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Sanibel official, area journalist to join SCCF team

By Staff | Aug 5, 2020


The Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation announced that two leaders in Southwest Florida water quality issues will deepen and expand the non-profit’s work to restore and protect the region’s waterways.

Starting on Sept. 8, Sanibel Natural Resources Director and Chad Gillis, environmental reporter with the Naples Daily News and News-Press, will lead policy and advocacy work at the Sanibel-based non-profit.

“James and Chad each bring 20 years of expertise in Southwest Florida’s environment to SCCF,” Chief Executive Officer Ryan Orgera said. “Individually these professionals would be extraordinary additions to our team, but when combined, SCCF benefits from a supercharged policy team.”

Evans will take on the new title of environmental policy director. He will direct water quality policy as it impacts the islands and region at the local, regional, state and federal levels, as well as growth management and other topics affecting the islands. Evans will take over the portfolio of SCCF’s first Natural Resource Policy Director Rae Ann Wessel, who retired in May after serving 14 years, and will carry forth her legacy by continuing to expand upon SCCF’s tradition of environmental policy.

“I am elated to join the talented team at SCCF and be a part of the foundation’s rich history of conservation and advocacy rooted in science,” he said. “I look forward to continuing the strong regional partnerships that we have built over the years to protect and restore our natural systems from the Everglades to the coasts.”


Having focused his award-winning journalism on the Caloosahatchee River, Lake Okeechobee and Everglades restoration, Gillis will take on the newly-created position of policy advocate. He will focus primarily on water quality and will promote SCCF’s policy positions through various media as he continues to write.

“I’ve written about environmental issues in this region for two decades and am both excited and proud to advocate solutions for our precious resources,” Gillis said. “I look forward to becoming part of the Sanibel-Captiva community and working on behalf of residents, visitors and our treasured environment.”

As a team, Evans will work with the city as part of SCCF’s long-standing partnership, as well as regional, state and national partners to create meaningful policy positions for SCCF, while Gillis will be instrumental in all policy communication efforts.

“Together they will allow us to advocate for our islands and watershed with a megaphone,” Orgera said. “I want to thank our policy donors and our board of trustees for their strategic investment in our water quality. This could not be better news for Florida’s waters.”

“I feel very lucky to welcome these two powerhouses to SCCF,” he added.

Appointed as director of Sanibel Natural Resources in 2012, Evans joined the city in 2000 as a conservation officer. In 2003, he was promoted to environmental planner and, in 2006, was appointed as environmental health and water quality specialist. Evans has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and a master’s degree in environmental science from Florida Gulf Coast University.

Gillis, who holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University, will also provide overall communications support at SCCF in collaboration with Communications Director Barbara Linstrom. He moved to Southwest Florida in 1999.

Evans and Gillis will be joined on the policy team by SCCF Marine Lab Research Associate Leah Reidenbach, who has a strong background in water quality science and science communication, and SCCF Policy Assistant Holly Schwartz, who worked with Lee County for 11 years and specializes in growth management issues.