Florida lost environmental giants Nat Reed and Bernie Yokel this July. Throughout my 46-year career at Audubon, I have been lucky to know the two irreplaceable leaders as both mentors and friends. Those of us in the conservation community know their accomplishments well. While generations to come may never know their names, they will benefit from the legacy Nat and Bernie leave behind. Let me tell you a little about both gentlemen.
Nathaniel Pryor Reed, 84, passed away July 11th from injuries sustained while fishing in Quebec. He was old school Republican who often rubbed elbows with American presidents. Claude Kirk, Florida’s 36th governor, tapped Reed to be an advisor and lead his Department of Pollution Control. In that capacity, Nat persuaded Gov. Kirk to stop two massive projects that were threatening enormous environmental destruction: the Cross Florida Barge Canal and the Everglades Jetport. Nat went on to be appointed by President Nixon as an Assistant Secretary in the Dept. of Interior. In that capacity, he engineered expansion of Everglades National Park, the creation of the Big Cypress National Preserve, and expansion of Biscayne National Monument. Nat is also credited with the creation of the Endangered Species Act. After returning to Florida, he championed the first efforts toward restoration of America’s Everglades and served on the Audubon board. In a fitting tribute to his legacy, Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio recently announced an effort to rename the Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge after Nat.
I first met Dr. Bernie Yokel when he was the Director of the Marine Research Station at Rookery Bay near Naples. An accomplished marine biologist, Bernie led the effort to defeat permits that sought to destroy 5,000 acres of mangrove wetlands at Marco Island. Bernie brought the touch of a scientist and educator to environmental advocacy. His skills were recognized by the Florida Audubon Society, and he later led Florida Audubon as board president from 1984 to 1995. Bernie was then elected to theboard of the National Audubon Society. Later in life, Bernie became the leader of the Trout Lake Nature Center in Lake County, Florida. He served there until very recently as an educator and member of the board. Bernie passed away at the age of 89 on July 4th.
The next time you’re enjoying Florida’s special places, I hope you feel the same sense of gratitude for the conservation leaders like Nat and Bernie that I do. Both Nat Reed and Dr. Bernie Yokel took the time to work with others inside and outside the environmental community to teach and guide new generations of conservationists. Now, they’ve passed the baton to us with the trails they blazed. Let’s continue honoring their legacies by doing our part to preserve and protect our environment.