Celebrating 20 Years of the Salmon River Restoration Council
By MALCOLM TERENCE, TRT Contributing Writer
If the Salmon River had a mayor, which it does not, it would surely be Petey Brucker. Last week, 250 people, a number probably larger than the local population, gathered in Forks of Salmon on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Salmon River Restoration Council, to honor Brucker and the other founders of SRRC.
The celebration, huge by river standards, was held at Brazile Field, a parcel of open land that has just been purchased by a community land trust to promote local business and housing development.
Two huge white tents dominated one end of the field that was used for many years as an informal golf course by locals. Next to the tent there was a long fire pit and around it Josh Saxon of Orleans, executive director of SRRC and himself Karuk, cooked fat strips of salmon traditional style.
The crowd was larger than even the most optimistic organizers expected but Saxon’s helpers in the cook crew filleted and skewered 17 fresh Chinook caught both at the mouth of the Klamath and at Ishi Pishi Falls in Somes Bar.
On top of that, food tables were filled with platters of fresh produce contributed by Orleans-based organic farms.
Across the field, former river residents crossed paths with old friends and were introduced to people they once knew as children, now grown with children of their own.
Ron Reed, cultural biologist with the Karuk Tribe, was one of the speakers. He praised the group for its history of incorporating many of the ideals of traditional land management.
He said that before Brucker and the late Jim Villeponteaux, another SRRC founder, started showing up at agency meetings, Reed always felt isolated by his ideas, “like an Indian in a White man’s world.”
As he often does, Reed described his tribe as fix-the-world people with the annual renewal ceremonies. But here were Brucker and Villeponteaux talking up fuels reduction, prescribed burning and forest management for fish health.
Through SRRC, both of them began launching projects that “interpreted tribal management philosophy into management action on the ground.”
He also had high praise for long-time forest activist Felice Pace and for fish biologist Pat Higgins, both campaigners who are never afraid to stand up for what they believe in.
He concluded that the Salmon River people were like the tribe because they look out for other people and make sure people don’t do without. “Remember, we are all fix-the-world people.”
Other locals and agency people from Yreka and beyond stood up to sing the praises of Brucker, Villeponteaux and all the people who make SRRC tick.
Before SRRC, Brucker had worked as part of Ent Forestry, then a large reforestation coop on the river, and taken a role in environmental activism. He especially cut his teeth on the community protests to US Forest Service use of herbicides in many of its clear cuts. That campaign ended up with a ban of use of the toxic chemicals by the Forest Service all across California.
That victory did not go well with the agency, and a year later they began a literal scorched earth campaign to force off all the residents in the river communities who lived on mining claims, about half of the Salmon River population.
The results were devastating for the Salmon River communities, where 98.7% of the land is in public ownership and many people depended on mining and on the cabins on claims to get by.
The miners turned to Brucker for assistance, an unlikely alliance because so many of the miners were usually dead set against local environmentalists. It was the beginning of Brucker’s signature style, uniting people who had been traditional antagonists.
Jennifer Silvera, a US Fish and Wildlife biologist, praised both Brucker and Villeponteaux and said that Brucker “stayed with collaboration after I got fried from trying. He worked with people who said really bad things about people like him (meaning hippie environmentalists).
One of the first campaigns, in 1992, was to educate locals to reduce poaching of salmon, targeted both at school children and adults. Within three years the group had incorporated as a non-profit, following the model of the Mattole Restoration Council in southern Humboldt.
Since its start, SRRC has sponsored more than 1200 restoration related workshops, work days and field trips. The group has a permanent staff of 13, headquartered in Sawyers Bar, and has logged 79,700 hours.
The energy has gone into programs for fisheries, noxious weeds (as an alternative to herbicide use), fuels reduction, water quality monitoring, riparian assessment, road stewardship and an on-going cleanup program.
Toz Soto, an SRRC board member and lead fish biologist for the Karuk Tribe, said that Brucker and Villeponteaux had both been important mentors for him. He gave the example of time when agencies had lost funding for the annual in-the-water surveys of steelhead and spring Chinook runs.
SRRC lined up volunteers and filled the gap. The group has worked since its beginning running a fish trap for the Karuk Tribe near the mouth of the Klamath. Soto said their work has been efficient, they are resident on the river and it’s the sort of project where a decade of continuity is essential to develop the data sets that fish scientists like him will need.
Besides all the other programs, SRRC publishes a monthly calendar on the internet of important events in the Klamath Basin and beyond. People can submit an event or subscribe at: http://srrc.org/news-info/calendar/index.php
In addition, for a fee, SRRC can produce GIS maps including use of highly accurate GPS sensors and can produce complete biological assessments or archeology reports.