the film
Commentaries and editorials

Sampson Calls Salmon 'Multi-Generational' Issue

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, December 13, 2003

MOSCOW -- Donald Sampson has been out of the salmon game for seven months, but still likes to keep his finger on the pulse of the Columbia River.

That pulse is measured in the salmon and steelhead that annually return to spawn in the Columbia River and its tributaries.

Sampson, a 1985 graduate of the University of Idaho with a degree in fisheries management, will be the commencement speaker at today's mid-year graduation ceremonies on the Moscow campus.

He is the executive director of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation at Pendleton, Ore. In June, Sampson stepped down after serving four years as the executive director of the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission.

The commission represents the Umatilla, Yakima, Warm Springs and Nez Perce tribes in fisheries management issues. Although his energy is now focused on the problems facing his tribe, Sampson said he will never stray far from the salmon issue.

Although complex and slow, he called salmon recovery a multi-generational issue.

"I'm excited and optimistic."

Even though salmon and steelhead returns have been good the past few years, Sampson said it is critical the Northwest continue to work on salmon recovery. He said most scientists credit the good returns of mostly hatchery salmon and steelhead with favorable ocean conditions.

According to Sampson, the fish need a baseline of water each year to make sure they reach the ocean as juveniles. He also called for efforts to improve hatcheries and habitat and reduce ocean harvest to continue. But for the long haul, the fisheries biologist said the people of the Northwest need to develop alternative energy sources and cut their reliance on hydropower generated by dams.

"We need a new focus on energy policy in the Northwest."

He pointed to wind power that now has a generating capacity of 300 megawatts in the region as one alternative source. His tribe is developing a natural gas plant that will generate 1,200 megawatts of power, more than provided by the four lower Snake River dams, which remain at the heart of the debate over the best way to recover threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, along with the congressional delegation, needs to work to phase out the reliance on hydropower, he said. Sampson envisions a 25 to 50-year process by which the dams generating capacity could be made obsolete by bringing other energy sources on line.

Sampson addressed the press Friday at the College of Natural Resources. Dean of the college, Steven Daley-Laursen, said the college is most proud of students like Sampson, who go on and make a difference in their communities and the environment.

Sampson was recognized last year by the Ford Foundation as one of 20 "leaders of a changing world."

Today's most effective leaders are the ones who work to improve their communities, and not necessarily traditional leaders, such as well-known politicians, according to Sampson.

"We can't rely on politicians and we can't rely on formal leaders to make a difference," he said. "When you get down to it the people are the ones that are going to make a change."

Sampson is now working to tackle problems like a high rate of high school dropouts on the Umatilla Reservation and is looking for young leaders from his tribe to help.

"We need educators, and we have some people that are coming out of this school right now," he said.

Eric Barker
Sampson Calls Salmon 'Multi-Generational' Issue
Lewiston Tribune, December 13, 2003

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation