[env-trinity] Times-Standard -Klamath River icon dies

Tom Stokely tstokely at trinityalps.net
Thu Feb 17 09:59:49 PST 2005

Ronnie Pierce was an insightful, bright, knowledgeable, no-nonsense person who worked on the Trinity River in the past, representing various Tribes and BIA at different times on the former Technical Coordinating Committee of the Trinity River Task Force.  She was really good at cutting through the baloney and getting down to the issues.  We'll miss her.

Tom Stokely

Eureka Times-Standard 
Klamath River icon dies 
By John Driscoll The Times-Standard 

Thursday, February 17, 2005 - 

One of the great figures at the heart of Klamath River issues, Ronnie Pierce, died Sunday 
in her McKinleyville home. 

Known as a tireless advocate of salmon, the biologist and engineer put her shoulder into 
her work, winning the respect of friends and opponents alike. Her influence rarely 
surfaced in the media, but was greater than most of her more vocal counterparts'. 

Small, quiet and brilliant, Pierce was a realist, intolerant of laziness, underhandedness 
and classism, according to those who knew her. While often frustrated by the 
bureaucracy surrounding the Klamath River, she nonetheless worked doggedly on 
stubborn issues for years at a time. 

"She was absolutely tenacious," said Humboldt County Supervisor Jimmy Smith. 

Smith said it was Pierce who held people working on the Klamath -- especially in state 
and federal agencies -- accountable with her vast knowledge of the process. 

Pierce was born in Nevada City on May 12, 1942, to May and Ronald Pierce. She was a 
decedent of Russian and native Squamish pioneers in British Columbia, and moved 
constantly while she was growing up. 

Pierce graduated from Healds Engineering College in San Francisco, the first woman to 
earn a degree in structural engineering from the institution. She later earned bachelors 
and masters degrees from Old Dominion University in Virginia. 

Her father was also a structural engineer, who, ironically, helped build dams. 

"She said, 'My father built dams and I'm trying to tear them down,'" said Pierce's partner 
of 22 years, Elizabeth Finney. 

One of Pierce's great frustrations was how the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Klamath 
dam owner Pacificorp persistently said the other was responsible for meeting flow 
requirements to the lower Klamath and its struggling salmon. 

Pierce worked most closely with the Yurok and Karuk tribes on tribal rights and 
restoration efforts. 

Environmentalist Tim McKay of the Northcoast Environmental Center said Pierce was 
set apart by her long history on the river, and her understanding that most easy issues 
had been tackled, but the toughest struggles remain. 

"It's a great loss for all the people on the lower river," McKay said. "She was an icon, 
without a doubt." 

Even those she sometimes struggled with had high praise for Pierce. 

U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Area Manager Dave Sabo in Klamath Falls, Ore., called her 
a greatly respected institution with a gift for portraying what was valuable to her. 

"She certainly brought her own perspective," he said, "and no one can diminish the fact 
that she was very bright. She'll be thoroughly missed." 

Finney said Pierce's integrity was the same both on and off the job. Personally, Finney 
said, Pierce was loyal, insisted on honesty and liked people to have clear opinions. Those 
qualities, Finney said, were developed during a life during which she pulled herself up 
from her bootstraps, including recovering from alcoholism before moving to Humboldt 
County in 1979. 

"Ronnie was simple," Finney said. 

Another habit, though, led to her death. Pierce loved to smoke and was stricken with 
lung cancer. She refused treatment in light of a requirement that she would have to 
quit, Finney said. 

For many who knew her, Pierce's death came too soon. 

Local river advocate Denver Nelson said Pierce was a formidable force in the push to 
restore the Klamath, a no-nonsense conservationist who knew more about the Klamath 
than the legions of newbies who have recently joined the struggle. 

"She was one of the reasons people know how to spell Klamath," Nelson said. "If it weren't 
for her early efforts the Klamath would have been lost long ago." 
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