Our Agency’s History

The Sempervirens Club in front of a redwood tree

Locals concerned about the protection of redwood forests banded together for more than two years and campaigned for the creation of a state redwood park in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Fish and Game truck

One of the trucks used to transport young fish from the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery to high mountain lakes. Photo circa 1916

State Fire Truck 1

Division of Forestry State Fire Engine #1 with a labor crew in Northern California. Circa 1933. Credit: CAL FIRE History Museum

Our Agency’s story begins more than 150 years ago during California's formative years. Most of the state's natural resources were under federal jurisdiction, but as California's population and needs grew, so did a desire for a closer-to-home approach to protecting the state's wildlands and wildlife. These sentiments led to the creation of the Board of Fish Commissioners in 1870 (the first wildlife conservation agency in the country), the Division of Forestry in 1881 (housed within the state’s Department of Agriculture) and the Board of Forestry in 1885.

During this same period, federal and state leaders began to set aside land for preservation and public access. President Abraham Lincoln signed a federal law in 1864 that granted Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Big Tree Grove to create California’s first state park. In 1901, both land grants were returned to the federal government. A year later in 1902, the state purchased 2,500 acres of redwood forests in Santa Cruz to create Big Basin Redwood State Park, California's longest-running state park.

At the turn of the 20th Century, California's emerged on the forefront of the preservation movement by expanding fish and game laws, establishing a state forester to regulate timber harvest, acquiring historical monuments, and passing the Water Commission Act in 1913 to establish the State Water Commission to oversee rights to use surface water.

In 1927, Governor Clement Calhoun Young restructured many of state boards, commissions, divisions, and departments to create the Department of Natural Resources. This new Department included the Division of Forestry, known today as CAL FIRE (created in 1977), and a Division of Beaches and Parks, known today as the Department of State Parks and Recreation (created in 1967).

In 1961, Governor Edmund G. “Pat” Brown reorganized the executive branch and established the Resources Agency to consolidate management of the state’s diverse resources. The new agency oversaw the Department of Fish and Game (created in 1951), known today as the Department of Fish and Wildlife (renamed in 2012), Department of Water Resources (created in 1954), Department of Conservation (created in 1961). This restructure also placed most of the state's environmental quality programs within the Resources Agency. In 1991, those environmental quality programs, designed to limit environmental pollution, were placed under a new state agency, the California Environmental Protection Agency.

Over recent decades, the Resources Agency has grown to include a total of six departments, 10 conservancies, 17 boards and commissions, three councils, and one urban park in Los Angeles that consists of two museums, the California Science Center and the California African American museum.

In 2009, the Resources Agency adopted its current name of the California Natural Resources Agency to better reflect its primary mission of protecting the state's natural resources. The Agency's mission statement:

"To restore, protect and manage the state's natural, historical and cultural resources for current and future generations using creative approaches and solutions based on science, collaboration, and respect for all the communities and interests involved."

Today our Agency is on the frontlines maintaining California's unparalleled biodiversity, building climate, water and wildfire resilience, and ensuring access to natural lands for all Californians. Our Agency’s more than 19,000 employees help steward 100 million acres of California's land, hundreds of rivers and lakes, and more than 1,000 miles of coastline. Our departments protect California's restore wildlife habitat, operate parks, deliver water, respond to wildfires, preserve cultural and historical resources, and manage the economic use of energy sources. Our work is driven by a desire to create a more equitable and sustainable future where natural resources are valued by all. 

Photo of William Warne

William E. Warne, 1961-1962

Hugo Fisher

Hugo Fisher, 1963-1965

Photo of Norman B. Livermore

Norman B. Livermore, 1967-1974

Claire Dedrick

Claire T. Dedrick, 1975-1976

Huey Johnson

Huey D. Johnson, 1977-1982

Gordon Van Vleck

Gordon K. Van Vleck, 1983-1990

Photo of Douglas Wheeler

Douglas P. Wheeler, 1991-1999

Mary Nichols

Mary D. Nichols, 1999-2003

Mike Chrisman

Mike Chrisman, 2003-2010

Lester Snow

Lester A. Snow, 2010

Photo of John Laird

John Laird, 2011-2019

Photo of Wade Crowfoot

Wade Crowfoot, 2019-Present

Contact Us

California Natural Resources Agency
715 P Street, 20th Floor
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 653-5656
(916) 744-6092 fax

Need help, or have a question? Email us.

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