The Fish & the Flame

When a major wildfire threatened some of the last remaining populations of San Juan Cutthroat Trout, a critical partnership between Colorado Parks & Wildlife and private landowners stepped in to save the fish.

How do you rescue fish from a burn area? Once rescued, what happens next?

This is a film about how both public agencies and private landowners can work together to protect landscapes from the cascading effects of development and climate change. It’s also a light-hearted look at the importance of watersheds, and a passionate biologist risking his neck for a species most people have never heard of. 

F&F 20
Fish and the flame film poster
ABOUT THE FILM

When a supposedly extinct fish resurfaces in the path of oncoming wildfire, a Colorado biologist braves the flames on a daring rescue mission.

Not many people will hike into a wildfire to rescue fish, but for Jim White, it’s all in a day’s work. A self-described “fish squeezer” since the age of seven, Jim followed his passion for freshwater ichthyoids until he landed the role of aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Today, from a small hatchery in Durango, he manages fish populations across the San Juan River basin, both for conservation and for the legions of recreational anglers who spend their weekends wading through mountain streams in search of trout. Though not without challenges, Jim's work is, for the most part, predictable. But a few years ago, a nick-of-time discovery made him the protagonist of an unusual conservation story, alongside some unlikely partners. 

The Fish & The Flame plunges audiences into the wild and obscure waters of the San Juan Cutthroat, which flourished in the streams of Southern Colorado until mining pollution, fishing pressure, and non-native competitors drove it to extinction—allegedly. Thanks to genetic data from a 146-year old tissue sample at the Smithsonian, Jim’s team identified a few tiny holdout populations in 2018. But immediately after this discovery, the 416 Fire burned through the watershed, flushing toxic chemicals into the streams. 

This film documents Jim’s collaboration with a reclusive ranch manager, Tim Haarmann, to save an obscure fish from muddy asphyxiation and genetic roadblock (imagine the Habsburgs, but with gills). We answer such pressing questions as: how do you rescue fish from a burn area? Once rescued, what happens next? This is a story about a passionate biologist risking his neck for a species most people have never heard of. It’s also a light-hearted look at watersheds, and how both public agencies and private landowners can work together to protect landscapes from the cascading effects of development and climate change.

Find a Festival Showing

Wild & Scenic Film Festival | Nevada City, CA + Online | January 2022

Stories of our Watersheds | Portland, OR + Online | October 2021

NatureTrack Film Festival | Los Olivos, CA + Online | October 2021

Environmental Film Fest in our Nation's Capitol | Washington D.C. + Online | March 2022

International Festival of Social Environmental Cinema: Planet.Doc | Brazil + Online | Sept-Dec 2021

Jackson Wild | Jackson, WY + Online | September 2021

Presented in partnership with

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Produced by

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