Born c. 1949, in Burns, OR; son of Joe (stepfather, a civil engineer) and Laura; married to Jan; children: two daughters. Education: University of Wisconsin, M.S.; University of Oregon, M.D.
Office—African Rainforest and Rivers Conservation, P.O. Box 2594, Jackson, WY 83001.
Worked as a guide for the Idaho Forest Service; co–founded radical environmental group Earth First!, 1979; moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and set up a family medical practice, 1983; began traveling recreationally in Africa; founded Africa Rainforest and River Conservation, 1998.
Citizen of the Year, Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, 1992.
Dr. Bruce Hayse is an unusual environmentalist. He co–founded Earth First! in the 1970s, a group that advocated extreme measures in fighting for conservation, such as tree–sitting and jamming logging machinery. Hayse ran a medical practice in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, that often served immigrants and the uninsured. An avid hiker all his life, Hayse began taking adventurous trips down African rivers. He was particularly struck by the devastation of the forest in the Central African Republic (CAR). The land and rivers had been ravaged by mining, logging, and poaching. In some places, 95 percent of the wildlife had been killed off. Hayse was inspired to found a group, African Rainforest and Rivers Conservation (ARRC), in 1998. The group worked with the government of the CAR, and took the unprecedented step of hiring and training a 400–man militia to protect the Chinko river basin, a gigantic wilderness area, against poachers. This combative strategy discomfited some more traditional conservation groups, such as the World Wildlife Fund. But Hayse believed there was no other way to win against the well–armed poachers.
Hayse grew up in the town of Burns, in eastern Oregon. He came from a family of four, and from an early age he was attracted to the mountains and wilderness around his home. He worked for the Forest Service in Idaho, both on the fire crew and as a guide on mule packing expeditions. He considered himself first and foremost an outdoorsman. He moved to Wisconsin to complete a master's degree in plant ecology, and then turned to medicine. He earned his medical degree from the University of Oregon, and then specialized in family practice. However, his duties as a physician did not curtail his interest in wilderness and land preservation. In 1979 he co–founded the group Earth First!, which remains one of the most extreme factions of the American environmental movement. In 1983 Hayse and his wife and daughters moved to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The area is known for its spectacular scenery and abundance of wildlife. Hayse became a prominent citizen, known both for his medical work with the poor and for his involvement in local land issues. He took frequent hiking and skiing trips around Wyoming, and since the 1980s took a yearly adventurous vacation to Africa.
Hayse was not a sedate tourist, and he seemed to enjoy risk. Hayse eventually contracted malaria three times and faced down poisonous snakes and surly hippos. He told James Gorman of the New York Times that he thought getting malaria was a good idea for a lot of people. "It can teach you compassion for those Africans who are, millions of them, shivering in these oppressive huts every day," he said. "You really don't have any comprehension of what that's like unless you can get one of these horrible life–threatening illnesses yourselves. I think that's really important to do." Hayse had lived for weeks at a time with a remote pygmy tribe in the Congo river basin, and had survived tse tse flies, vicious wasps, and many kinds of everyday African dangers.
His interest in working on conservation issues in Africa began seriously in 1998, on a 300–mile rafting trip down the Chinko river. The Chinko was a wild river snaking through dense forest. Its name means "River of Elephants," and at one time it housed tens of thousands of the huge mammals. But Hayse's 1998 trip down the Chinko was strangely quiet. The elephants were gone, and little other wildlife was evident. In fact, conservationists estimated that 95 percent of the wildlife in the Chinko area had been killed off. Hayse's party came across abandoned campsites littered with elephant bones and spent ammunition, evidence of poachers. When at the mouth of the river Hayse's party finally encountered a populated village, the people there begged him to help them. The poachers were heavily armed, and the native people were unable to stop their brutal trade in so–called bushmeat, which included the flesh of rhinos, buffalo, giraffe, and giant eland, as well as elephants. The poachers pillaged the indigenous communities, raping women and taking men captive. Hayse felt that he had little choice but to find a way to help. He and his friend, orthopedist Christian Guier, founded ARRC with their own money. They brokered an agreement with the president of the CAR to let them arm and train a defense group to fight back against the poachers.
This was quite an unusual tactic for an American conservation group. But Hayse believed the situation in the CAR was dire, and that he had a responsibility to do what he could. The World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, two large multinational conservation groups, distanced themselves from Hayse's group, explicitly condemning the use of force. But the government of the CAR, plagued by instability and short of funds, could not afford to send its own army against the poachers, who were a formidable threat. Hayse told National Geographic Adventure magazine, "The poachers are obviously well armed and they're in a lucrative business and aren't going to be interested in listening to advice from us.… These people are lawless; they're basically criminals who are not easily intimidated."
Hayse was not easily intimidated, either, and he kept on with his group despite difficulty raising money. In 2001 he attempted to raft down the Lindi river in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to raise the visibility of ARRC. The Lindi ran through Maiko National Park, a wildlife preserve that had been essentially abandoned and closed off to Westerners because of the political turmoil in the DRC. The DRC was criss–crossed with competing military groups who terrorized and pillaged the countryside, and one of these groups put a stop to the ARRC trip. Hayse, Guier, and their party, were arrested, threatened, and told they needed a letter of permission to continue their journey. After two of their guides were taken hostage, Hayse and Guier ransomed them with $500 and left the country.
Nevertheless, Hayse was determined to investigate Maiko National Park, and a year later he returned. This time he arranged with a militia leader for an expensive letter of permission, and brought along various other things to barter with. Hayse packed a liquor bottle spiked with sleeping pills, just in case he needed to drug anyone who captured him. The militia chieftain Hayse had bribed for the letter of permission insisted on sending an armed escort, which was entirely unwelcome. Hayse had to bribe the men to take themselves and their machine guns away. The river itself was extremely dangerous, filled with rapids, waterfalls, and whirlpools. At one point, Hayse and another party member got lost in the jungle near their campsite. The brush was so dense that they couldn't walk and had to crawl. It got dark, and they had no flashlight. Eventually their friends found them and brought them back to camp. Later they came across another militia leader, one who was a particular enemy of one of their party, a former conservator of Maiko Park. Only another bribe and Guier's lie that the party was in constant satellite contact with the United States government saved the conservator's life.
Harrowing as the trip was, Hayse was buoyed by the elephant dung he found. He believed that the armed groups that made Maiko Park so dangerous actually kept out poachers and loggers, and so the wilderness there was probably relatively unspoiled. Hayse began making plans to return to Maiko Park to do a more complete wildlife study. Meanwhile, ARRC continued to solicit funds for its wildlife protection work. Hayse and Guier had spent some $350,000 of their own money to fund the CAR militia. They hoped to raise $3.5 million more to keep the group going.
Unobscured Horizons, Untravelled Trails, Olive Press, 1979.
National Geographic Adventure, January/February 2002.
New York Times, November 26, 2002, p. F5.
People, June 2, 2003, pp. 115–16.
Sports Illustrated, July 1, 2002, p. A4.
"Wyoming doctor, 'extreme environmentalist,' recruits army in Africa to save animals from poachers," PlanetSave, http://www.planetsave.com/ViewStory.asp?ID=3176 (March 30, 2003).