Epilogue m.c. davis ducked the limelight while saving as much nature as he could electricity vs magnetism

His savvy and money saved thousands of acres of forests and swamps across the South, and preserved more than a few species. For the past two decades he did this without attracting attention, until this year, when he was written up in Smithsonian and profiled by National Public Radio.

Davis’ father died when he was young. To support his mother and two half-sisters he began hustling pool, then graduated to backroom poker games. He put himself through college and law school with his winnings, said his son-in-law, Pat Chisholm.

Then one rainy evening about 20 years ago, he got stuck in a typical Tampa tieup on Interstate 4. He figured he’d pull off the highway and let the traffic clear. He spotted a marquee at a high school that advertised a lecture on bears. So he went.

Inside, he later recalled, was "an old drunk, a politician … and a couple of Canadians looking for day-old doughnuts and coffee." Up on stage were two women, Laurie MacDonald and Christine Small of Defenders of Wildlife, talking earnestly about Florida’s black bears — then on the state’s imperiled species list — and what it would take to save them.

She gave him a reading list. He soaked up the writings of John Muir, Henry David Thoreau and E.O. Wilson. He also started quietly buying up environmentally sensitive land — a lot of it in Florida, but also in Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.

He bought bat caves in three states to save their inhabitants. He bought 2-mile-long strips of land on either side of a Florida highway and built an underground crossing for freshwater turtles so they could get from one lake to another safely. He added thousands of acres to national forests and wildlife refuges, said Manley Fuller of the Florida Wildlife Federation.

Environmental groups might trumpet their plans to preserve land, only to see the price get jacked up. Not Davis. He’d sidle up, apparently just another good ol’ boy timber buyer, and maneuver the seller into giving him a good price, not revealing his intentions until the deal was done.

He worked behind the scenes to stop Florida’s pay-to-pave program that let developers write a check in exchange for sealing up gopher tortoises in their burrows. He was a major supporter of the Amendment 1 ballot initiative, which set aside state money and a strong opponent of the wildlife commission’s recent decision to allow a bear hunt for the first time in 21 years.

His crowning achievement was the Nokuse Plantation, 53,000 acres of Panhandle peanut farms and pulpwood forests near Eglin Air Force Base that he bought and turned into a center for biological preservation. It’s the largest block of privately owned conservation land east of the Mississippi.

At Nokuse (pronounced no-GOO-see) he opened the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center, named after the Pulitzer-winning biologist and naturalist who grew up in Alabama. The center was designed to educate Florida schoolchildren about the natural world.

On July 11, he slipped away from his family and made his way out to the Nokuse piney woods he loved so dearly. The man who always wanted to be in control had picked the place and the time of his death, and he carried out his plan, Chisholm said, declining to give further details.