Mike Taugher, a longtime water reporter in California who went to work recently as a spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, died this past weekend while on vacation with his family in Hawaii. He was snorkeling off Maui's Kaanapali Beach when he became separated from his family. He was later found unresponsive in the water. Taugher "covered complex state issues with depth, persistence and fairness, and was one of the most knowledgeable reporters on the politics and intricacies of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta," the San Francisco Chronicle says tonight.
Mr. Taugher, who lived in Benicia with his wife, Kim, and two children, Anna, 12, and Zachary, 15, won numerous awards for his reporting over the course of his career, which began at papers in Lake Tahoe and moved him through Greeley, Colo., and Albuquerque before he arrived at the Contra Costa Times in 2000.
There, he reported on environmental issues and public lands, doggedly pursuing stories other reporters didn't have the patience or knowledge to sort through, said Paul Rogers, a co-worker and environmental reporter at the San Jose Mercury News.
"Water is one of the most complicated topics in California, but it's really, really important," Rogers said. "There's billions of dollars riding on the decisions that are made. The health of rivers and lakes and salmon and other species depend on the kind of decisions that are made.
"There are very few reporters that take the time to really understand it and report in a really fair and thoughtful way," Rogers added. "Mike knew more about water than nearly any journalist in California."
The obituary at the Contra Costa Times says "in his 12 years at the Times, Taugher was the newspaper's go-to reporter on environmental issues, covering everything from state water politics, to endangered species, to forestry and the state's energy crisis. His reporting earned him numerous awards and praise from inside and outside the Walnut Creek newsroom." Taugher left the Times a year ago when he was appointed assistant deputy director of communications for the Fish and Wildlife department. "Mike was unquestionably fair, knowledgeable and deeply insightful about the issues he covered," Rep. George Miller said in a statement.
Media reports all say that Taugher was 50. His bosses at Fish and Wildlife said 51 earlier in the day. A statement from Fish and Wildlife:
Michael Taugher, spokesperson for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), passed away this weekend at age 51 while on vacation with his family in Hawaii. California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird and CDFW Director Charlton Bonham issued the following statements:
“On behalf of the Governor and the entire Brown Administration, I want to extend my most sincere condolences to the family of Mike Taugher. I worked with him both as a reporter and in his role at Fish and Wildlife. It was clear that the Contra Costa Times was lucky to have him as a reporter, and we were equally as lucky to work with such a talented media professional.
“Mike was vital to this institution professionally, but more than that, he was a kind, caring person who clearly was a devoted father and husband. His loss is tragic and will be widely felt.”
“The entire Department of Fish and Wildlife family today mourns the loss of Mike Taugher. He was simply an exceptional man who brought a warmth and professionalism to his job that is rare. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, two children and extended family who have lost their husband and father at far too young of an age. Mike was a friend and a colleague. He made our department a much better place and was all the things we as Californians hope to see in public servants.
“Mike brought such enthusiasm and positivity to his work. This loss is heartbreaking. I will miss him greatly as will the Department of Fish and Wildlife.”