ecologist and president of Natural Channel Design Inc., surveys a burned area around Little Turkey Creek in the Willow Creek watershed in Gila National Forest.


A Gila trout lies in a stream in Gila National Forest. After the 325,000-acre Black Fire hit the region in the spring and early summer, killing off multiple populations of Gila trout, some experts estimate there may be as few as nine populations remaining in Gila National Forest.


Amanda Gehrt, acting ranger of the Reserve Ranger District of Gila National Forest, and other Forest Service personnel plant vegetation at an eroded area near a logjam along Little Turkey Creek.

Matt Dahlseid is a digital enterprise producer and outdoors writer for the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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