Humboldt State University

People on the Ground: Alumni Profiles

Robert Lackey

In April 2008, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency: the salmon ocean-fishing season was closed, thousands of fishermen were suddenly out of work and policy makers were scrambling for solutions. The recent collapse of California's last great salmon fishery, however, didn't shock Robert Lackey a bit.

"If this caught you by surprise," Lackey says, "you're just not paying attention. What we're looking at these days, even during a good year, is less than 10 percent of the original wild salmon numbers."

Lackey knows salmon. The Humboldt State alum ('67) is a senior fisheries biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency, the author of more than 100 scientific journal articles and the EPA project leader of Salmon 2100, a bold report that includes an unusual mix of no-holds-barred proposals for turning the tide and restoring wild salmon.

Twenty-three biologists, policy experts and advocates contributed chapters to the book. While some disagree with another's proposed remedies, all agree on one thing: America's current strategies for restoring salmon simply won't save the day.

"Current restoration efforts are well-intentioned," Lackey explains. "But they're still patchwork. We're not addressing the fundamental issues. If the human population of the West Coast continues to grow, if we continue to demand more fresh water, wild salmon in the West will largely disappear by the end of the next century."

"At the end of the day," Lackey says, "the public has to choose its priorities. Wild salmon may or may not be a top priority. Our goal with Salmon 2100 was to simply let people understand that there's no free lunch: if society wants wild salmon runs, it's going to have to make some tough decisions. We wanted to elevate the public discussion on salmon and make people pay attention."

People, apparently, did pay attention. The media have been calling Lackey at a furious rate and in May of 2008 the EPA conferred its highest award, the Gold Medal for Exceptional Service, upon the Humboldt State grad.

"The award was both gratifying and, to be honest, a little surprising," admits Lackey. "Salmon 2100 is a controversial work that rattled a lot of cages, so it was very fulfilling to be recognized with such a prestigious award."

For more information on the Salmon 2100 project, visit www.oregonstate.edu/dept/fw/lackey/Salmon2100.htm.