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A Tribute to the Late Petey Brucker

Updated: May 1

Petey in the Upper South Fork in the Trinity Alps wilderness Photo by Felice Pace.

On Earth Day, April 22, 2024, Petey Brucker, one of the North Coast’s most cherished river activists, passed away at his home on the Salmon River with his wife, his daughters, family, and friends by his side. For decades, Petey devoted himself to the common good of the environment and communities and inspired many people to find their own way to be advocates. Petey was a stalwart in the community who has touched the lives of countless people as a family man, salmon and river advocate, community leader, activist, and musician. 

Petey was born in Nyack, New York in 1952, followed his older brother, Phil, to Northern California in 1975, and his sister Donna soon followed. He met his life partner Geba Greenberg at Black Bear Ranch in 1977, and built a family at Godfrey Ranch in the rugged mountains of the Salmon River. 

Petey fell in love with the rivers, fish, forests of the Klamath-Siskiyou bioregion and sought community support to protect and restore impacts from logging, mining, herbicides, and hydroelectric dams on the rivers and salmon. He galvanized volunteers, agencies, and organizations to comb the riverbar in search of leafy spurge, spotted knapweed and other invasive weeds, removing them manually and effectively stopping hundreds, if not thousands, of acres along the Salmon River from being sprayed with herbicides including glyphosate. 

Petey collecting otolith bones for fisheries researchers from spawned-out Spring Chinook salmon in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, Upper South Fork Salmon River, 2004. Photo by Felice Pace.

In the 1980s, Petey co-founded Salmon River Concerned Citizens to fight against the U.S. Forest Service’s application of aerial herbicides. Petey was also a founding member of Klamath Forest Alliance and Salmon River Fire Safe Council, as well as a tenacious advocate for local ecosystems throughout the development of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, Klamath hydroelectric settlement negotiations, challenging timber sales, and suction dredge permitting processes. 

In 1992, Petey and Jim Villeponteaux co-founded the Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC), which was one of the early adopters and founders of the local watershed stewardship model. The SRRC was spawned by a successful poaching prevention program, which highlighted the protection of spring-run Chinook salmon that was embraced by the local community and resulted in a 90% reduction of poaching in the Salmon River. 

Petey was well known for his songs about the rivers, salmon, and of course, tearing down the Klamath dams, which he sang around the campfire, at community events and festivals, and most notably, at the Klamath dam settlement meetings, where facilitator Ed Sheets would often ask Petey if he had a song to kick off the meetings. On many occasions, Petey serenaded the Red Lion Conference Center with songs about wild Chinook salmon swimming up and down the Klamath River as over two hundred representatives from the federal government, Tribal leadership, industry groups, and nonprofit organizations hummed along as they negotiated agreements that eventually led to Klamath dam removal. 

Petey with EPIC's 2023 Sempervirens Award.
Petey with EPIC's 2023 Sempervirens Award. Photo by Abigail Lowell / EPIC.

In 2017 the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services awarded Petey the Unsung Hero Award for his work in environmental conservation and disaster response. In recent years, Petey began to fall ill from progressive supranuclear palsy, and his health steadily declined — but just this last year, he was able to witness Klamath dam removal come to fruition as the dams were breached and the reservoirs began to draw down. In July 2023, Petey was honored with EPIC’s Sempervirens Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifelong environmental activism advocating for the forests, rivers, wildlife, people and salmon of the Klamath and Salmon River watersheds. 

Petey will be forever remembered for his ability to build bridges between diverse and otherwise polarized stakeholders, finding common ground and community-based solutions to heal communities and restore the watersheds that we all depend on.

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