N.J. Conservation Foundation announces three new co-leaders

Three co-directors — Alison Mitchell, Tom Gilbert and Jay Watson — have been chosen to lead the nonprofit New Jersey Conservation Foundation, its board announced this week.

The three will replace Michele Byers, who is retiring after a nearly 40-year career with the organization. Byers has been executive director since 1999.

Board President 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 N.J. Conservation Foundation’s future,” Dixon said. “Mitchell, Gilbert and Watson are all strong, experienced leaders with complementary skill sets.

“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, Gilbert and Watson bring deep and broad experience in nonprofit management, environmental and energy policy, land conservation, urban parks and natural resource management, she said.

Their combined expertise is expected to 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.

Mitchell is the current assistant director and acting development director. Gilbert is the campaign director for climate, energy and natural resources. And Watson serves as the director of statewide land protection and community relations.

Byers said she is pleased by the succession plan.

“We have a strong team of senior staff at New Jersey Conservation Foundation right now,” she said. “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.”