Van Cortlandt Park, Bronx


The Natural Areas Conservancy is a champion of NYC’s 20,000 acres of forests and wetlands for the benefit and enjoyment of all. Our team of scientists and experts promote nature’s diversity and resilience across the five boroughs, working in close partnership with the City of New York.

Our work makes the city a healthier and more vibrant place to live and thrive.


  • Sarah

    Executive Director and Co-founder

    Bio & Contact

    Sarah Charlop-Powers draws on her background in land use planning, economics, and environmental management in her work. While working as a planner at Jonathan Rose Companies, she was the lead project manager for the creation of a new management entity for the South Bronx Greenway, where she focused on the creation of local revenue streams.

    Sarah worked for seven years as the parks manager for Scenic Hudson, managing 15 parks, and has also worked as a consultant for NYSERDA, the NYC DOT, and the Mohonk Preserve.

    Sarah’s favorite thing to do in nature is listen, and she loves seeing trillium and trout lily in the spring.

  • Bram Gunther

    Senior Advisor & Co-founder

    Bio & Contact

    Bram Gunther also serves as the Director of the Urban Field Station, a joint research facility of the NYC Parks, the Natural Areas Conservancy, and the U.S. Forest Service.  Until fall 2015, he was Chief of Forestry, Horticulture, and Natural Resources for NYC Parks.

    He joined the agency in 1991 as an Urban Park Ranger and he eventually served as the program’s Citywide Director. In 2012, he co-founded the Natural Areas Conservancy.

    Bram has a bachelor’s degree in American literature from SUNY Purchase and a master’s degree in environmental management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

  • Hunter Armstrong

    Deputy Director of Development and Communications

    Bio & Contact

    Hunter Armstrong oversees fundraising and partnership development. Previously, he was the executive director of CIVITAS, a community-based planning advocacy organization in Manhattan. He has a MS in urban and environmental planning from the University of Virginia. His favorite New York City natural areas are found in the deep forests and along the rocky coasts of Hunter Island (of course!) in Pelham Bay Park.

  • Justin Bowers

    Project Manager

    Bio & Contact

    Justin Bowers is currently focused on a trail restoration and habitat improvement project in Brooklyn’s Marine Park. Justin has over 8 years of experience working on ecological restoration projects and spatial analysis throughout NYC. Justin holds an MEM in Ecosystem Science and Conservation from Duke University and a BA in Human Ecology from the College of the Atlantic. Justin’s favorite natural area is Inwood Hill Park.

  • Gabe Cummings

    Citywide Trails Project Coordinator

    Bio & Contact

    Gabriel V. Cummings's work at the Natural Areas Conservancy focuses on implementing trail projects that encourage community use in NYC through volunteer engagement and partnership development. Previously, Gabriel managed students in Hurricane Sandy resiliency projects at Gateway National Recreation Area. He earned a B.S. double major in Environmental Policy & Economics at Rutgers University. He spends his weekends biking on the Hudson River Greenway.

  • Helen Forgione

    Senior Ecologist

    Bio & Contact

    Helen Forgione guides the creation and establishment of the citywide assessment of NYC’s natural areas. Helen has over 25 years of experience working in ecology in the NYC metropolitan region, and holds a MS in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Rutgers University and a BS in Biology from the University of Connecticut. Helen “loses it” when she sees Pyrola Americana, the American Wintergreen, an herbaceous plant that was once a rare sight, but is now abundant in our forests.

  • Leila Mougoui Bakhtiari

    Natural Areas Program Manager

    Bio & Contact

    Leila Mougoui Bakhtiari is an urban ecologist currently working with the Natural Areas Conservancy in New York City. She received a B.S. in Environmental Studies with a concentration on urban ecosystems from The New School. Her work focuses on urban forest health studies, restoration and conservation efforts in NYC natural areas. She is also the co-chair of the urban forestry committee with Gowanus Canal Conservancy. A true forest analyst by nature, Leila’s favorite outdoor activity is to count trees.

  • Shonet Newton

    Associate Director of Institutional Giving and Administration

    Bio & Contact

    Shonet Newton has a background in nonprofit fundraising, event coordination, public engagement, and working with young adults. She graduated from the State University of New York at New Paltz with an M.A. in English. Shonet’s favorite nature activity is to hike and explore new places within NYC. Shonet’s favorite natural area is a tie between Pelham Bay Park and Inwood Hill Park.

  • Josh Otero

    Trails Associate

    Bio & Contact

    Josh Otero coordinates and works on trails projects in NYC natural areas with conservation partners and community stewards. Josh has worked as a caseworker, teacher, and environmental conservationist with a variety of non-profit, community, and governmental organizations. He frequently gets involved with community projects in the tri-state area. Josh received a B.A. in English at SUNY New Paltz. One of his favorite activities is creating and performing music.

  • Sophie Plitt

    National Partnerships Manager

    Bio & Contact

    Sophie Plitt works to engage national partners in a workshop to improve the management of urban forested natural areas. Sophie has worked with the NYC Parks Department, New York Restoration Project, TreeKIT and the New York Tree Trust planning and implementing green infrastructure projects with the goal of deepening human-nature connections in cities. She holds a B.A. in environmental studies and urban ecosystems from The New School and is pursuing an M.S. in Social-Ecological Resilience Research at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.

  • Clara Pregitzer

    Conservation Scientist

    Bio & Contact

    Clara Pregitzer led the Forest Assessment component of the Natural Areas Conservancy Ecological Assessment for NYC parkland and the development of the Forest Management Framework. She previously worked with NYC Parks’s Natural Resources Group (NRG) conducting ecological assessments in over 1,500 acres of New York City parks. She holds a B.S. in Forestry from Northern Arizona University, a M.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Tennessee and is pursuing a PhD at Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She is currently working on understanding conservation goals and management strategies for urban forested natural areas in NYC and across the U.S.

Work With Us

Paerdegat Basin Ecology Park Docent

If you are interested in volunteering or attending one of our events, sign up for our mailing list, or Get Involved.

Board of Directors

Chair: Adrian Benepe, Trust for Public Land
Secretary: Sarah R. Moros, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
Treasurer: Stacy Sonnenberg, Goldman Sachs

Karen Brown, New York Times
Marcia Bystryn
Ross Haberman, RLH Investments
Max Joel, NYS Energy Research and Development Authority
David Langer, Latham and Watkins
Clare Peeters, Parkson Corporation
Miles Pincus, Summer Ops
Julia Robbins, New York City Department of Records and Information Services
KC Sahl, Ecology & Environment
Eric Sanderson, Wildlife Conservation Society
Shika Saraf, Hudson Advisors/Lone Star
Mitchell Silver, Commissioner of NYC Parks, ex officio
Omar Slowe, Harpia Asset Management
Andrew Wallach, Spring Owl Asset Management
Ted Wolff, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips


We are grateful to our funders.
Association for a Better New York Foundation
Altman Foundation
BAND Foundation
Booth Ferris Foundation
City College of New York
Con Edison
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Environmental Protection Agency
Fund for the City of New York
Goldman Sachs
Hudson River Foundation
Ittleson Foundation
J.M. Kaplan Fund
Jamaica Bay-Rockaway Parks Conservancy
Janet and Arthur Ross Foundation
John Strang Trust
Leon Levy Foundation
Leon Lowenstein Foundation
Madison Square Garden
National Fish & Wildlife Foundation
New York City Council
New York Community Trust
NYS Department of Environmental Conservation
Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation
Robert Wilson Charitable Trust
Rocking the Boat
Rutgers University
Sidney J Weinberg Jr. Foundation
The JPB Foundation
The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust
The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City
The Nature Conservancy
Tiffany & Co. Foundation
United States Department of the Interior