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New Jersey Conservation Foundation Executive Director Michele Byers. (Photo: Michele Byers).

N.J. Conservation Foundation names three to replace Byers

By David Wildstein, September 01 2021 9:40 am

The non-profit New Jersey Conservation Foundation has named a three-person leadership team to replace Michele Byers, who is retiring as executive director after 22 years.

Alison Mitchell, Tom Gilbert and Jay Watson will serve as co-directors of the organization, which has only seen four leadership transitions since 1959.

“We think this is the best model and approach for NJ Conservation Foundation’s future,” said Rosina Nina Dixon, the president of the board of trustees. “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.”

Mitchell serves as assistant director and acting director of development.  She was the group’s policy director for more than ten years.  Gilbert has been the Energy, Climate and Natural Resources campaign director since 2015 and had previously worked at the Trust for Public Land.  Watson, the senior director of Statewide Land Protection and Community Relations, spent almost 30 years at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, where he ran the Green Acres program.  His late father, John S. Watson, Sr., had served as Assembly Appropriations Committee chairman, and his sister, Bonnie Watson Coleman, is a four-term congresswoman.

Byers’ departure means the loss of one of the state’s legendary conservation advocates.  She has worked at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation for 39 years.

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