Nathaniel Reed, 84, Champion of Florida’s Environment, Is Dead

Nathaniel Reed in an undated photo. He led conservation fights throughout Florida and helped turn the Endangered Species Act into law.

Nathaniel Reed, an environmentalist who led conservation fights throughout Florida and helped turn the Endangered Species Act into law while serving as an assistant secretary of the Interior in the 1970s, died on Wednesday in Quebec City. He was 84.

His son Adrian said he died in a hospital of a brain injury he received when he fell while fishing on the Grand Cascapédia River in Quebec.

“He had many times told my brother, sister and me, ‘If I could choose to leave this earth, I would catch one last beautiful salmon and it would be lights off,’ ” Adrian Reed said in a telephone interview.

On July 3, Mr. Reed caught his final salmon — a 16-pounder — and soon after that, he slipped and his head hit a rock, causing traumatic injury.

Mr. Reed, who was known as Nat, bemoaned the damage that land developers, polluters, politicians and the Army Corps of Engineers had done to Florida by the early 1960s. Wetlands were being drained, mangrove jungles cleared and swamps filled to build roads and homes. The Everglades were being threatened.

“Man was remaking my Florida with the heaviest of hands!” he wrote in “Travels on the Green Highway” (2017), a memoir of his decades of environmental campaigns. “Development at any cost was the goal of our politicians in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.”

Mr. Reed’s rising profile on conservation issues, which included speaking at rallies to protest projects that threatened the state’s environment, led to an alliance with Claude R. Kirk Jr., a Republican running for governor of Florida in 1966. After writing white papers for Mr. Kirk during his successful campaign, Mr. Reed was hired in 1967 as his dollar-a-year environmental adviser. Because he came from a wealthy family, he did not need a salary.

Governor Kirk “wanted to change Florida as badly as I wanted to change Florida,” Mr. Reed told Florida Trend magazine in an interview in 2007.

One of their biggest victories was scotching a plan in 1969 to build a large jetport in Big Cypress Swamp (now a national preserve) with federal funds. Conservationists warned that it would damage wildlife in the adjacent Everglades National Park. Governor Kirk, who at first supported the jetport, later changed his mind, Mr. Reed wrote, after realizing that “he had been taken in by an impossible dream cooked up by schemers and land peddlers.”

A deal between Florida, Dade County and the United States government guaranteed that a jetport would not be built in Big Cypress Swamp.

After Governor Kirk lost his bid for re-election in 1970, Mr. Reed was named assistant secretary of the Interior for fish, wildlife and national parks by President Richard M. Nixon. Recalling his introduction to the president, Mr. Reed told the news website last year that Nixon told him: “I don’t give a damn about environmental issues. I’ve got too many things on my plate.”

But, Mr. Reed added, “Nixon wanted a better environmental record than Jack Kennedy had.”

Asked by Nixon what his priorities were, Mr. Reed said that he wanted to ban the pesticide DDT and Compound 1080, a poison that killed coyotes and other animals in the West.

The Nixon administration banned them both. But a larger issue galvanized Mr. Reed: endangered species legislation.

He became the administration’s point man, testifying in the House and Senate, briefing members of Congress — and helping to draft the Endangered Species Act of 1973 with government officials at a Chinese restaurant, he told The Tampa Bay Times.

William D. Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, recalled in a telephone interview that Mr. Reed was “vigorous and aggressive in pushing his views about endangered species and more broadly, wildlife.”

“He was a positive force in dealing with issues that were new and had public policy ramifications that hadn’t been dealt with before, like the Endangered Species Act,” Mr. Ruckelshaus added.

The legislation, which passed Congress overwhelmingly, gave the government authority to prevent the extinction of animal and plant species by eliminating threats to their survival. The American bald eagle was the first species listed.

Four years after the law was enacted, the alligator was no longer on the endangered species list.

“This proves that we can do it,” Mr. Reed said in a news release at the time. “We can reverse the trend toward extinction and save a species.”

He remained at the Department of the Interior though 1977, serving President Gerald R. Ford after Nixon’s resignation.

Nathaniel Pryor Reed was born in Manhattan on July 22, 1933. His father, Joseph, was a writer, diplomat, theater patron and scion of a mining fortune. He and his wife, Permelia (Pryor) Reed, bought Jupiter Island, Fla., in the 1930s and developed it as an exclusive winter getaway for the rich, but with a strong focus on conservation, an inspiration for Nathaniel’s environmentalism.

He grew up privileged. The Reeds lived most of the year in Greenwich, Conn., on a 125-acre estate with a lake and woodlands, and on Jupiter Island, where he fished the Indian River for sea trout, snook, ladyfish and bluefish and the Atlantic Ocean for pompano and croaker, and roamed the island for birds and butterflies. Each August, the family headed to a camp in the Adirondacks that was without electricity or running water.

“From the time I was 6 years old, I was allowed to row my own flat-bottomed rowboat with two fly rods going and I would be gone morning and afternoon,” he said in an interview in 2000 for a University of Florida oral history.

He attended Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, where the headmaster, Frank Boyden, “preached service — and he took that deeply to heart,” Adrian Reed said. After graduating from Trinity College, he served four years in Air Force Intelligence before joining his family’s real estate and holding company as a vice president.

He soon began his environmental work, motivated by his passion for fish, wildlife and clean water as well as by “Silent Spring” (1962), Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking book about the devastating ecological impact of DDT.

For the remainder of his career, he recognized that the environment faced implacable enemies.

“I have used that term, avarice and greed, all of my life, because that is really the story of the destruction of South Florida, Southwest Florida, the Orlando-Deltona-Tampa beltway,” he said in the oral history.

His other efforts included being a founder of the Everglades Foundation. He put a priority on improving the foundation’s scientific research.

“He leaves us with an organization that is the pre-eminent voice of Everglades restoration because of our scientists,” Eric Eikenberg, the foundation’s chief executive, said in a telephone interview.

In addition to his son Adrian, Mr. Reed is survived by his wife, Alita (Weaver) Pryor; a daughter, Alita Bohannon; another son, Nathaniel Jr.; and five grandchildren. He lived on Jupiter Island.

Carl Hiaasen, whose novels and columns for The Miami Herald lampoon developers and politicians who degrade the environment in Florida, said that Mr. Reed frequently sent him dramatically worded emails about “whatever environmental atrocity was about to be committed.”

In a telephone interview, Mr. Hiaasen added: “He was all about the future and how can we make sure these places will be here for our grandkids and great-grandkids. He’d say, ‘Don’t be discouraged. Get angry, show up, make your voice heard, and when they ignore you, make it louder the next time.’ ”

“I hope,” Mr. Hiassen said, “there’s at least one more Nat Reed who’s about 16 years old now who will do what he did.”

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