Les Ayers, early environmental leader, dies at 89

Les Ayers, a retired Army colonel who became a leader of Sonoma County's early environmental movement, died Sunday at a daughter's home in Santa Cruz County following a long illness. He was 89.

An Eagle Scout and Peace Corps veteran, he was always ready to work on projects he felt were important, said his daughter, Lauren Ayers of Sonoma. He joined the fight against Warm Springs Dam in the 1970s and helped found Sonoma Land Trust.

"He wanted to help people," she said. "He was a team player."

Born Leslie Sherman Ayers in San Francisco, his father was an Army officer at The Presidio.

He attended military prep school, graduated from West Point in 1945 and served on the staff of Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the occupation of Japan.

He also served in Brazil and at Fort Riley, Kansas, before retiring as an Army major in the mid-1950s. He then became an administrator with the Atomic Energy Commission and worked at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory.

He achieved the rank of colonel in the Army Reserve.

Ayers finished his career in Washington, D.C., with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, part of the State Department.

After a year of traveling in Europe and Asia, Ayers and his wife Audrey settled in Sonoma Valley, where he built a log house on Fifth Street West near Leveroni Road.

His interest in the environment came from years of travel, camping, skiing and other outdoor pursuits, his daughter said.

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