Cali’s New Natural Resources Czar: Environmentalist John Laird

  • Published on January 25th, 2011

john_lairdThis is an updated version of an article that I did about John Laird when his appointment as California Natural Resources Secretary was not yet confirmed by the Brown administration. Below the article is my open letter to John Laird.

Governor Jerry Brown on January 4 appointed John Laird, a former Assemblyman from Santa Cruz, as Natural Resources Secretary, the top environmental post in California.

Environment California and other conservation organizations praised Brown’s appointment of Laird based on his environmental record in the Assembly and on the California Waste Board.

“From waste reducer to wildlife protector Laird is sure to make 2011 a great year for the environment,” said Environment California Legislative Director Dan Jacobson in a press statement. “John Laird is a great choice to defend and protect the environment.”

Fishing groups optimistic

Representatives of fishing groups, including Dick Pool, administrator of Water 4 Fish, were cautiously optimistic about Laird’s appointment.

“I haven’t personally met or worked with met Laird, but I am impressed with his credentials,” said Pool. “I would hope that he will bring more balance to the Resources Agency in solving the multitude of problems that our salmon, Delta fish and other fisheries face, along with developing solutions for the future water problems of the state. The fisheries crisis we face certainly needs a new approach.”

“The proof will be in the pudding,” said Bill Jennings, chairman/executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “We’ve been optimistic and we’ve been pessimistic about the Governor’s appointments before. Meanwhile, the steady decline of Delta fish and the estuary has continued.”

Industry not so happy

Laird’s appointment is facing strong opposition from agribusiness, the timber industry and the California Republican Party. Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring slammed Laird in an article in the San Jose Mercury News on January 1.

“John Laird is an extreme liberal, and he believes the only way to protect the environment is to make government as big and intrusive as possible,” said Nehring.

On the other hand, many fishermen, Tribes, family farmers and grassroots environmentalists worry that Laird may be too heavily influenced by representatives of well-funded corporate environmentalist NGOs, known for their strong support of controversial programs including Schwarzenegger’s MLPA Initiative and peripheral canal and Bay Delta Conservation Plan.

They are hoping that Laird will listen to grassroots activists – and not continue the failed ocean and water policies of the Schwarzenegger administration that resulted in the collapse of Central Valley salmon and Delta smelt populations and the creation of fake “marine protected areas.”

“I hope that Mr. Laird remembers to listen to all of the ’stakeholders’ and those to whom the last Secretary failed to hear,” said Mark Franco, headman of the Winnemem Wintu (McCloud River) Tribe. “No matter the politics around him, I hope he sees the resources that he is now over seeing as the precious gifts they are and not items of commodity to be abused and sold.”

The 60-year-old Santa Cruz resident is a board member of the Sierra Fund and served in the California Assembly from 2002 to 2008. During this period, John received a 100% rating from both the California League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club for his votes on environmental issues.

-> Next page: An open letter to John Laird

About the Author

Dan Bacher is an environmental journalist in Sacramento who focuses on California's water issues, a healthy environment for the salmon fishery of the Northwest, and the attempts by big agriculture and big oil to hog all the water.