Sebastian Kohn
ENVS 220

Internship with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla


In my internship with the Confederated tribes of the Umatilla evaluating salmon abundance and survival in the Walla Walla Sub-basin I had several goals. These were to learn about steelhead and their historical and ecological significance in the Walla Walla River; learn about pit tags, how they work and how they help contribute to the knowledge of steelhead migration; help the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla capture steelhead and monitor their annual migration cycles; and contribute to the knowledge of steelhead and other fish of the Walla Walla River. I hoped to accomplish these goals by first of all reading as much information on both the tribes’ relationship with the fish and the ecological significance of them. Second I would implement this knowledge on the field by going with biologists employed by the tribes to the Walla Walla river sub basin. There we would capture the migrating steelhead, measure them and place a pit tag in them if they did not already have one so that they could be monitored.

I met my sponsor, Jesse Schwartz, and he directed me to websites where I could find the information I needed to increase my knowledge on the subject before going into the field. I have so far read the websites which helped me understand much more about the Confederated Tribes and their views towards salmon and other natural resources, and about current programs being implemented to monitor fish and improve their habitat and numbers. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla are comprised of the Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla Tribes. They were formed when the 1855 treaty with the federal government was signed giving them the right to their property and natural resources. They have always honored and respected the salmon and have lived alongside and depended on them for thousands of years. Since the colonizers came to the west coast and forced them onto reservations and degraded streams and built dams, salmon numbers have drastically decreased. Now tribal and non-tribal people have united in the attempt to restore salmon numbers to what they used to be prior to 1855.

For the first three quarters of the semester all I did was read web pages and was not able to go into the field to do some actual work and help the Confederated tribes in any way. This was very frustrating since I was eager to work and do something to help them. I then met the field biologists working for the tribes, Mike Lambert and Brian Mahoney. We set up times when I could go into their fisheries office to help with data entry and to the North Fork of the Walla Walla River where we could catch some steelhead and other salmon to tag them and release them to be tracked.

On November 7 I went down to their fisheries office in the South fork Walla Walla Research Station and helped them enter data into one of their datasheets in the computer. On November 8th I met Brian and Travis in the North Fork of the Walla Walla River to gillnet steelhead, measure, and finally tag them before releasing them. We were able to capture 6 fish, four of them steelhead and the other two were rainbow trout. Going to the field helped me a lot learn the techniques for catching and handling the fish and using the radio tags.

The difficulties I faced were that I was only able to go to the field once to help in the catching of fish. The rest of the time I devoted to the internship was spent on reading information and entering data. I believe that I have been able to complete most of my original goals except that I feel like I wasn’t able to contribute as much as I wanted to the tribes since I only went to the field once. I would like to recommend Jesse to allow the future interns to learn through reading while learning through experience and fieldwork.