NJ Conservation’s Jay Watson Launches ‘Conservationist of Color Playbook’

Jun 15, 2023

HAMILTON, NJ — Nature is supposed to be a “great equalizer” whose benefits — including parks, green spaces, biodiversity, clean water and fresh air — are free and equally available to all. However, studies show that people of color have less access to parks and open spaces, less exposure to and knowledge of nature and wildlife, and are less likely to seek jobs in the field of conservation.

This week, New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s (NJ Conservation) Co-Executive Director Jay Watson launched the ‘Conservationist of Color Playbook,’ a new resource to help remedy inequalities by engaging people of color more in outdoor, environmental, and natural resource protection issues.

“The goal of the Playbook is to expose people of color to places to enjoy in nature, as well as provide them with access to professionals, learning opportunities, and job paths in the environmental and natural resource protection fields,” explained Watson, who has spent more than four decades in the conservation field.

The Playbook, which is available in print, will be distributed to individuals, environmental educators and organizations that request it. A digital version is available on the NJ Conservation website at

Developed with experts over the course of three years, the Playbook includes chapters on urban forestry, birding, climate change, urban agriculture, air pollution, and stormwater management / green infrastructure. It provides strategies for creating unique learning experiences — in a fun and captivating way — about environmental issues that affect physical and mental health, quality of life and community.

A 2020 report issued by the Center for American Progress, The Nature Gap, documented the disparities in the way American society distributes nature’s benefits. The report showed that while changes in public policy is critical to increased access to nature for people of color, engagement and education may be even better tools.

In authoring the Playbook, Watson said he aimed to find the right formula to diversify the makeup of those employed as environmental and conservation professionals, those who benefit from a clean green environment, and those who enjoy parks and open spaces. The Playbook contains ideas for doing exactly that.

“This Playbook provides a game plan for incorporating ways to inform policy, address environmental justice issues, and engage the next generation of environmental stewards from communities of color,” said Watson.

“As a result of historic systemic discrimination in housing, policy, and agriculture, communities of color continue to be disproportionately impacted by environmental burdens,” Watson noted.

“Just look at the effects of the recent wildfires in Canada, which exacerbated air pollution already existing in these communities that are largely based in urban areas of the U.S.,” he added. “These areas not only have an overabundance of air pollution, toxic waste, and contamination, but many are also lacking nature.”

Watson thanked the experts who contributed to the Playbook. “We are fortunate that so many incredible, talented natural resource professionals agreed to contribute to this effort in the form of technical guidance and content development,” he said. “The Playbook is written in a no nonsense, approachable way and serves as a primer for many of the topline issues conservation organizations are working on every day.”

NJ Conservation and the Mary Owen Borden Foundation provided funding for the publication. The Playbook can be viewed in full here:

About New Jersey Conservation Foundation

New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, statewide organization devoted to preserving land and protecting nature throughout New Jersey’s rural, suburban, and urban landscapes for the benefit of all. Since 1960, we have preserved more than 140,000 acres of open space, farmland, and parks. We also manage 17 nature preserves, conduct public outreach and education programs, and advocate for sensible land use and climate policies that will protect the health of New Jersey communities for generations to come. For more information, visit or email

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