Troy Fletcher, a visionary leader of the Yurok Tribe, passed away of a heart attack on Friday night, November 20.
I first met Troy nearly 20 years ago at a Fish and Game Commission hearing when he was the director of the Yurok Fisheries Program. From that first time I talked to Troy, I watched him play the key leadership role in building bridges between the Tribe and commercial fishermen, recreational anglers, environmentalists, farmers, other tribes and federal and state government officials who were often in conflict with one another.
Troy, who became the Executive Director of the Tribe, was one of the rare people who could truly see the “big picture” of fishery and environmental restoration – and what was necessary to restore the Klamath Basin and Pacific fisheries.
He told me several times at protests and meetings, “Fishermen will always fight over the fish. Our goal is to see that there are more fish that we can fight over.”
He also talked to me a number of times about his vision of the way to accomplish restoration of the Klamath and other fisheries – by forming “blue collar” task forces rather than the “Blue Ribbon Task Forces” dominated by corporate interests and political appointees that oversaw the MLPA Initiative, BDCP and other environmental processes. Troy said these blue collar panels would be comprised only of those whose hands “touch the water” – farmers, recreational anglers, commercial fishermen and tribal gatherers and fishermen.
Troy, along with Ron Reed of the Karuk Tribe, spoke at rallies and meetings in solidarity with recreational anglers and commercial fishermen fighting to bring back salmon on the Klamath, Sacramento and other watersheds – and fighting to defend their fishing rights.
While Troy was a bridge builder, he also stood firm when the Tribe’s sovereign rights were being infringed upon by a state or federal government agency. For example, at the Legislature’s Fisheries Forum in 2010, he warned the legislators that Yurok Tribe members were willing to engage in civil disobedience if their traditional fishing and gathering rights were violated under the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative.
Glen Martin, author and former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle who covered the Klamath River fish kill of 2002 and the subsequent campaign to restore the watershed, described Fletcher as a “great fisheries advocate and tribal leader, and a helluva human being.”
“I remember once I was up at the Klamath for an interview with Troy,” Martin recalled. “He showed up late at tribal headquarters because he had helped pull somebody’s truck back up on the road after it had careened off into the timber. His hickory shirt and jeans were completely covered with mud, and he just sat down and talked like he was wearing an Armani suit.”
A press release by the Yurok Tribe summarized a list of Fletcher’s many accomplishments and the devastation that Tribal leaders are feeling due to his sudden passing:
“It is with deep despair and a heavy heart that we announce the untimely passing of Tribal luminary, Troy Fletcher.
‘This is a tragic loss for the Yurok people, so tragic that words cannot express how we feel,” said Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., Chairman of the Yurok Tribe. “Troy accomplished things that many people thought were impossible. We will forever be grateful for Troy’s tremendous contribution to the Tribe. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.’
‘We are all devastated by the passing of our friend, brother and colleague,” added Susan Masten, the Yurok Tribe’s Vice Chair. ‘Troy dedicated his life and put his heart and soul into his effort to protect and restore the Klamath River. He will be greatly missed by all.’
Fletcher started his career with the Yurok Tribe as the first Tribal fisheries manager in 1994, according to the Tribe. The Yurok Tribal member and visionary leader ran the day-to-day operations of the Tribal government. He played a prominent part in nearly every important Tribal policy decision, land acquisition, litigation and legislative effort in the last 20 years.
Fletcher, a tenacious Tribal advocate, accumulated a long list of history-making accomplishments, such as sowing the seeds that started the Tribe’s natural resource protection programs, during his time working for the Tribe. While the truly humble human being would never take the credit, Fletcher was responsible for ending a generations-long conflict between many competing Klamath River-based interests, including: farmers, commercial fishers, a power company, environmental groups and other Tribes.”
Turning this group of fierce, former adversaries into a cooperative coalition, focused on removing four Klamath dams and creating a plan for equitable water use was just one the many achievements in his storied career.
‘Troy’s integrity and innate leadership skills made him a magnet to all,” said Dave Hillemeier, the Yurok Fisheries Program Manager. ‘We have lost a beloved friend, father, son, husband, mentor, leader, boss and a person respected by those from all walks of life.’
The benevolent boss instilled many positive principles into his employees and empowered them to achieve greatness. He valued initiative and preparedness. Fletcher treated all of the staff fairly and with respect. He emphasized the importance of developing meaningful relationships with representatives of outside agencies.
In Fletcher’s opinion, the Tribe had a right and an obligation to manage all of the lands within Yurok ancestral territory and places that affect the Tribe, such as upriver from its borders. He saw those who opposed him as an opportunity to build a bridge. Before making any decisions involving natural resources, he first asked, “Does this work for fish?”
The leading figure in the campaign to solve the Klamath water crisis also filled an irreplaceable role in the Tribe’s effort to reacquire substantial swaths of land within Yurok territory. His behind-the-scenes work paved the way for the Tribe to procure more than 35,000 acres in the Pecwan and Blue Creek watersheds. Both of these drainages, located in the Tribe’s traditional territory, are culturally invaluable and incredibly important for fish and wildlife populations.
In 1999 Fletcher transitioned to the Executive Director position. As the Fisheries Manager and then as Executive Director, he established the Tribe’s, award-winning Watershed Restoration and Environmental Programs and expanded the Fisheries Program. Today, these programs have more 70 staff that are committed to improving environmental conditions in Yurok ancestral territory.
The universally respected administrator managed more than a dozen departments and 300-plus personnel. Most recently, Fletcher was shepherding a strategy to spur the United States Congress into creating legislation that would broaden the Reservation’s boundaries to include the recent land purchases and increase the Tribe’s role in managing the lands within Yurok ancestral territory. He was also working with representatives of the federal government to release the remaining elements of the Hoopa/Yurok Settlement Act.
The distinguished director worked his way from a fisheries technician to overseeing the fast-growing Tribal government. On behalf of the Yurok people, Fletcher testified before Congress, presented to numerous state and federal regulatory committees and travelled to Washington DC many times to advocate for Tribal rights and to improve conditions on the Klamath River.
Fletcher was raised in Pecwan, which is where he spawned a life-long connection to the Klamath River. He committed his entire adult life to restoring the river, preserving Tribal culture and returning the Tribe to its rightful role in Yurok Country. He leaves behind his parents, Jacqueline and Don Winter, his sons Troy Fletcher Jr., Cody and Zachary, grandchildren Cody Jr. and Raa-yoy, as well as his wife Kari.”
My condolences go to the Yurok Tribe, Troy Fletcher’s family, and everybody whose life Troy touched..