Conservancy’s Rob Moher celebrates 20 years protecting Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future
Twenty years ago, Southwest Florida was a much different place.
Large swaths of land remained undeveloped, and Naples was mostly contained between I-75 and the Gulf of Mexico. Builders and county leaders, however, were formalizing plans for a frenetic, unprecedented residential and commercial construction boom that ultimately would redefine the region. It also tilted the balance between development rights and environmental protection.
At the same time, in early 1999, a young man named Rob Moher joined the Conservancy of Southwest Florida after serving as regional director for Bahamas National Trust, where he was responsible for protection, management and development of three national parks, including coastal and marine parks. Prior to that, he served as a research officer for the International Development Research Center in Ottawa, Canada, where he was involved in environmental policy research on an international level.
“Rob had a reputation as a passionate advocate for environmental protection and strong policy development, so his arrival couldn’t have come at a better time,” said Van Williams, Conservancy of Southwest Florida board chair. “The Conservancy has flourished under his leadership.”
The Florida Everglades, coastal mangroves, bays and preserves weren’t being prioritized in the race to build a bigger Southwest Florida. The welfare of animals like the Florida panther, sea turtle, burrowing owl and even the alligator took a back seat to concerns about where the next gated community, high-rise condominium, shopping center and road would be built.
As vice president of development and marketing, Moher led strategic philanthropic initiatives and provided leadership support for the successful Conservancy “Saving Southwest Florida” Capital Campaign that raised $38.8 million toward the construction and renovation of the enhanced Conservancy Nature Center as well as funding for policy and science endowments. Then in 2013, Moher was named president and CEO, and has been front and center in advancing the Conservancy’s mission to protect our water, land, wildlife and future. He’s been concerned with not just preserving, but also restoring wetlands and mangroves, knowing how important they are to water quality, the health of our fish population and hurricane protection. He’s taken on big oil companies in the fight against fracking and has led his team in the quest for smart growth in Southwest Florida. He is a skilled fundraiser who understands donations of $1, $100 or $100,000 not only help the Conservancy, but also are a sign of support and friendship.
The Conservancy’s mission is to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. Moher is establishing cooperative partnerships with individuals, businesses, government agencies and nonprofit institutions to fulfill that mission.
“Rob’s philosophy is to follow the science in order to make sound policy decisions related to water quality, wetlands preservation and smart growth,” said Nick Penniman, Conservancy board member. “He is very good at making the complexities of science understandable while moving toward consensus and minimizing confrontation…except when absolutely necessary.”
There is still plenty of work to do. Development proposals for eastern Collier County lack fundamental principles of smart growth. Invasive Burmese pythons are eating their way through South Florida. Seismic testing in the Big Cypress National Preserve has led to significant negative impacts while the threat of continued enhanced oil well stimulation methods remain a threat to our limited fresh water supply. . Our changing climate poses serious health, environmental and economic concerns. The red tide and algae bloom crises drew national attention and already are impacting our health, our waterways and our economy.
“The Conservancy and Rob are great advocates in our fight for a healthy Everglades ecosystem,” said U.S. Congressman Francis Rooney. “I am thankful to work with Rob and his team on these critical environmental issues.”
In a recent letter outlining his priorities for the coming year, Moher attempted to unite Southwest Florida for the betterment of our community.
“Decisions made in 2019 will permanently shape our future,” Moher wrote. “We hope each citizen will find ways to become engaged in learning about, and weighing in, on these momentous issues. Together, we can do more to protect the unique treasure that is Southwest Florida.”
“He’s right. We can do more,” said Williams. “We are so fortunate to have Rob leading the charge. Together we will continue to make a positive impact on behalf of our water, land, wildlife and future.”