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Northeast Wilderness Trust Receives Conservationist of the Year Award

The Wilderness Trust is honored to receive the Adirondack Council’s “Conservationist of the Year” award in recognition of our forever-wild conservation work across the Northeast. NEWT President and CEO Jon Leibowitz and members of the Wilderness Trust’s Board of Directors will officially accept the award at the Council’s “Forever Wild Day” at Heaven Hill Farm in Lake Placid, New York on Saturday, July 13.

The Adirondack Council’s full press release about the award follows.

29 May, 2024 

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. – The Adirondack Council will present its Conservationist of the Year Award to the Northeast Wilderness Trust for its efforts to permanently protect forests, reconnect wildlife habitat, and reestablish wilderness areas from Maine to the Adirondack Park.

The award will be presented at Heaven Hill Farm, in Lake Placid, during the Adirondack Council’s annual Forever Wild Day Celebration, on Saturday, July 13. The Council’s annual membership meeting will be held virtually on Wednesday, July 10 at 4pm.

“Celebrating the work of the Northeast Wilderness Trust during the Council’s Forever Wild Day underscores the unique nature of the Adirondack Park as an international conservation success story, blending public and private lands,” said Raul J. Aguirre, Executive Director of the Adirondack Council. “NEWT’s work across the Northern Forest allows for the permanent protection of sensitive ecological habitats on private lands and provides a conservation option that would otherwise be unavailable. In the Adirondacks, NEWT’s wilderness ethic nicely complements the Forever Wild nature of our globally significant wilderness areas and public lands.”

moriah landscape

Pictured: Split Rock Wildway by Jerry Monkman.

In New York, NEWT manages 18 preserves covering more than 10,000 acres, including the Split Rock Wildway and the Moriah Wilderness and Eagle Mountain Preserves. These wildlands provide a critical connection between the Champlain Valley and the High Peaks Wilderness Complex. NEWT also works in the St. Lawrence River Valley, where it is rewilding landscapes in partnership with local land trusts to create forever-wild habitat linkages between the Adirondack Park and the similarly sized Algonquin Park in southern Canada.

“Rewilding is all about reconnecting large, protected landscapes, so plants, animals, fish and fungi can adapt to rapid environmental changes as a result of climate change,” Aguirre said. “Rewilding in the Adirondacks has meant recovering from a period of timber overharvesting in the 19th and early 20th centuries that led to widespread droughts and wildfires. Both of those calamities are much less likely in the Adirondacks today than they were 100 years ago, because of New York’s rewilding efforts in the Park. NEWT is carrying that torch forward and beyond the Adirondacks.”

“The Council’s recognition of our conservation impact is a profound honor for Northeast Wilderness Trust,” said Jon Leibowitz, President and CEO of the Wilderness Trust. “The Adirondack Park is the world’s greatest modern example of rewilding and a source of enduring inspiration in our mission to protect the Northeast’s precious landscapes. We are delighted to accept this award, and to help uphold the promise that the Park will remain a bastion for wildlife, nature, and people into the future.”

During the celebration, the Council will also recognize the work of environmental and justice activist Benita Law-Diao. In addition to her more than 30-year career as a NYS Licensed Public Health Nutritionist/Dietitian, Benita has worked in the environmental space to increase access to and promote environmental stewardship of the Adirondacks and beyond. In 2022, Benita was appointed to the Adirondack Park Agency board where she has brought her state agency, recreation and environmental experience to issues that come before the Agency. She is also an Outdoor Afro Leader for Albany and Upstate NY, bringing people of all backgrounds to the Adirondacks for connection to nature, community and fun. Among her many other roles, Benita works with John Brown Lives!, Adirondack Experience, Eagle Island Camp, and is a Master Gardener.

“Benita has been bringing people, particularly young people and first-timers, to the Adirondacks to witness the wonder of this park for a long time,” said Aguirre. “She has been on the front lines of making nature and natural places accessible, relevant, and meaningful to people of all ages and instrumental in fostering the next generation of environmental leaders. Benita has dedicated her non-career life to environmental, sustainability, and justice efforts and has been a true ambassador for the Park and the values we all hold dear. We are honored to celebrate all that Benita has done and continues to do to make the Adirondack Park a symbol of what is best about our wild places.”

Other Conservationist of the Year Award winners include: In 2023, the Black, Hispanic, Latino and Asian Caucus of the NYS Legislature. Also, NY Governors Mario M. Cuomo and George E. Pataki; NYS Attorney General Dennis Vacco; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson; NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation Commissioners John P. Cahill, Erin Crotty and Joseph Martens; State Senator Carl Marcellino; Assemblymembers Richard Brodsky and Maurice Hinchey; Adirondack Park Agency Executive Director Robert Glennon; New York Times editor John Oakes; Adirondack environmental activists Timothy Barnett, Frances Beinecke, Peter Borrelli, Michael Carr, George Davis, Christopher “Kim” Elliman, John and Margot Ernst, Barbara L. Glaser, Harold Jerry, Jen Kretser, Bill McKibben, Chris Navitsky, David L. Newhouse, Peter Paine, Clarence Petty and Paul Schaefer.

Created in 1892, the Adirondack Park is one of the oldest and largest protected landscapes in the United States. It is a six-million-acre (9,300-square-mile) blend of public and private lands protecting on of the largest remaining temperate deciduous forest in the world. Within this single mountainous park are 11,000 lakes and ponds, and roughly 30,000 miles of rivers, brooks and streams that provide water to most of New York State.

It is the largest park of any kind in the contiguous United States.  It is larger than the combined areas of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and Grand Canyon National Parks.

Established in 1975, the Adirondack Council is a privately funded, not-for-profit environmental advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring the ecological integrity and wild character of the Adirondack Park. The Council carries out its mission through research, education, advocacy and legal action and envisions a Park with clean water and clean air, core wilderness areas, farms and working forests, and vibrant, diverse, welcoming, safe communities.

For more information: Justin Levine, Adirondack Council, 518-605-1591

About Northeast Wilderness Trust: Northeast Wilderness Trust conserves forever-wild landscapes for Nature and people and it envisions a landscape of connected, resilient wildlands shared by a human culture that recognizes the benefits of wild places. Northeast Wilderness Trust also champions wilderness in the public sphere. Across New England and New York, the Wilderness Trust secures wild places where Nature can thrive, wildlife can wander, and people can find beauty and quiet. Since its founding in 2002, Northeast Wilderness Trust has protected 81,372 forever-wild acres. Learn more at

Photography by Jerry Monkman / EcoPhotography.