Last weekend, at our Annual Conservation Circle Garden Party, the Land Trust presented John Laird with our 2017 Conservationist of the Year Award. Board member Patty Quillin, who hosted the event at her home, gave him the award in recognition for all the work he does as Secretary of Natural Resources – and for the heavy lifting he did so that a wildlife tunnel can be built under Highway 17.
John has spent his adult life in public service. It began in 1981 when he was elected to the Santa Cruz City Council. In 2002 he was elected to the State Assembly. In 2011 Governor Jerry Brown appointed him Secretary of Natural Resources, which means he leads an agency with 20,000 employees and a $10 billion budget. His “to do” list now covers parks, climate change, water, oceans, farmland, fires and more. And with all this on his plate, Secretary Laird found the time and had the skills to get our wildlife tunnel approved.
It was no small thing. This was a case of a small local land trust starting something Caltrans had to finish. And for Caltrans to build a tunnel, they needed to get mitigation credits from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. The rub here is that they had to create the legal mechanism to do something they hadn’t done before.
Coming up with practical ways to get things done is what John Laird is all about – and for that reason, and for his lifetime of public service, he is our most-deserving 2017 Conservationist of the Year.