Environmental hero honored on Earth Day | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Environmental hero honored on Earth Day

William Ferchland

Chad Lundquist / Tahoe Daily Tribune / Friends and family of environmental advocate Dennis Machida look on in remembrance Friday at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

Against a backdrop of Lake Tahoe and land he prized to keep pristine, about 200 people gathered at Edgewood Tahoe to celebrate and reflect on the life of Dennis Machida.

The first and only executive director of the California Tahoe Conservancy since 1985, Machida guided the acquisition of 7,400 acres of land on the California side of Lake Tahoe and oversaw hundreds of environmental projects.

Machida, 58, suffered a fatal heart attack last month in Montana while attending a climate research conference.

Members of Tahoe and Sacramento’s environmental and political spheres attended the tribute Friday, which doubled as Earth Day, to the dedicated and well-respected conservationist.

“He really made us better people and better public servants,” said Mike Chrisman, California’s secretary for resources.

“Dennis was a real teacher,” said Steve Teshara, executive director of North Lake Tahoe Resort Association.

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California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., sent letters. Colleagues and friends reminisced on Machida’s vision, leadership, love for his family, people skills and problem-solving talent.

Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, recalled stories of Machida holed up in Sacramento with meetings, only to drive back to Tahoe near midnight so he could spend the morning with his wife, Kathie Wong, and son, Nathan.

“You must be a terrific woman and, Nathan, you must be a terrific son,” Leslie said, looking at the two.

Joseph Petrillo, a Sierra Nevada Alliance board member, recalled a steelhead fishing trip where Machida promised his friend a bounty of the rainbow trout.

Throughout the day, Petrillo recalled, the two didn’t catch a fish. At dusk, Petrillo got lucky. He caught a steelhead and was instructed to clean it by Machida, who inspected the fish but fumbled it back into the river.

Machida dove into the water several times to rescue the fish but was unsuccessful. Petrillo was touched, and told his friend they lost the fish but gained a story.

“Every virtue I can think of Dennis possessed at the highest level and as far as I can tell he had two vices. One vice was black shirts,” Petrillo said, instigating laughs from the audience.

The other vice, he said, was fishing.

Machida collected numerous accomplishments in his 58 years. In 1964 he was dubbed “Eagle Scout of the Year” for Sacramento County in 1964. He served in the Vietnam War. He earned a master’s and law degree and completed a Coro Fellowship in public affairs.

He was part of three conservancies: California Coastal Conservancy, California Tahoe Conservancy and the newly created Sierra Nevada Conservancy.

“Dennis indeed possessed remarkable vision,” Teshara said.

Rochelle Nason, executive director of the League to Save Lake Tahoe, remembered how Machida would back away from accepting a “Friends of the Lake” award and deferred the commendation to co-workers.

Work at the California Tahoe Conservancy is continuing, said Chairman Larry Sevison.

“We’re looking to the future again,” Sevison said. “We’re adjusting. It’s a big hole to fill.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at wferchland@tahoedailytribune.com