There’s NOT one born every minute |

There’s NOT one born every minute

Local students recently received a first-hand lesson in math, biology and endangered species conservation from the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Today, for the third straight day, the DOW and elementary students will release endangered razorback suckers, or Xyrauchen texanus, into the Colorado River.

Students and teachers at Kathryn Senor Elementary in New Castle, Wamsley Elementary and Esma Lewis Elementary in Rifle, along with help from DOW wildlife manager Brian Gray and DOW education coordinator Stan Johnson, are in the process of releasing 56 of the federally endangered suckerfish into the river.

“Last fall, we bought fish tanks and outfitted six different classrooms,” Gray said.

The kids and their teachers were charged with raising the razorbacks. Their duties included monitoring the tanks for acidity and keeping them clean, feeding the fish and keeping track of their growth from the fry stage, shortly after hatching, to a releasable age – about six months.

“The whole point of the project is to get kids involved with math and biology skills,” Gray said on Wednesday.

According to the DOW, the razorback sucker, which is dark brown to olive-green, fading to white on the belly, can attain a weight of about 15 pounds and has a sharp-edged keel that stands up along its back.

“I’ve seen them before in the river more than 20 inches long,” Gray said, adding that they can grow up to about three feet long.

The fish being released into the river were four to five inches long.

Originally widespread in the Colorado River system, razorbacks are now found in small numbers in the Yampa, Colorado, and Gunnison rivers in Colorado, the DOW website said.

The razorback is most often found in quiet, muddy backwaters along the river. It has been observed spawning over gravel bars in the mainstream river.

Like most suckers, it feeds on both plant and animal matter. The razorback may be hybridizing itself out of existence by spawning with the more common flannelmouth sucker in response to habitat destruction, the DOW website said.

The razorback is one of four endangered native Colorado River fish species. Biologists are working to bring the four species back from the brink of extinction.

Because of the fish’s endangered status both federally and in Colorado, Gray and Johnson needed to get a federal permit to do the project.

The Colorado River valley schools were chosen after Gray and Johnson held a Project Wild class last year, catching the interest of students and teachers alike. Also, the riparian areas near these towns is the natural habitat of the fish.

The razorback sucker population is on the rise, Gray said, because of projects like this and because of hatcheries breeding the fish.

“They’re definitely on the rebound,” he said.

Along with releasing the fish, each fish had a tiny microchip transmitter, called a pit tag, implanted into its belly with a syringe. The transmitter won’t allow biologists to track the fish. But if the fish is caught again, the pit tag’s number will reveal when and where the fish was first released.

“You have to catch the fish again and run a scanner on it,” he said. “It’s kind of like at a store when you run things across a scanner.”

The project will not be done yearly. In fact, the current project could be the only one of its kind in the area. Johnson tries to spread projects like this around his territory, which is the entire Western Slope.

“But it could pop up in a few years,” Gray said.

While participating in the project, the kids learned and had fun, Gray said.

“They loved it,” he said. “Quite a few students have been able to be a part of it. It’s been real valuable as an educational tool.”

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