Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lessons from Klamath History: A tribute to Petey Brucker

On Saturday October 6th the Salmon River Restoration Council celebrated twenty years of work to sustain and restore the watersheds and communities of the Salmon River Basin, aka the Cal Salmon.Check out the excellent report on the event written by Two Rivers Tribune reporter Malcolm Terrance at this link.

A highlight of the event was a tribute to SRRC founder and long time executive director Petey Brucker. Three of Petey's closest compadres - Felice Pace, Ron Reed and Jennifer Silvera - spoke about the contributions which Petey has made over the years to the human and ecological communities of the Salmon River and Klamath River Basin.The staff then presented Petey with a plaque of appreciation. Dominating the plaque is a Spring Chinook Salmon in high relief.      

Reproduced below is the tribute to Petey which KlamBlog editor and chief writer Felice Pace produced for the event. Due to time constraints, Felice could only summarize the tribute at the celebration. KlamBlog presents it here because the tribute recounts important events in the People's History of Klamath Country. 

Our culture discourages historical memory. Perhaps that is part of why we seem to repeat the same mistakes over and over. KlamBlog believes it is only possible to truly understand current events if we view them within an accurate historical context. We hope you enjoy and learn not only from Petey's example but also portions of the People's History recounted by Felice in his tribute to Petey Brucker published for the very first time below.


Community Man: A tribute to Petey Brucker 
by Felice Pace   

          When I was asked to speak here about my friend Petey it took me all of a second to accept the invitation. Not surprising really – older folks like to go on and on and I have never been accused of being shy or reticent when it comes to public speaking. The truth is, however, that there is very little that can give me more pleasure than to tell folks about my friend Petey and especially about the history we shared together.

Petey takes a rare break at Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge

A big part of that history is the founding of both the Klamath Forest Alliance (KFA) and the Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC) and the events that led Petey, myself and several other folks – most from the Salmon River - to create those organizations. Some of you may not realize that it was KFA which provided the support Petey needed to create SRCC. Some probably don’t know that it was also KFA – in support of Cynthia Poten’s vision – which created Klamath Riverkeeper. That is KFA’s mission – to support progressive activists in going for and realizing their hopes and visions. Please understand that KFA is still there and still available to a new generation of activists to help you realize your hopes, dreams and visions in service to the community of all living beings.  

But let’s get back to the story.

For me the beginning was the herbicide wars. I suspect it is difficult if not impossible for those of you who did not live through it to understand and appreciate what it was like back then for those of us who lived in homesteads and communities surrounded by national forest land. We could hardly believe it ourselves. Many of us had fought hard to end the Vietnam War; we had decried the use of Agent Orange on the land and people of Vietnam. We won an end to that war only to find that the chemicals and helicopters – the war itself - had come home – the chemicals we decried when used in Vietnam were now being used against us!

I think we were a little more bold back then. I remember proudly the day the people of the Salmon River surrounded a spray helicopter and would not let it fly. I was blown away by the folks who volunteered to go into riparian areas at the spray blocks with cards that would record if herbicide drift hit the card. This was done to demonstrate that Agent Orange was indeed drifting over the riparian areas and getting into our water.   

Not one baby was born during that period without a serious problem; there were also numerous miscarriages and still births. That was all documented by Mavis McCovey – another one of our heroes - working as a community health worker for United Indian Health Service.

It was during the Herbicide Wars that we discovered the “allowable cut effect” and it is that which revealed to us the true nature of what was going on in our national forests. Here’s how it worked: spraying the clearcuts twice – first to kill vegetation prior to tree planting and again to “release” the plantation trees from “competition” from brush and hardwoods – was assumed to lower the amount of time until the plantation could be clearcut again and also to increase the volume of wood that would be on the site when it was next clearcut. That, in turn, justified accelerating the liquidation of Old Growth. In essence, the Forest Service said it could cut more Old Growth now because herbicide treatments would provide the replacement wood much sooner.

It was a cynical scam but it taught us something very valuable – that what we were dealing with was industrialization of the forests – the imposition of a system that was rigged for the corporations and against the forest, forest workers and forest communities. The lesson served us well as we went about what we assumed was a hopeless task – stopping the beast that was destroying the forest and our communities.

Petey became KFA’s forest watch leader. That allowed me to capitalize on being selected to sit with Clinton and Gore at their Portland Forest Conference. What was valuable was the access that gave us to influence the Northwest Forest Plan.

We used that access and influence to push for "Jobs in the Woods" which became part of the President’s forest policy. The jobs-in-the-woods solution – the idea that we could put people to work repairing the damage our forest management policies had created – came to me from Petey. You know I am not sure Jobs-in-the-Woods would have become federal policy if Petey had not shown me the potential for social and ecological good which is the essence of the concept now known as Ecological Restoration. 

 Petey Brucker and Kimberly (Kayla) Baker. A past forest watch coordinator for KFA, 
Petey helped mentor Kayla who currently does  forest watch for KFA and EPIC
I could go on and on about my buddy Petey but I won’t. I will tell you though what makes me most proud of Petey. Petey has managed to let go of day-to-day leadership at SRRC…to pull back into a supportive role and to let the younger generation take leadership. Having gone through the same “founders” transition at KFA, I can tell you that it is mighty hard to let go. As a student of institutions, I can also tell you that such transitions are hardly ever done artfully and without conflict.

I am very proud of Petey for having accomplished the transition at SRRC with grace.  I like to say about Petey, myself and others in our generation that at this stage in our lives we are in training to become elders. Letting go of the leadership at SRRC shows that Petey is well on his way to becoming a Salmon River Elder. 

 Petey collecting Spring Chinook data and collecting odeleths for researchers
in the Trinity Alps Wilderness, 2004 

I want to end with a short story about the day I first met Petey.

I knew Petey’s brother Phil who – along with Kenoli and other folks from the Black Bear Commune – would stop by Diana and my home in Greenview for a shower and a visit from time to time. But I had never met Petey.

Then one day this hippie guy stopped me on the street in Yreka, introduced himself and proceeded to tell me how much he appreciated what I was doing to end forest destruction and herbicide use as conservation director for Marble Mountain Audubon. Then Petey did something which blew me away; he gave me a $100 dollar bill – a donation to support the work I was doing for the forest. That was the first donation I ever received for environmental activism and it meant a lot more than paying for a few tanks of gasoline to monitor timber sales.

Petey and Red Tom documenting the ineffectiveness of Siskiyou County's 
noxious (sic) weed herbicide spray program, Patterson Creek, Scott Valley. 

The story demonstrates this good man’s extraordinary generosity...his willingness to go out of his way – way out of his way at times – to support and show appreciation for those who are working for the betterment of the community, the watershed and the world. This, I think, is what makes my friend Petey so extraordinary and so worthy of the honors you are bestowing on him today.

I suspect that for Petey there can be no greater satisfaction than to know that his work has born fruits for this community, that the work is appreciated by those for whom he has given so freely and so much, and that the work will be sustained far into the future by the extraordinary young people he has inspired and helped train.

Thank you Petey for all you have done and for all you will yet do as an honored community elder.

Spring Chinook habitat in the Trinity Alps Wilderness
"Habitat, habitat, got to have a habitat" 
(from one of Petey's original ballads)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Petey. You are an amazing man and you have served as an inspiration to me since my first days walking the rivers of Siskiyou County. I never lived on the Salmon River but came there every week for years to participate in the surveys. It was you and a handful of others like you that showed me how it could be and inspired me to work toward that goal.