One born every minute? Raising razorback suckers |

One born every minute? Raising razorback suckers

Travis McCain and Jesse Coszalter have just become the proud parents of quadruplets of the piscine persuasion.The pair of Coal Ridge High School students helped their high school earn one of 10 permits nationwide to raise the endangered razorback sucker fish. It is their responsibility, as part of an assignment, to keep these fragile and important fish alive.”It’s a big responsibility, so we have to take very good care of them,” explained McCain.Stan Johnson, with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, brought the fish, four six-month old fingerlings, to Coal Ridge last week. McCain and Coszalter had prepared a large tank for the fish, ensuring the proper oxygen, pH and nitrate levels to keep their new babies happy.According to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the razorback sucker evolved an estimated 4 million years ago. It evolved in and is only found in the Colorado River Basin. Farmers harvested the fish to grind it into livestock food or fertilizer. Later, as river channels were altered, stream flows changed, dams built, pollution increased and new fish species were introduced to the Colorado River, the razorback sucker’s existence was threatened.Johnson explained to Terri Hoffman’s River Watch class that about 15 years ago, the Colorado DOW performed a fish count in the Colorado River between Rifle and Lake Powell and only 15 razorbacks were found.”We went to Washington, D.C., and convinced the Legislature that we had to protect the razorback sucker fish,” explained Johnson. “Not because they are endangered, but because they are an indicator species. They have been here for a million years, now they are not. We drink this water. Is there something wrong with the water? We need to protect the razorback sucker so we can continue to evaluate what is happening.”In 1991, the razorback sucker was added to the federal endangered list and those 15 fish were used as a gene pool to help propagate the species. Six years ago, Johnson asked if he could train students to assist in raising the fish. He was granted 10 permits nationwide for schools, and Coal Ridge High School has one this year.At the end of the year, the fish that survive (Johnson is allowed a 10 percent mortality rate), will be tagged and released into the wild.Once Johnson gave the Coal Ridge High School aquarium his stamp of approval, McCain and Coszalter gingerly placed the fish in their new home. The fish demonstrated their stress by turning a bright white, but very quickly began exploring and returned to their natural brownish-green color.”I think this will be fun,” said Coszalter. “It’s a great experience.”Now the real parenting begins. The pair must ensure that the environment is controlled, and that the oxygen, pH, nitrate and nitrite levels are just right. They will be cleaning the tank, and feeding their fish, even over holiday breaks.For their class, they must document the data including water temperature, pH, nitrate and nitrite levels, growth of their fish and feeding schedule. They must create a presentation to their class and write an extensive paper on the experience. In addition, all of their work products must meet at least three of the Colorado State Standards for science, and at least three in other disciplines which may include English, math or technology.Though the project is for part of their River Watch grade, the two recognize the gravity of raising an endangered species.”We have to succeed,” smiled McCain.

Rifle High School will host a first-round state playoff football game at 1 p.m. this Saturday against Elizabeth. Ticket prices are $5 for seniors and students, $7 for general admission. Only CHSAA passes will be honored for this event. Gates will open at 11 a.m. for parking.

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