Former Mojave Desert ecologist for The Nature Conservancy
UNLV senior Matt Rader, an ecology and evolutionary biology major, sums up what his mentor Jim Moore taught him: “That you can make a living being outdoors and doing what you love … and that it’s possible to make a difference.” These must be bittersweet words for Moore, who retired in January as the Nature Conservancy’s Mojave Desert ecologist after 27 years. He’s come to believe that the world needs activism more than it needs collaboration, that he’s reached the limits of what he can accomplish in the current political climate. But he’s not giving up the fight — just shifting gears. In a recent conversation, he reflected on the past and what’s next.
How did it feel to leave the Nature Conservancy after nearly three decades?
I know the time was right because I’ve had no regrets. I wasn’t sad at all, approaching my end date. I wasn’t emotional. It was just, Job done; time to go. I’ve seen people hang on too long, just doing busy work to meet a calendar date, and I didn’t want to be that guy. When I found that things were starting to bother me more and more, then I realized I wasn’t comfortable where I was, and it was time to move on.
What was bothering you?
I would say primarily this last year, from the change in the presidential administration, and the reversal of so many things that I care deeply about, not only socially, economically, in civil rights, but the reversals in clean air, clean water, environmental protections. Now they’re attacking the renewable energy plan that was completed in California after so many years of hard work with multiple interests sitting at the table. That, to me, says the world has changed. And it’s changed in a way that I didn’t think it was possible: going backward. I thought the progress we’d made in these arenas were permanent steps forward. To see it so easily undone really caused me to question how much of what I was doing is durable.
You tell me. What’ve you done that’s durable?
The desert tortoise served as the impetus for much of the drive to protect large swaths of land in Southern Nevada. … The Nature Conservancy insisted when we joined that process in 1990 with Clark County and the Fish and Wildlife Service and BLM that cattlemen should be paid for their assets. That allowed us to rapidly remove a large amount of acreage from grazing, without any conflict. The cattlemen who participated saw the writing on the wall. They knew raising cattle in the desert was a losing proposition and that regulations associated with the Endangered Species Act were going to continue to chip away at their allotments. If you look south of Boulder City, that entire landscape, to Searchlight and state line, is now cattle-free, at least legally. I’m very proud of that.
How about the Oasis Valley Project in Beatty, where the Nature Conservancy has restored hundreds of thousands of acres of wetlands?
That was really my planting a flag in the soil. It’s been such a rewarding, growing experience for me and also for many of the partners who participated in its success. It’s taken a long time to be able to look at that and say it’s a success, but I measure that by the lack of opposition in the community, in Nye County, and by the participation of private landowners in actions to not only adapt to the presence of the Amargosa toad being in their back yard, but also encouraging it as the town transitions from mining to tourism. The Town Board readily mentions it in a positive light. Regardless of any decision made in Washington, that’s not going to change what happens in Beatty.
What remains undone that’s important to you?
Coyote Springs Valley. The history of that land was very sketchy, in terms of how it was transferred out of public ownership in the ’80s, ostensibly for public safety, national defense issues … and then it ended up in the hands of a private owner, which was remarkable to me. If the (proposed) jet propulsion facility didn’t come to pass, it should have reverted back to public ownership. Righting that wrong in my eyes is kind of like the Holy Grail.
What will you do now?
I think the current administration is hell-bent on undoing anything done during the Obama administration and turning their sights on anything industry wants — oil and gas, banks. None of this is in the public interest, so I think strong legal challenges every step of the way have to be the approach that we take now. While I’m not a lawyer, I certainly can provide scientifically based data and recommendations that will stand up in court. I think that’s the approach I’ll take. Sooner rather than later.
What’s your advice to those getting into conservation now?
Get to know the landscapes, the species, one-on-one on their terms, and then you can speak with expertise, in board rooms, class rooms, public forums, to various land use councils, legislatures. … Only by protecting all the pieces can we be sure that the whole will adapt to perturbations in the future, whether it’s climate change or a massive tsunami or the ice caps melting. It’s going to take those people in the field to interpret that for the rest of the populace.