Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Visalia rancher to leave state post

Chrisman is retiring as secretary of resources agency

By E.J. Schultz, Fresno Bee
January 5, 2010

Visalia rancher Mike Chrisman will retire next month as the state's Natural Resources Agency secretary to take a job at a fish and wildlife foundation, he said Tuesday.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- who continues to deal with turnover among top officials in his final year -- appointed Department of Water Resources Director Lester Snow to replace Chrisman, who will depart Feb. 1.

Chrisman, a 65-year-old Republican, is the third-longest-serving secretary in Schwarzenegger's Cabinet. He took the job in November 2003, but kept his Visalia home, commuting to Sacramento nearly every weekend.

"For the past seven years, Mike has worked tirelessly with me to safeguard our state's precious natural resources and I am grateful to him for his service to the people of California," the governor said in a statement.

The Natural Resources Agency manages 17,000 employees in departments overseeing California's water, wildlife, fish, forests and parks.

Chrisman's retirement follows the recent departures of other top-ranking officials, including Schwarzenegger's finance director, and leaders at Caltrans and the Employment Development Department.

Chrisman said he will start his new job Feb. 1 as director of the southwest partnership office of the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit directs public and private money to environmental projects. Chrisman will maintain his Visalia residence, he said.

Snow, a 58-year-old Democrat, last year played a key role negotiating an $11 billion water bond pushed by the governor. The bond still requires voter approval in November. The Senate has a year to confirm Snow, who can serve in the interim, earning a salary of $175,000.

The office of Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, did not immediately comment on the appointment, although it is not expected that Snow will face stiff opposition.

To replace Snow, the governor picked Democrat Mark Cowin, a longtime water department official. Schwarzenegger also appointed John McCamman as director of the Department of Fish and Game. McCamman, a Republican, has been acting director since November. From 1994 to 2003, he was chief of staff for Rep. George Radanovich, R-Mariposa.

Chrisman's tenure was highlighted by the implementation of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. The grant-giving organization seeks to safeguard the environment and economy of 25 million acres in the state's eastern mountain range.

Chrisman also created a public-private partnership to implement the state's Marine Life Protection Act, which calls for the protection of the state's coastline from overfishing.

In recent years, Chrisman dealt with severe budget cuts that led to a decline in game wardens and cutbacks in the state's parks budget.

"Chrisman led the Resources agency though some very difficult times," said Kim Delfino, California program director at Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental group. "Not all decisions were perfect. But on the whole, I think he did a good job as secretary."

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