NJ Conservation announces new leadership team to advance bold new strategic plan

Aug 31, 2021

FAR HILLS – For only the fourth time in 62 years, leadership of New Jersey Conservation Foundation is changing hands. The Board of Trustees of the nonprofit New Jersey Conservation Foundation has appointed a dynamic and innovative team of three co-directors to head the organization.

The newly appointed team includes Alison Mitchell, current assistant director and acting development director, Tom Gilbert, campaign director for climate, energy and natural resources, and John S. “Jay” Watson, director of statewide land protection and community relations.

Board President Dr. Rosina “Nina” Dixon said the board chose the shared leadership model to take full advantage of the deep talent and expertise already existing within the staff.

“We think this is the best model and approach for NJ Conservation Foundation’s future,” said Dixon. “Mitchell, Gilbert and Watson are all strong, experienced leaders with complementary skill sets,” Dixon noted. “Sharing executive responsibilities will allow the co-directors to draw on their areas of expertise to propel us forward on our visionary strategic plan.”

Michele Byers, who has worked at New Jersey Conservation Foundation since 1982 and served as executive director since 1999, is retiring at the end of the year.

“We have a strong team of senior staff at New Jersey Conservation Foundation right now,” said Byers. “I am thrilled with the board’s decision and confident that Alison, Tom and Jay will do an outstanding job running the New Jersey Conservation Foundation and advancing the organization’s mission into the future.”

Mitchell, Gilbert and Watson bring deep and broad experience in nonprofit management, environmental and energy policy, land conservation, urban parks and natural resource management. Their combined talents and expertise will advance the strategic plan goals to expand protection of key conservation lands, provide equitable access to high quality natural areas and parks in all communities, implement science-based land-use policy including natural solutions to climate change, and build a more diverse and engaged constituency for conservation.

Alison Mitchell currently serves as Assistant Director and Acting Director of Development at New Jersey Conservation Foundation, where she has worked for nearly 30 years. Before becoming Assistant Director, she served as the Policy Director for over a decade, advocating in Trenton and Washington for key environmental protections and funding for New Jersey lands and natural resources. Earlier in her career she led various land protection projects around the state, focused on protecting key natural resource areas and important farmland.

Tom Gilbert has served since 2015 as Campaign Director for Energy, Climate and Natural Resources and has led the statewide “Rethink Energy NJ” campaign to stop the unneeded PennEast pipeline and to advance landmark new clean energy and climate policies. Previously, he served as Senior Conservation Finance Director with the Trust for Public Land where he chaired the NJ Keep It Green Coalition and led successful campaigns to secure approval of a $400 million bond measure in 2009 and constitutional amendment in 2014 to fund state preservation programs. As Executive Director of the NY/NJ/PA/CT Highlands Coalition he led successful campaigns to pass federal and New Jersey state legislation to protect critical lands and waters in the Highlands region.

John S. Watson, Jr. (“Jay”) currently serves as Senior Director of Statewide Land Protection and Community Relations. Jay has been working to protect New Jersey’s landscape and environment for over 40 years. Prior to joining the nonprofit land conservancy community, Jay spent nearly 30 years in various roles in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection where he led the agency’s Green Acres Program and culminated his State service in 2010 as the Department’s Deputy Commissioner. Throughout his career, he has been an outspoken advocate for enhancing the environment and quality of life in the State’s urban areas and communities of color.

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By Michele S. Byers,
Executive Director