Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on September 14, 1948, Reisner grew up in the American Midwest and graduated in 1970 from Earlham College. He spent some time in Washington, D.C., working for Environmental Action and the Population Institute. From 1972 to 1979, he was a staff writer and communications director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Reisner was awarded an Alicia Patterson Journalism Fellowship in 1979, when he began the research into water policy in the United States that resulted in Cadillac Desert. In 1986, the book was published and immediately received wide attention; many reviewers saw it as a seminal text on the impact of Western water projects on the environment.
Three years later, Reisner coauthored Overtapped Oasis: Reform or Revolution for Western Water with Sarah Bates, analyzing Western water policy and offering recommendations for change. In 1991, Reisner published Game Wars: The Undercover Pursuit of Wildlife Poachers, which he wrote while observing the work of an undercover agent for the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. After the book’s publication, poachers put out a contract on one of Reisner’s informants, who ended up killing the hit man and is now in hiding.
Reisner served as a member, cofounder, or consultant to many environmentalist organizations, such as the Nature Conservancy of the Riceland Habitat Partnership, the Institute for Fisheries Resources, and the American Farmland Trust. He was also a consultant to the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, working to remove old dams in California, and a director of the Vidler Water Company, promoting environmentally benevolent water programs. He wrote for magazines and periodicals and lectured internationally on many environmental subjects. In addition, Reisner was a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of California at Davis.
Reisner was working on a book about California’s propensity for natural and man-made disasters, when he died of cancer on July 21, 2000, at the age of 51, in California.
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