Pond in I-70 median to help grow endangered fish

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DEBEQUE, Colo. (AP) A former gravel pit in the median of Interstate 70 will be used to grow endangered razorback suckers before their release into the Colorado and Gunnison rivers.

Thousands of fingerling razorback suckers were dumped into the 10-acre pond last week after the transportation department agreed to let the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service use the pond for the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.

''Our little lake turned out to be a unique place for these little guys to grow,'' said Rich Perske, a program engineer with the highway department.

The project in DeBeque Canyon is the first time the Colorado Department of Transportation will aid endangered fish. The department has designed other ponds along highways for wildlife habitat and stocked other former gravel pits with sport fish, but never with endangered fish.

The pond's location provides the isolation the fish need. There are no other species of fish living in the pond and no connection exists to the Colorado River that would allow other species to be introduced.

Representatives of the Fish and Wildlife Service approached the highway department because wild adult razorback suckers had been found in a nearby pond eight years ago. That indicated the area would be good habitat for the fish.

Frank Pfeifer of the Fish and Wildlife Service said the highway pond brings the number of endangered-fish ponds in the Grand Valley to 31. The others are on land belonging to Colorado State Parks, the Bureau of Land Management and private owners.

The fingerlings in the ponds will be reintroduced to the Colorado and Gunnison rivers this fall. The ponds will be restocked with a new batch of the razorback suckers next summer.

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