St. Petersburg lawyer led the fight for wildlife and wild places

In 2013, environmental lawyer Tom Reese filed a lawsuit against Collier County.

“The lead plaintiffs,” former Tampa Bay Times journalist Craig Pittman wrote, “are listed as ‘Florida panthers’ and ‘red-cockaded woodpeckers.’”

Reese was clear then, as he was during his long career, about what he was working for.

“Tom was a pioneer in representing public interest groups,” said Clay Henderson, an environmental lawyer, educator and author of “Forces of Nature: A History of Land Conservation.” “We sort of take that for granted now. That wasn’t automatic. It took people like Tom to figure out how to do that and do it effectively.”

Reese died Feb. 4 at 70 due to multiple health issues.

Environmental attorney Tom Reese spoke in 2000 with Donald Buck, then chairperson of Oakstead Development District, inside the West Pasco Judicial Center, before finalizing plans to include a wildlife preserve in their new construction at Oakstead.
Environmental attorney Tom Reese spoke in 2000 with Donald Buck, then chairperson of Oakstead Development District, inside the West Pasco Judicial Center, before finalizing plans to include a wildlife preserve in their new construction at Oakstead. [ 2000 | Tampa Bay Times ]

Do something about it

Reese spent his entire life in St. Petersburg, and his early days helped shape his work.

“He was a native Florida son,” said Franklin Adams, a longtime conservationist. “If nature was your thing and the outdoors was important to you growing up, and then you begin to see some of these really special places diked, ditched and destroyed, and you reach a point where you wanted to do something about it. Tom was one of those on the right side.”

In 1980, the Tampa Tribune reported, Reese started his own practice in public interest environmental and land use law.

“Quiet trips down the Little Manatee River helped Reese learn what kind of lawyer he wanted to be.”

But there weren’t many of that kind of lawyer.

Before 1970, it was almost impossible for the public to fight big industry

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