Meet Donella Miller
Program: B.S. Fisheries Resources
Hometown: Toppenish, Washington
By Sue McMurray
It’s a sad thing when animals outlive their owners or caretakers. Exotic species such as parrots, tortoises and elephants can live up to age 50 or beyond; domestic horses can live to be more than 30-years old. While most zoos and domestic pet owners plan for the continued health and care of their long-lived friends, the same cannot be said for many wild species.
Alumnus Donella Miller, a fisheries biologist for the Yakima Nation, is taking steps to ensure the survival of one her tribe’s ancient friends – the sturgeon. The largest freshwater fish in North America, sturgeon can weigh more than 1500 pounds, grow to 20 feet in length and live 100 years or more. The fish holds deep cultural significance to the Yakima and Columbia River tribes and has been a diet staple for generations. Like salmon, this migratory fish hatches in rivers and lives in the ocean before returning to spawn. Unlike salmon, sturgeon live through many spawning cycles. When dams were constructed on the Columbia and Snake rivers, sturgeon became trapped are unable to reproduce as they once did.
For the past two years, Miller has led the development of her tribe’s first sturgeon recovery program. Working off a meager budget, Miller built the hatchery’s facility south of Harrah, Wash. She recently oversaw the release of thousands of the hatchery’s first batch of reared sturgeon into the Priest Rapids, Wanapum and Rocky Reach reservoirs of the Columbia River.
The restoration will not only provide subsistence to tribal communities but also will provide increased commercial opportunities for both tribal and non-tribal fisherman and sport fisheries.
“My University of Idaho education provided the foundational skills I now directly apply in my career,” says Miller. “I gained an invaluable amount of knowledge in resource management and the total package of what it entails – environmental clearances, pollution abatement, data management, modeling, aquaculture techniques and the aquatic environment in general.”
Miller completed her bachelor’s in fisheries resources in 2009 and says the best part of her job as project manager is raising fish, but she also participates in regional planning meetings with various state and federal partners and manages the project’s budget and contracting duties.