BENICIA -- A former Contra Costa Times newspaper reporter who became a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife died while snorkeling on vacation in Hawaii, according to the state agency and police.

Michael Taugher, 50, of Benicia was found unresponsive in the water off Black Rock in Kaanapali Saturday morning. He had been snorkeling with family members when he went missing. Lifeguard, firefighters and paramedics tried to revive Taugher but were unsuccessful. A police spokesman in Hawaii said no foul play is suspected.

A longtime environmental and investigative reporter, Taugher was known for his blend of meticulous research and dogged reporting in covering the biggest issues of the day, said his former editor and Bay Area News Group East Bay Metro Editor Kat Rowlands.

Former Contra Costa Times reporter Michael Taugher.
Former Contra Costa Times reporter Michael Taugher.

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.

"Mike was unquestionably fair, knowledgeable, and deeply insightful about the issues he covered," U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Contra Costa, said in a statement. "He helped to broaden people's understanding of the environmental issues we face in California and I hope that his family will take some solace in knowing that many of us will remember Mike as a solid professional and very decent person."

In May 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Taugher as the assistant deputy director of communications, education and outreach at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Before working for the Contra Costa Times from 2000 to 2012, he was an environmental reporter for the Albuquerque Journal from 1995 to 2000, a Greeley Tribune reporter from 1992 to 1995 and a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune and North Lake Tahoe Bonanza from 1989 to 1992.

"He was also a genuinely decent, nice guy," said Paul Rogers, environment writer for the San Jose Mercury News who worked with Taugher. "He'd be patiently explaining some complex California water issue to me and then just suddenly blurt out 'hey, did I tell you my son, Zac hit a home run in Little League this weekend?'"

David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him in Richmond at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.


Mike Taugher, environmental reporter for the Contra Costa Times,  researches rice farming in the Sacramento Delta in June of 2009. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area
Mike Taugher, environmental reporter for the Contra Costa Times, researches rice farming in the Sacramento Delta in June of 2009. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)