John Laird, California Secretary for Natural Resources, recalls when redwoods first became significant in his life. He grew up as the son of teachers in Vallejo, and his family would often visit his maternal grandparents in the North Bay.
“Candidly, spending a whole weekend with his in-laws was something of a challenge for my father,” laughs Laird, “so he would take us kids exploring along the Russian River and up the coast. I got to know that area very well, including Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. I was just amazed by those trees, by the peace and tranquility of the groves, by the light filtering through the canopies. The redwood forest made a very big impression on me at a very early age.”
After graduating from high school, Laird enrolled at the University of California, Santa Cruz, renowned for its redwood-cloaked venue. The forest, it’s unique ecology and its endemic fauna shaped the perspectives of both faculty and students, Laird said.
“As students we literally lived in the middle of the redwood forest,” Laird said. “I remember that no campus tree above a certain circumference could be cut without the written approval of the Chancellor. This was in the late-1960s, and that kind of policy was extremely progressive, way ahead of its time, and very popular with the students.”
Laird stayed in Santa Cruz after taking a degree in political science, embarking on a career in public service. He served nine years on the Santa Cruz City Council, two terms as mayor, and was a board member for local transportation and water agencies and regional government bodies. He served three terms as the representative from the 27th Assembly District, the maximum allowed by state law; in his last race for the Assembly, he received 70 percent of the ballots. In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Laird as Secretary of Natural Resources.
Laird has demonstrated a deep commitment to conservation throughout his career. While serving in local office in Santa Cruz, he vigorously supported the preservation of imperiled privately held redwood groves from the City of Santa Cruz to the San Mateo County line. In the Assembly, he authored legislation that established the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and expanded water conservation measures. And as Secretary for Natural Resources, he has championed strong policies on climate change adaptation and mitigation, ocean sustainability, state park access and farmland conservation.
“Forest protection remains one of my top priorities,” Laird said. “The whole notion of forest conservation is changing. We’re moving beyond preservation of core reserves to establishing sustainable policies on a landscape scale. We’re not there yet, but many of the practices I see developing on commercial timberlands, including redwood timberlands, are extremely encouraging. ”
Further, Laird retains a deep and abiding personal connection to the redwood forest. He lives in Santa Cruz in a house he has owned for 39 years. A few years ago, he and his spouse, John Flores, discovered that a redwood had germinated in their yard.
“It’s tremendously satisfying to watch that tree grow,” said Laird. “It gives me hope.”