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Highlands award named for Wilma Frey


New Jersey Conservation Foundation
Wilma Frey
A new award established by the New Jersey Highlands Coalition has been named for Wilma Frey, senior policy manager at New Jersey Conservation Foundation, in recognition of her longstanding work to preserve and protect the Highlands region.

The Coalition has established the "Wilma Frey New Jersey Highlands Volunteer Award," which will be presented for the first time at its annual meeting on Oct. 10.

"The award recognizes the extraordinary influence Wilma has had on protection and preservation of the New Jersey Highlands region, in part by inspiring, supporting and encouraging many peoples' volunteer time and efforts to achieve these goals," explained Julia Somers, the Coalition's executive director.

Frey, whose professional education was in landscape architecture, was hired by New Jersey Conservation Foundation in 1990 to staff regional protection projects, specifically developing coalition efforts to protect the Highlands region.

"I am extremely honored to have this award named for me, and I look forward to honoring with it dedicated volunteers who were instrumental in bringing about the successes we together have achieved," said Frey, a resident of Tewksbury Township in the Highlands.

Frey served as projects director for the Highlands Coalition, which was chaired and funded by New Jersey Conservation Foundation, for over 15 years. During that time, she often worked with passionate local volunteers to prevent inappropriate sprawl development from destroying forests and farmland in the region.

Substantial acreage and many critical parcels in the Highlands were preserved through the combined efforts of activists and land acquisition projects, including Sparta Mountain, Weldon Brook, Wildcat Ridge, Rockaway River, and Black River State Wildlife Management Areas, as well as other state, county, municipal and nonprofit land preservation projects.

The culmination of those successes, Frey said, was the passage in 2004 of the state's Highlands Water Protection and Planning Act and the federal Highlands Conservation Act, and the subsequent completion in 2008 and ongoing implementation of a comprehensive Highlands Regional Master Plan, by the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council.

"Today, however, the Highlands remain under threat," noted Frey. "We must continue to be vigilant, lest our successes be eroded. The potential of the Highlands Regional Master Plan to protect Highlands' communities and resources is in danger of not being fully realized as a result of possible Highlands Council and NJDEP actions. Likewise, the ability to continue to permanently preserve important forests and farmland is threatened because Green Acres funding has run out and needs to be renewed. Eternal vigilance and action are the price of protection."

Frey said that when she first moved to New Jersey in 1989, she was surprised by the beauty of the Highlands. "As I hiked, explored and photographed the area, I became totally committed to protecting its scenic beauty, its pastoral farmlands and historic assets, and most importantly - its critical forested lands that provide high quality water for our wells and reservoirs, habitat for wildlife and rare, threatened and endangered species of plants and animals, and carbon sequestration to help mitigate global warming. "

Frey was praised by her colleague, biologist Dr. Emile DeVito, for her dedication to preserving the Highlands. "Wilma has done so much incredible work in the last 23 years. Few people realize how painstaking her efforts have been, from reading through voluminous reports to find key arguments, to tracking down every conceivable lead, to organizing local groups to save pieces of critical land."

Frey earned masters degrees in Landscape Architecture and Public Administration, both from Harvard University, after study at Rhode Island School of Design and The University of Michigan.

Frey currently lives in Tewksbury Township near the quaint village of Mountainville, which she says "is more like New England than much of New England" - where she lived earlier. In New England, she served as chair of the regional five-state chapter of the Sierra Club and was involved in national forest management, land use and offshore oil drilling issues. Prior to moving to New Jersey, she resided for seven years in Washington, D.C., where she worked as a free-lance landscape architect, and environmental lobbyist and graphic map-maker for national conservation groups.

The New Jersey Highlands Region encompasses 860,000 acres - about 17 percent of the state - located in parts of seven counties: Bergen, Passaic, Morris, Sussex, Warren, Hunterdon and Somerset. The Highlands supplies drinking water to nearly two-thirds of New Jersey's population in 16 counties.

New Jersey Conservation Foundation is a private non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve land and natural resources throughout New Jersey for the benefit of all. Since its inception, the Foundation has protected more than 120,000 acres of open space, farmland and parks. For more information about New Jersey Conservation Foundation and its programs and preserves, visit or call 1-888-LANDSAVE (1-888-526-3728).

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