An extension of the Back-to-the-Land Movement
The conceptual birth of Klamath Forest Alliance extends to the “Back-to-the-Land” movement and the “Herbicide Wars” of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. After the Vietnam War, the Forest Service began using helicopters to aerially spray toxic herbicides (including Agent Orange) on its clearcuts and timber plantations. Local Native Americans (mostly Karuk but also Hoopa and Yurok individuals) opposed the spraying, as did newer residents who had come to the Klamath Mountains in the 1970s as part of the Back-to-the-Land Movement .
Many local Native American tribal members and those in the Back-to-the-Land community lived adjacent to and surrounded by national forest lands where they diverted drinking water from creeks and springs. They believed they were getting poisoned, and they were. Mavis McCovey – a native health worker – documented miscarriages and birth defects believed to be the result of drinking herbicide-laced water drawn from creeks on public lands. The Karuk Tribe was not yet formally recognized or organized but there were local councils, native health programs and the Tri-County (later Northern California) Indian Development Council (a native social services NGO) which were also involved.
The Back-to-the-Land movement organized Salmon River Concerned Citizens (SRCC) and Klamath River Concerned Citizens (KRCC) to carry on the battle against aerial herbicide spraying. SRCC became lead plaintiff and other organizations throughout rural California joined the effort to legally challenge the aerial spraying program on California National Forests. As a result of this successful lawsuit, aerial herbicide spraying was discontinued on National Forest lands.
Many local Native American tribal members and those in the Back-to-the-Land community …. believed they were getting poisoned, and they were…. the result of drinking herbicide-laced water drawn from creeks on public lands.
In 1981, residents in the Scott Valley formed Marble Mountain Audubon (MMA) – a local chapter of National Audubon. One of the founders, Felice Pace, became the group’s conservation chairperson and in 1983 he filed MMA’s first timber sale appeal which the group won. This may have been the first timber sale appeal in California filed and won by a small grassroots environmental organization. Appeals of Forest Service logging plans had begun only a few years before in Southern Oregon but were soon to become commonplace not just along the West Coast but nation-wide.
In 1987, SRCC, KRCC and MMA joined together to form the Klamath Forest Task Force in order to influence the Land and Resource Management Plan then being developed for the Klamath National Forest. These groups were opposed to clearcutting and herbicide spraying and supported Native American efforts to control and use ceremonial sites and to access acorns and other traditional foods located on national forest lands.
The overriding goal of the Klamath River Task Force was to positively influence the Forest Plan, implement science based management through the National Forest Management Act and either eliminate or minimize clearcut logging, old growth liquidation, herbicide spraying, new road construction and post-fire logging on the Klamath National Forest.
Residents like Petey Brucker from the Salmon River had been strongly influenced by not just the “Herbicide Wars” and its connection to clearcut logging and extractive industries, but also by their experience with the 1977 Hog Fire. This fire and subsequent post-fire logging convinced many in the river communities that the Forest Service was mismanaging the forest and encouraging bigger, hotter fires through clearcut logging, post-fire logging and the removal of large, fire resistant trees.
The summer of 1987 brought massive wildfires throughout the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains and by the time fall rain and snow put the fires out, over 260,000 acres had burned on the Klamath National Forest. In response, Klamath River Task Force leaders Felice Pace, Petey Brucker, David Jaques, Donna Brucker, Susan and Malcolm Terence and others who had been volunteering extensive amounts of time, decided to increase their efforts and raise funds to financially support activists in need. This allowed folks to focus more effectively on addressing the massive post-fire logging and road building projects proposed by the Klamath National Forest. These so-called “fire recovery” projects were targeting living “green” trees that survived the wildfires, vast old-growth forests and important roadless areas.
At the same time, the Forest Service had begun evicting residents in the river communities living on National Forest mining claims. For many years, old timers, back-to-the-land folks and hippies had lived in mostly very rustic cabins on these mining claims. Some mined, others did not, but whole communities had developed, including some that were now beginning to challenge Forest Service land management projects. The Forest Service responded by labeling these folks “squatters,” evicting them from the mining claims and burning down their former homes. Obviously, this created considerable controversy and in response the community became organized.
Forest activists also began working to stop the Forest Service evictions, support their neighbors and defend their communities. These activists also quickly realized that funding was needed to support activists in their efforts to defend small, remote communities living largely on federal mining claims. Ironically, Klamath Forest Alliance now works against mining operations, which cause considerable damage to the rivers and streams of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, but at that time the community of residents living on mining claims was quite vibrant and and part of the counter-culture that included forest activists and anti-herbicide activists in the area. At any rate, these two activist communities joined forced to create the Klamath Forest Alliance. The goal was to protect river communities and the habitat that surrounded them.
KFA was incorporated as a non-profit in 1989 and began to apply for grants to support their work. KFA’s initial funding consisted of an $8,000 grant – $4.000 for forest work and $4,000 for work on the mining claim evictions. Felice Pace did the forest work and Kenoli Oliari did the mining claim work. Petey Brucker participated in both but as a volunteer, not a paid employee. Others including Sue Terence, David Jacques and Donna Brucker worked on forest management and post-fire logging issues in the Salmon Mountains.
KFA was incorporated as a non-profit in 1989 and began to apply for grants to support their work.
KFA’s work led to one of the first attempts by the Forest Service to use mediation to settle a timber sale appeal. The Mediation Action Group Agreement kept the Klamath National Forest from conducting post-fire logging in Salmon River roadless areas and along riparian areas or streams. In return KFA agreed not to appeal post-fire logging projects outside roadless areas and riparian zones.
Following the 1987 wildfires, the Klamath National Forest proposed the so-called “Grider Creek Fire Recovery Project,” a large post-fire logging and road construction project in the Grider Creek Roadless Area. This area is a significant connectivity corridor linking the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area and the Wild and Scenic Klamath River to the Kangaroo Roadless Area and the Red Buttes Wilderness Area. In 1990, Klamath Forest Alliance and other organization prevailed in federal court stopping this project and protecting the Grider Creek Roadless Area.
The Grider lawsuit was rooted in the National Forest Management Act’s biodiversity provision; it was the first court precedent requiring the Forest Service to preserve biodiversity and remains one of only a handful of successful lawsuits based on NFMA’s biodiversity provisions. “The Grider Story” an article about how the first biodiversity court precedent came about became the lead article in the first issue of Wild Earth Journal.
Work on the Grider Lawsuit and the Mediation Action Group led KFA activists to further study the science of wildfire and its natural effects in Klamath Mountains. Hiking through the 1987 wildfires became a learning experience on how fire benefits natural communities and shapes the biodiversity of the Klamath Mountains. It also highlighted the impact of industrialized fire suppression on natural resources and wildland habitats.
Through interactions with local tribal members, KFA activists also learned about the use of fire by indigenous tribes in the region, Traditional Ecological Knowledge and the management of food resources, wildlife, basketry materials and other resources with anthroprogenic fire use. This informed the perspective on the impact of fire suppression/exclusion on the land and on indigenous communities.
Recognizing that fire management and fire suppression impacts were increasingly impacting water, wildlife, forest habitats, wilderness values, and roadless areas throughout the region. KFA became one of the first environmental organizations to begin questioning the current fire suppression paradigm.
KFA organized the first Klamath Fire Symposium in 1997. The Symposium brought together top Forest Service and university fire researchers, fire managers, cultural fire specialists, tribal interests and forest activists to learn from each other, to form alliances to foster a better understanding of fire in the Klamath Mountains and to advance the needed reform of fire suppression policies.
The Klamath Fire Symposium still takes place every three years; it is now organized by the Mid-Klamath Watershed Center and continues to be a place where fire researchers, Forest Service managers, restoration practitioners and forest activists develop shared understandings of fire behavior in the Klamath Mountains, native burning practices, fire risk reduction principles and practices.
By the latter part of the 1980s, controversy over the management of old growth forests and the Northern spotted owl was heating up. At the time, the Forest Service was claiming that the spatial and temporal extent of old-growth forest was unknown. The National Audubon responded by creating a program to document, identify and map old-growth forest habitats in the Pacific Northwest and Northwestern California. KFA spent many volunteer hours mapping old growth forest in the Klamath Mountains helping to document the extent of old-growth forest still remaining in the Klamath River watershed.
These maps were used to produce the first composite map of Old Growth on an entire national forest and where taken to Congressional Offices in Washington DC. The map was also used to create the “Klamath Corridors Proposal” which was the precursor to our current “Connecting Wild Places” campaign.
Although a small grassroots organization, in the late 1980’s KFA joined the the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) and began working on national policy issues. The AFA was designed to link together groups in western Oregon, Washington and northwestern California with national organizations. The goal was to create a legislative ban on logging and road construction in old-growth forest habitats. KFA members regularly attended meetings and conducted lobbying efforts in Washington DC as part of the AFA.
KFA participated in the organizing meetings and began going to Washington DC on a regular basis to “educate” lawmakers about the need to preserve Ancient Forest ecosystems, and to “lobby” national environmental groups on behalf of utilizing the new science of conservation biology to inform work to preserve Old Growth forest ecosystems.
Meanwhile KFA Forest Watch continued monitoring and challenging all large timber sales in the region and worked with interns from Antioch College, Stanford University and others to support conservation efforts in the remote reaches of the Klamath Mountains. In the 1990’s local resident Kimberly Baker also began volunteering for the Forest Watch campaign, monitoring timber sales throughout the area.
At the same time, KFA and others also began opening up a “second front” in the environmental struggle, focused on protecting the declining salmon runs of the Pacific Northwest. This led to a series of meetings with fisheries biologists and forest activists facilitated by Andy Kerr, then working with Oregon Natural Resource Council. Through these meetings the group chose to proceed with a petition for the listing of coho salmon across the West Coast. This led to a coast-wide status review of all Pacific salmonids and multiple endangered species listings.
KFA represented Northern California at the Clinton Forest Conference which led to the Northwest Forest Plan (NFP) – a science based management plan for forests within the range of the Northern Spotted owl. The NFP cut “westside” logging by about 80% and, because the Aquatic Conservation Strategy was part of the Plan, promised riparian protection and road decommissioning in order to restore salmonids on national forest watersheds.
Although the ancient forest activist movement was thriving throughout the Pacific Northwest, KFA become involved in efforts to restore Klamath River Fisheries. The 1986 Klamath Act established a 20-year program which aimed to better manage and restore Klamath River Basin salmonids. The Act established an interagency/tribal/citizen fisheries restoration program and a Federal-State-Private Task Force to oversee development and implementation of salmon restoration. A separate Klamath Management Council was established to make recommendations on how to allocate the allowable salmon take among commercial, sports and tribal fisherpersons. Both the Task Force and the Council were chartered as federal advisory committees.
Environmental organizations were not given seats on the committees. However, Petey Brucker and Felice Pace participated in meetings and deliberations of the Klamath Task Force and Klamath Council all through the 20-year process. They became something akin to unofficial members of the Restoration Task Force.
During this time, KFA worked hard to support the fisheries of the Klamath River. Petey Brucker went on to create “Salmon Ed” (Salmon Education) to take on the significant salmon poaching issue in the Klamath and Salmon River watersheds. Public education informed local communities about the plight of local salmon runs and essentially stopped widespread salmon poaching by local residents in the region.
Salmon Ed then led to the formation of the Salmon River Restoration Council (SRRC) in 1992 with Petey Brucker as its first Executive Director. SRRC worked to monitor, restore and educate the public about watershed values and importance of maintaining salmon fisheries. They have also run extensive noxious weed pulling programs and fire/fuel restoration programs focused on preparing local Salmon River communities for the inevitable next wildfire. While Petey stayed involved in KFA, he focused on developing the SRRC as an independent non-profit organization.
In 1994, the Klamath National Forest proposed a large post-fire logging project in the Dillion Creek Roadless Area adjacent to the Siskiyou Wilderness Area. The area was not only wild, spectacular habitat, but it also contained sites sacred to the local Native American tribes. KFA worked with tribal members to oppose the project and although KFA and its allies won concessions on roadless, riparian and old growth logging components other components of the timber sale went forward under the infamous “Salvage Rider”. KFA publicized the timber sale and it many flaws. This attracted the attention of direct action activists from Earth First! who with local tribal and community members created the “Dillion Defenders.” These activists “locked down” to disrupt logging activities and disrupt the sale. Ultimately the project was logged, but not without a fight.
With the issue of “salvage” logging continuing to be a huge environmental issue, KFA organized the first Klamath Fire Symposium in 1997, led by conservation biologist and KFA supporter Carlos Carroll. The Symposium brought together top Forest Service and university fire researchers, fire managers, cultural fire specialists, tribal interests and forest activists to learn from each other, to form alliances to foster a better understanding of fire in the Klamath Mountains and to advance the needed reform of fire suppression policies.
The Symposium brought together top Forest Service and university fire researchers, fire managers, cultural fire specialists, tribal interests and forest activists to learn from each other….
The Klamath Fire Symposium was organized again in 2009 by KFA’s Forest Watch Advocate Kimberly Baker and still takes place every three years. It is now organized by the Mid-Klamath Watershed Center and continues to be a place where fire researchers, Forest Service managers, restoration practioners and forest activists develop shared understandings of fire behavior in the Klamath Mountains, native burning practices, fire risk reduction principles and practices.
During the winter in 1997, Northwest California sustained a large, multi-day storm event rated as a (25-35 year return interval storm). Over 300 road sites “blew out” on the Klamath National Forest some with catastrophic impacts to the streams below. Using the Emergency Assistance for Federal Roads (ERFO) program, the Forest Service moved to rebuild all those roads in the same manner as the roads that failed. That included rebuilding roads on steep slopes prone to landsliding – an invitation for repeated road failure and sediment delivery to streams. Furthermore, the road rebuilding was to be “categorically excluded” from NEPA review. The Aquatic Conservation Strategy’s call for road decommissioning was also to be ignored.
KFA secured legal representation from Earthjustice and filed a lawsuit challenging the rebuilding of logging roads in habitat for ESA-listed Coho salmon. We won and in the course set another precedent: No longer would storm damaged logging roads be automatically put back in the same condition as they were before they failed – often with catastrophic consequences for streams. Instead, the roads would be considered for decommissioning and, where they were reconstructed, would be rebuilt with larger (100 year storm) culverts and other salmon-friendly features like out-sloped roadbeds to prevent unnatural water concentration which leads to landslides.
KFA’s advocacy for salmon and the Klamath River expanded in 1997 into the Oregon portion of the Klamath River Basin. KFA and ONRC organized the Klamath Basin Coalition to reform management of Klamath River water by the US Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) which, while operating the Klamath Irrigation Project, regularly de-watered Lower Klamath and Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuges as well as regularly limiting flows in the Klamath River. Wildlife Refuges and the Klamath River were sacrificed whenever the water supply was short in order to provide full irrigation deliveries including significant drought years.
KFA’s River Program and other members of the Klamath Basin Coalition eventually challenged the first Biological Opinion produced by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) concerning the impact of the BOR’s Klamath Irrigation Project on ESA-listed Coho salmon. The challenge was successful in 2002 and became a major factor in convincing PacifiCorp to negotiate a deal for removal of four major dams in the corporations Klamath Hydroelectric Project. The campaign to remove these dams continues and is approaching the goal of dam removal.
In 2002, Petey Brucker stepped up to coordinate KFA’s River program, Salmon Strioch was the Executive Director and volunteer Kyle Haines took on private industrial logging starting the THP blog. In 2003, Kimberly Baker became the Forest Watch Coordinator, and worked to stop numerous timber sales on the Klamath National Forest including multiple post-fire logging projects, the 2006 Wickett Timber Sale on the Happy Camp Ranger District, and the 2007 Meteor Timber Sale on the Pacific Crest Trail and adjacent to the Russian Wilderness Area.
In 2005, KFA sued to the Redding District BLM who was proposing to sell off portions of the Horseshoe Ranch Wildlife Area south of Pilot Rock. By securing this victory the important connectivity corridor and winter range habitat remained in federal ownership and is now a protected in the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument.
KFA successfully filed suit in 2006 to uphold the Aquatic Conservation Strategy in the Northwest Forest Plan, protecting riparian areas and streams throughout the Pacific Northwest. Also in 2006, led by KFA Board Member Cynthia Poten, KFA started the Klamath Riverkeeper, which is now an independent and prominent river advocacy organization in the Klamath River watershed.
In 2011, KFA joined forces with the Karuk Tribe to successfully litigate the Orleans Community Fuel Reduction Healthy Forest Restoration Act Project, which was impacting sacred Native American sites. This forced the Six Rivers National Forest to mitigate the impact of the timber sale due to violations of the National Historic Preservation Act.
In 2012, Luke Ruediger began volunteering with KFA and worked with other activists to cancel a large post-fire logging project proposed in the Kangaroo Roadless Area directly adjacent to the Red Buttes Wilderness. Luke started the Klamath Siskiyou Fire Report Program which publishes detailed fire reports documenting extreme fire suppression impacts, the natural role of fire on the landscape and highlights the ecological benefits of mixed severity fire. This one-of-a-kind program directly challenges the current fire suppression paradigm and builds off years of KFA work surrounding fire management. In 2018, Luke was hired as Conservation Director of the Siskiyou Field Office, which expanded KFA’s scope into the Siskiyou Mountains of southwestern Oregon.
After volunteering and working with KFA since 1997, Kimberly Baker became KFA’s Executive Director in 2013. She helped to found the Mid-Klamath Restoration Council and the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership, where she serves as a Core Team member. Kimberly also represents KFA in the Smith River Collaborative, Climate Forest Alliance, Northwest Forest Coalition, Forest Carbon Coalition, Pacific Wolf Coalition and other efforts concentrating on forest and wildlife management, protection and recovery.
In recent years KFA activists have continued our successful grassroots activism and litigation throughout the region, working each day to protect, defend, restore and re-wild the beautiful Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. We are fueled by our passion for the region, informed by the best available science, dedicated to the protection of these spectacular landscapes, and supported by others in the region who love and appreciate this place for its wild beauty and renowned biodiversity. Help us continue the legacy of KFA in our region and support rural place-based environmental activism in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains.
Excerpted from “KFA Organizational History” by Felice Pace. Edited and abridged for this website by Luke Ruediger and Kimberly Baker.