By Michele S. Byers
During my years at New Jersey Conservation, I made the Garden State my home and learned to love it like a native. I have been to almost every corner from High Point to the tip of Cape May saw a lot of change and learned a lot about this state.
I ended up in New Jersey by chance. Growing up in a military family, I have lived in many places: Texas, Oklahoma, Germany, Colorado, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and New Jersey.
The outdoors, nature, geology, natural landscapes and animals have always been my passion in each of these places, but it never occurred to me that I would find the career of my life in the New Jersey.
After college, I landed a job in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey leading nature trips for schoolchildren and writing a recycling curriculum for college.
I joined the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions to advocate for the preservation of the Pine Barrens. This led me to my first job with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, starting in 1982, and subsequently being promoted to Executive Director in 1999.
The State We’re In column was created in 1969 by my predecessor, Dave Moore, as a way to keep New Jersey people informed about environmental issues: preserving open spaces, clean water, clean air, parks. , agriculture, nature, wildlife, health, land use planning, government policies, agricultural practices, outdoor recreation and local environmental heroes, to name a few- a few.
Offered free to newspapers and media outlets statewide, as well as members of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, The State We’re In is New Jersey’s longest-running environmental column.
Since 1969, more than 2,700 columns have been written and distributed. And I’ve written almost 1,150 in my 22 years as Executive Director. It was inconceivable to me when I first picked it up from Dave Moore.
So will it continue? And are there still environmental issues 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 consisting of Alison Mitchell, Tom Gilbert and Jay Watson will take over as co-executive directors of the 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 more topics from the new team:
â¢ Climate change and New Jersey’s efforts to help mitigate and avoid the worst impacts;
â¢ Invasive species, and why their spread is harmful to native New Jersey plants and animals;
â¢ The quality of the water and what is needed to protect it;
â¢ The status of the incredible native plants and animals of New Jersey;
â¢ Urban parks, greenways and recreational opportunities;
â¢ Equitable access to nature and a healthy environment for all: nature in every neighborhood;
â¢ Links between environmental quality and human health;
â¢ Soil health and sustainable agricultural practices;
â¢ Urban gardens and healthy and local food for all communities;
â¢ Successful projects to restore ecological health;
â¢ Individuals and groups who are making a difference in the New Jersey environment and quality of life.
Many more issues and challenges will arise in the years to come, and the need for solid and current information about the New Jersey environment is more important than ever.
I am grateful to the wonderful team who are working to publish this column every week. From suggesting timely topics, to writing first drafts, checking facts, verifying messages and eradicating extra words, to final sending to the media, the team at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation achieves it week after week. Thanks, the team.
And thank you to the many newspapers and media for running The State We’re In, and to the readers for reading it. I really hope it made a difference and that he will continue to do so for a long time to come.
As always, reader comments and suggestions for future columns are welcome. You can be sure that the new leadership team wants to hear your opinions and will be inspired by the conservation stories and experiences you share.
Michele S. Byers retired from her position as Executive Director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation on January 1. She will be replaced by a team of three co-executive directors – Alison Mitchell, Tom Gilbert and Jay Watson.