The State We're In

A grateful farewell

Dec 30, 2021

By Michele S. Byers, Executive Director 1999-2021

This is my last weekly column as executive director of New Jersey Conservation Foundation, the nonprofit where I’ve loved working for nearly 40 years.

In my years at New Jersey Conservation, I’ve made the Garden State my home and have grown to love it like a native. I’ve been to nearly every corner, from High Point to the tip of Cape May, have seen a lot of changes and have learned much about this state.

I ended up in New Jersey by chance. Growing up in a military family, I lived in many places: Texas, Oklahoma, Germany, Colorado, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia and New Jersey. The outdoors, nature, geology, natural landscapes and animals were always my passion in every one of these places, but it never occurred to me that I would find the career of a lifetime in New Jersey!

After college, I landed a job in the New Jersey Pine Barrens leading nature field trips for schoolchildren and writing a curriculum on recycling for middle school. I joined the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions to advocate for the preservation of the Pine Barrens. That led to my first job with New Jersey Conservation Foundation, starting in 1982, and a later promotion to executive director in 1999.

“The State We’re In” column was conceived in 1969 by my predecessor, Dave Moore, as a way to keep New Jerseyans informed of issues related to the environment: open space preservation, clean water, clean air, parks, farming, nature, wildlife, health, land use and development, government policy, agricultural practices, outdoor recreation and local environmental heroes, just to name a few!

Offered for free to newspapers and media outlets throughout the state, and to New Jersey Conservation Foundation members, The State We’re In is New Jersey’s longest-running column focusing on the environment. Since 1969, more than 2,700 columns have been written and distributed. And I wrote nearly 1,150 of them during my 22 years as executive director. This was inconceivable to me when I first took it over from Dave Moore.

So will it continue? And are there still environmental problems and issues to write about?  The answer is yes and yes! While much progress has been made in protecting our state’s air, water and environment since the first column in 1969, enormous challenges remain.

A new leadership team of Alison Mitchell, Tom Gilbert and Jay Watson will take over as co-executive directors of New Jersey Conservation Foundation on January 1, and will continue to bring readers the latest information on a wide range of environmental topics. Expect to hear about these and other topics from the new team:

  • Climate change, and New Jersey’s efforts to help mitigate and avoid the worst impacts;
  • Invasive species, and why their spread is harmful to New Jersey’s native plants and animals;
  • Water quality and what is needed to protect it;
  • The status of New Jersey’s amazing native plants and animals;
  • Urban parks, greenways and recreational opportunities;
  • Equitable access to nature and a clean environment for all: nature in every neighborhood;
  • Links between environmental quality and human health;
  • Soil health and sustainable farming practices;
  • Urban gardens and healthy local food for all communities;
  • Long-term protection of New Jersey’s maturing deciduous forests and natural areas;
  • Successful projects to restore ecological health;
  • Individuals and groups making a difference in New Jersey’s environment and quality of life.

Plenty of additional issues and challenges will arise in the years ahead, and the need for solid and current information on New Jersey’s environment is as important as ever.

I am grateful for the wonderful team who works to put out this column every week. From suggesting timely topics, to writing initial drafts, to fact and message checking and eradicating extra words, to finally sending it off to the media, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation team makes it happen week after week. Thank you, team!

And thank you to the many newspapers and media outlets for running The State We’re In, and to the readers for reading it. I truly hope it made a difference and that it will continue to do so long into the future!

As always, reader feedback and suggestions for future columns are welcomed. You can be sure that the new leadership team wants to hear your opinions, and will take inspiration from the conservation stories and experiences you share. Contact Alison, Tom and Jay at, and to learn more about New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s land saving work, go to

About the Authors

Alison Mitchell

Co-Executive Director

John S. Watson, Jr.

Co-Executive Director

Tom Gilbert

Co-Executive Director, 2022-2023

Michele S. Byers

Executive Director, 1999-2021

View their full bios here.


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