Art Cooley, a Pioneering Long Island Environmentalist, Dies at Age 87

art cooley
Art Cooley

Art Cooley, a Long Islander who a half century ago cofounded the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) — among the most influential nonprofits of its kind in the world — has died. He was 87.

A former Bellport High School biology teacher, Cooley joined forces with a group of other environmentalists to sue states nationwide, winning court orders that blocked the use of the toxic pesticide DDT in the 1960s.

“We knew DDT was damaging the eggshells of birds, preventing chicks and eaglets from hatching,” Cooley recalled in a blog posted to the website of the EDF, which was formed “with the express purpose of going after DDT,” he told the VoiceofSanDiego.org. “We took Suffolk County to court and won an injunction against the use of DDT. After that victory, we pursued the case state by state until we ultimately won a nationwide ban in 1972.”

Born Arthur P. Cooley on June 2, 1934 in Southampton, his father was former Quogue Mayor Harvey Cooley and his mother Helen (Coller) Cooley was a homemaker. Cooley grew up in Quogue before getting his masters degree in biology from Cornell University. He later married Nancy Nienstadt, moved to Patchogue, and joined the faculty at the school in Brookhaven, where he inspired countless students’ curiosity about the natural world. He died of natural causes Jan. 30 at his home in Colorado, where he moved with his second wife Beverly Grant. 

“He opened our young eyes to ocean life, bird migrations, [and] more,” tweeted one of his former students, Elizabeth Shreeve, a children’s book author who writes nature-themed books.

EDF grew from a small grassroots operation to have an endowment of more than $221 million as of 2020, with more than 2.5 million members and over 1,000 staffers around the world. Cooley served in various capacities over the years, including as its chairman, until recently.

He is survived by his son Jonathan and two grandchildren.

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