Norman Livermore Jr., 95; advised Gov. Reagan on environmental issues

Times Staff Writer

Norman Banks "Ike" Livermore Jr., a former lumber industry executive with a conservationist's love of the outdoors who became the environmental conscience of California Gov. Ronald Reagan's administration, died of natural causes Tuesday at a hospital near his home in San Rafael, Calif. He was 95.

Livermore served from 1967 to 1975 as state secretary for resources, the only member of Gov. Reagan's Cabinet to serve for eight years.

Although he had no government experience before his appointment, he proved himself more than capable of navigating the complexities of environmental politics, winning major victories that included the creation of Redwood National Park and saving one of the last wild rivers in the state by stopping the proposed Dos Rios Dam.

"He was a real hero in our view," Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club California, said Friday. "He was largely responsible for the fact that Reagan's environmental record in Sacramento was pretty good, in spite of the fact that Reagan said fairly outrageous things" about environmental issues.

Environmentalists feared Reagan's tenure when he was elected governor in 1966. Asked during the campaign about preserving California's natural resources, including its spectacular redwoods, he had said, "A tree is a tree -- how many more do you need to look at?"

Anyone unfamiliar with Livermore might have assumed his agreement with the governor's remark. He was a card-carrying Republican who had been the treasurer of the Pacific Lumber Co. for 15 years when Reagan tapped him for the state job.

But he also had been a member of the Sierra Club since the 1930s whose immersion in California's wilderness had begun when he was boy growing up in San Francisco.

"I am a living contradiction," he once said. Or, as his friend David Brower, the legendary Sierra Club leader, called him, he was "the man in the middle," who effectively melded a businessman's respect for the financial bottom line with the environmentalist's reverence for the natural world.

He owed the unusual range of his vision equally to his father, Norman Banks Sr., a businessman and engineer who helped build Folsom Dam and was a founding member of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., and his mother, the former Caroline Sealy, an early leading conservationist in Marin County.

He attended Ojai's Thacher School, where the outdoors adventurer in him was given free rein. At 15, he rode his horse 200 miles to Big Sur and climbed the Grand Teton in tennis shoes.

After graduating from high school in 1929, he became an outfitter who took private parties on foot and horseback into the Sierra. He spent 20 summers in that wilderness, ran one of the Sierra's largest pack operations and eventually crossed all 50 Sierra passes higher than 10,000 feet. Later, he would say his proudest achievement in Sacramento was blocking the construction of the proposed Minarets Road, which would have bisected the Sierra and interrupted the John Muir Trail.

At Stanford University, he earned a bachelor's degree and a master's in business and was captain of the baseball team. He played for the United States' exhibition baseball team at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. During World War II he served in the Navy and joined the Allied landings at Sicily, Okinawa, Iwo Jima and Palau.

He married the former Virginia Pennoyer in 1943. She survives him, along with two brothers, five children and six grandchildren.

His appointment as state resources chief came as a surprise. Although he had been politically active and his brother, Putnam, had been chairman of the state Republican Party, Livermore had never met Reagan. His name was forwarded by the governor's appointment secretary, Tom Reed, who knew that Livermore's conservationist views and business background would be "a surefire selling point," Reagan biographer Lou Cannon wrote in the 2003 book "Governor Reagan: His Rise to Power."

According to Cannon, Reagan liked Livermore immediately, in part because they both loved to ride horses. More important, Livermore understood how to work with a governor whose public remarks did not suggest any profound appreciation of the environment, who once said of one of the state's oldest and most magnificent redwoods that he saw "nothing beautiful about them, just that they are a little higher than the others."

The key to Livermore's success, Cannon wrote, was that he "worked with the governor instead of against him. He never criticized Reagan to outsiders, and he wrote letters to newspapers extolling his environmental record. Inside the Cabinet, however, he waged a valiant struggle to educate Reagan on the need to get beyond the minimalist positions of the lumber companies."

He convinced the governor that there was a way to save trees without taking away an undue number of logging jobs. The solution he brokered involved trading federal land for privately held land that held many of the most valuable old-growth redwoods. The proposed trade "softened Reagan's resistance," Cannon wrote, and led in 1968 to the preservation of 58,000 acres of land as Redwood National Park.

His next battle was the Dos Rios Dam, proposed on the middle fork of the Eel River. The project, backed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Water Resources, would have flooded the scenic Round Valley in Mendocino County, which was home not only to hundreds of farmers and cattle ranchers but to a 9,000-year-old Indian tribe, the Yuki, whose forebears had been slaughtered by Army soldiers in the 1800s. Flooding the valley would have destroyed hundreds of tribal archeological sites.

Livermore argued that the $400-million project promised "permanent destruction" in exchange for "occasional protection" of downstream areas along the river. Reagan, according to Cannon, was receptive to this line of argument but not sold on it.

What sealed the fate of the project was a meeting Livermore arranged between the governor and a small group from Round Valley that included two members of the Yuki tribe. The Yukis told Reagan in simple language how the destruction of the valley would cap a long history of injustices suffered at the hands of the government.

According to Ted Simon in his 1994 book "The River Stops Here," the governor was moved to tears by their testimony. He vetoed the Dos Rios project, explaining his reasoning with a compelling pun: "We've broken too many damn treaties." Cannon called it "his finest environmental moment."

Livermore had presented the facts but was most persuasive when he took the argument to another level. As Cannon recounted, Livermore, referring to the dam proponents' frequent challenge to "stick to the facts," responded: "Look, emotion is a fact. The solitude of the wilderness, the beauty of a flower -- those are facts."

His ability to stand firm in the face of the state's powerful water lobbies inspired his allies in the Dos Rios fight to call him by an affectionate nickname: "the eternal redwood."

"He had great presence. He just came through as solid and rooted right in the ground," said Richard Wilson, a cattle rancher who mobilized Round Valley against the dam and knew Livermore for 30 years.

"He and the governor just resonated as two people who both loved the land. It was a great match," Wilson said, "and it was very good for the state, for all of us."

elaine.woo@latimes.com

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