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 July 11 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.
Mr. Reed 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 led to an alliance with Claude 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 environmental adviser.
After Mr. 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 then-president Richard Nixon. Mr. Reed told the news website TCPalm.com last year that Mr. 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 Mr. Nixon what his priorities were, Mr. Reed said he wanted to ban the pesticide DDT and a poison called Compound 1080. The Nixon administration banned them both.
Mr. Reed then became the administration’s point man on a new endangered-species legislation, helping to draft the Endangered Species Act of 1973 with government officials at a Chinese restaurant, he told the Tampa Bay Times.
William Ruckelshaus, the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, recalled that Mr. Reed was “vigorous and aggressive in pushing his views about endangered species and, more broadly, wildlife.”
The Endangered Species Act 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 Interior Department though 1977, serving president Gerald Ford after Nixon’s resignation.
Nathaniel Pryor Reed was born in Manhattan on July 22, 1933. His father, Joseph, was a writer, diplomat and scion of a mining fortune. He and his wife, Permelia (Pryor) Reed, bought Jupiter Island, Fla., in the 1930s and developed it as a winter getaway for the rich, but with a strong focus on conservation, an inspiration for Nathaniel.
He attended Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College, then served four years in Air Force Intelligence before joining his family’s real estate and holding company.
He soon began his environmental work, motivated in part by Silent Spring, Rachel Carson’s groundbreaking 1962 book about the ecological impact of DDT.
In addition to his son Adrian, Reed leaveshis wife, Alita (Weaver) Pryor; a daughter, Alita Bohannon; another son, Nathaniel Jr.; and five grandchildren.
New York Times News Service