Updated: Jun 15
Like me and many others of our generation, Petey Brucker arrived in Klamath Country in the 1970s as a back-to-the land hippie, one of a significant US population movement of young people from urban areas to small rural towns and their surrounding backcountry. He arrived in Northwest California just in time for the timber and salmon conflicts of the 1970s and, as part of Salmon River Concerned Citizens, Klamath Forest Alliance and the Salmon River
Restoration Council, Petey played a significant role in those conflicts over generations. Petey’s hallmark was his ability to find positive management actions on which all parties and interests could agree. He never tired of looking for the common ground and never lost faith that it could be found.
The struggles over the fate of our old forests, our streams and the salmon were, it is true, often bitter, stained by acrimony and sometimes by violence. However, even in those polarized times, there were a few individuals who rejected the anger and acrimony and instead chose to emphasize what was and is common among us, that is, love of the forest, the land, the streams and the salmon. Petey Brucker was and is such a person.
Petey spent countless hours attending meetings of the Klamath Restoration Task Force over the 20 years of that federal advisory committee's efforts. He was never appointed as a member but that did not deter him. I can picture Petey now, standing at the microphone, laptop open in his right hand, commenting on what the Task Force was planning and doing. Always Petey would return the focus to the salmon, the community and the aquatic ecosystems on which salmon and people depend. He was the conscience of the Task Force, something that virtually all its members came to recognize and appreciate.
Petey and I worked together for several years at the Klamath Forest Alliance, which we and others collaborated to form, at as time when the Forest Service was still intent on liquidating the remaining old growth in order to, in their words, “regulate” the forest. We learned together and together we took on the Forest Service. And we won, not just a couple of precedent setting lawsuits, but also the “Mediation Action Agreement” – the MAG – by which the Forest Service committed to not log or build roads within any of the Salmon River Ranger District’s many, non-wilderness roadless areas, and also to keep roads and logging out of designated riparian reserves throughout the Salmon River Watershed. We, the environmental interests which at that time included The Wilderness Society represented by Patty Schifferle, agreed to not challenge any of the resulting timber sales so long as the Forest Service continued to abide by the MAG. Pursuant to that MAG agreement, 90 million board feet of timber was logged and removed from the Salmon River Watershed over the following decade.
Of course, those within the environmental community who espoused “zero cut” on our national forests criticized us greatly. That did not bother Petey and me. We pointed out that we and the organizations we worked for had always supported responsible logging even as we espoused complete protection for all old forests and roadless lands. We also pointed out that several members of KFA’s board and staff had themselves worked in the “timber trade”.
As Petey and I collaborated, our friendship, our love for one another and for the work we were
doing together, flourished. But for Petey stopping bad things from happening was not enough. He knew that education was needed to raise the consciousness of the community about the state of our streams and the salmon. Petey recognized the importance of the Salmon River to our Spring Chinook salmon and that poaching even a few of those fish could lead to their extinction. Thus was born Salmon Ed, which effectively ended the poaching of Spring Chinook in the Salmon River watershed, and which, soon thereafter, led to the founding of the Salmon River Restoration Council.
It has been over 150 years since people of European descent first came to the Klamath River Basin in search of beaver pelts, gold and land. During that time, our river, its salmon and its people have been attacked and exploited. Fortunately, our River and Klamath Salmon have also had many strong and stubborn defenders, individuals like Raymond Mattz, who was recently honored by the Yurok Tribe, and Charlie Thom, Karuk Indian and tireless advocate for Klamath forests, rivers and wilderness. Petey has a prominent place among those defenders.
I think we need a basin-wide project – A Peoples’ History of the Klamath River Basin – which, among other things, memorializes the history of those river, salmon and land defenders who have given much so that the forests, the salmon and the people may survive. In my view, there can be no better way to honor our land and water defenders than to tell their story so that our young ones and future generations may be inspired and rise to do what is needed to preserve the Klamath, its salmon and its lifeways.
When we worked together, Petey always stressed the need to educate and involve young people and he always put significant amounts of time into doing just that. And now we do have a new, young generation of water protectors and salmon defenders in Klamath Country. Supported by Save California Salmon, River Roots, elders and others, these young activists are standing up and speaking out for our River and Klamath Salmon. Standing on the shoulders of those who came before, I have no doubt that these young activists will do great deeds on behalf of our River.
And yet another generation of forest defenders and water protectors has already been born. It may be some time before they hear the call but they will hear it when it comes. And you who are young activists now must be ready to support them. There is no better way to honor Petey and the long-term effort of which he is a part, than to encourage and support young land and water defenders.
And so, thank you Petey for what you have done and for the inspiration that you have been.
The work will go on!
Felice has lived in the Klamath River Basin since 1976. He lived within the Scott River Watershed from 1976 until 2002 and now resides at Klamath Glen, five river miles from where Klamath River enters the Pacific Ocean. Contact Felice at email@example.com.