CHAPTER XIII. MISSION STATEMENT AND CONCLUSION
The TBS finds itself in a situation of crisis. Crises in our lives or in the lives of organizations are not necessarily all bad. They can be opportunities to take time and check our goals and our purposes to see if we are on the right road, the road we should be traversing.
Maybe the fact that we are being treated so badly is a sign that others do not see the society as very useful. Maybe we should use this situation as a time for new stock-taking to see afresh the role we should play in this increasingly specialized world.
The TBS finds itself in a difficult situation. The great specialization in botany has made for talks on smaller and more specialized topics with, consequently, smaller audiences interested in the narrow topics. Most of the talks presented by the TBS are just precursors to the articles soon being published. So why not just wait for the article to come out?
Without clear-cut, higher goals (than just career advancement), without a higher purpose of the Society, there are only small audiences for the narrow, specialized topics dealt with in the TBS speaker programs. TBS needs to define higher goals and attract speakers that can summarize larger scale trends and developments in fields of relevance to wider audiences in the New York metropolitan area. Talks should appeal to more than just a small specialized audience that is working on the same specialized topic as the speaker along with the friends, colleagues, and graduate students of the academic botanist speaker.
The talks need to be broader in focus, broad enough to attract many different target audiences, not just fellow academic specialists. And to borrow from an old 1960's phrase, the talks need to have "relevance" to broader problems and concerns.
We have to commit ourselves to the importance of having goals that can be worked toward as a group. Goals gives a common purpose. It is a uniting experience. A society without important goals that are beyond the self-interests of the members, is like a person without higher moral guidelines. They do not know where they are going.
Some may ask the question that if the Torrey Botanical Society is going through such tough times may be it is because local botanical societies are becoming obsolete. After all, to advance one's career, there are all the specialty journals and associations for that.
Why a local botanical society? Local botanical society are needed because of the very fact that they are local and can play a key role in the local botanical community, as well as the larger community in relation to local flora and other botanical information. The local society because it is local can encourage communication between botanists of like ideas to come together to discuss developments in their fields without spending a fortune in long-distance travel expenses.
A POSSIBLE COMMON GOAL
Where do we get common goals? They usually come from perceptions our most pressing problems and concerns. The most important thing that is currently happening in botany is the green-house effect. We are losing our local flora very quickly. The next 20 to 30 years should mark the end of our opportunity to really effect change. By that time most of the non-settled area will be settled with house and strip development with malls and shopping plazas.
Writing a history means having the chance to reflect on where the organization has been, where it is now, and where perhaps it should be going in the future.
And, if the local society takes on the role of documenting what is happening in its local parks and preserves, they play an important role beyond just that of advancing their own careers and science in general. Having projects that go beyond the narrow-self-interests of the botanical discipline itself is a way of performing social service.
We need to face the ongoing environmental changes summed up in the term the green-house effect and in doing so, this could give us a common unity of purpose. With the environmental crisis, even the present-day academic botanists will have to pay more attention to our local flora and its growing lack of biodiversity. On the other hand, amateur botanists will have to become more knowledgeable about the chemical effects of pollution and how to spot them in our local flora.
Frankly, the Torrey Botanical Society needs to take a more public role as regards the oncoming environmental crisis. They need to play more of a public leadership role. For, after all, if the Torrey botanists are not concerned about environmental pollution and destruction, why should or would the public be concerned about it?
Now we are not talking about becoming involved in environmental politics. TBS does not have to threaten its tax-exempt status by becoming too involved in movements to save this or that area. We already went through that stage with the Environmental Preservation Committee. But we have to use science to document what is happening to the flora in and around the New York City area.
The academic and the amateur field botanists have to become more concerned with environmental pollution and plant destruction. They need to work together to bring more public awareness of these problems to each other, to the opinion leaders, and to the larger public.
What is going to become more important is plant ecology and conservation, studying what plants we have and what plants we have lost, working with other environmental groups (including amateurs), and hundred of other endeavors that get short shrift today.
SUGGESTIONS FOR NEEDED CHANGES
We need to identify important goals around which the society can unite. This committee can help the Society identify these goals and define appropriate ways to achieve the goals.
The Mission Committee should look to see if they are getting the needed information and activity from the other committees and officers to insure that the club is accomplishing its goals. If problems are found, the Council should be informed of these problems. Committees that are no longer needed or have been virtually defunct should be either retooled or scrapped.
The TBS needs presidents who will take an active interest in the workings of all the different committees. The presidents need to ask the Committee Chairs at each Council Meeting what progress have they made or are making towards their goals. They should also make sure that the committees are getting the support necessary to accomplish the committees' goals.
1. Committee on Programming should have a data base of the faculty around the NYC metropolitan area. Besides the name there should be a tracking of what areas the faculty are interested in. The web is the place where this data should be stored and used.
2. Critical areas of widespread interest should be identified. TBS has to pay more attention to the field activity. They can every third year have a lecture series on a topic of interest to the larger botanical community outside of just the academic: landscapers, curators, conservationists, field botanist of both an amateur and academic standing, etc. Possible areas of interest include:
B. Microbotany (cellular level).
D. Ecology/Field Botany/Plant Restoration Projects/Urban Problems/Air Pollution, Green House Effect.
The size of the different audiences in these different areas should be estimated and then representatives from the different areas should be encourage to attend Torrey meetings and our presidents and other officers should be chosen from among these representatives.
3. Torrey should decide which of these areas are compatible with their own interests and goals. And then the TBS should try to provide support for these popular areas by devoting their annual meetings to the identified area. Faculty in key areas lecture should be contacted and encouraged to come to meetings and to give a lecture.
4. Future presidents of Torrey could come from these identified areas.
5. The web site can contain information on lecture series held by Torrey on these key areas with summaries of the findings.
As the environmental crisis grows, botanists will be forced to pay more attention to the loss of and the importance of our local flora. And the amateur botanists in the field will have to keep more detailed plant lists (and not throw out their "old" plant lists) when they retire (or leave it for someone else to throw out upon their death). We need more historical recordings of what we have lost and what we are losing presently. This would take more advantage of the information gathered by the field trip reports. We need to tell the story of places like Hook Mountain where so many of the trees and shrubs have died and black swallowwort (Vincetoxicum nigrum) is taking over the mountain.
1. The field committee should more effectively use the web to emphasize what plants are being lost in the various parks and preserves and this information needs to be spread to all, the public and the botanical community.
2. Notifications of problems can be sent to curators of parks and preserves.
3. Areas in danger can be focused on and made the target of field trips in order to increase awareness of environmental dangers.
4. More discussion of the green-house effect should be included on the Torrey Botanical Society website.
Karl Anderson suggested the following: I would think that the function of the field trips should perhaps include (a) documenting existing flora, (b) locating new populations of threatened and endangered species, c) locating outstanding examples of ecological communities that should be preserved, and (d) monitoring the condition of known populations of threatened and endangered species. The function of the field committee, then, should include notifying the appropriate authorities (State Heritage programs, park managers, Nature Conservancy, etc.) of their findings, i.e., if we do a trip to a state park or some such location, we should send a list to the park superintendent; if we find some rare species at a new location, we should notify the Heritage people (with appropriate documentation).
LOCAL FLORA AND VEGETATION COMMITTEE
The typical floras can and should be done. But the typical floras will not suffice for the oncoming crisis. It is not good enough to note that a species survives in a particular county of the larger metropolitan area when we know that the very same species has disappeared from countless parks and preserves in that county. Our specifications have to be more exact and this is exactly where the maintaining of plants lists comes in as so important. And it is exactly why the "amateur" field botanist is so important to the future of our environment.
A flora cannot tell us what is the state of a given park. It cannot tell you that at Hook Mountain there has been a major change in the area with black swallowwort taking over the mountain sides. It cannot tell you that at Silver Lake the off-road vehicles have created a virtual waste land out of a plateau in the area.
There has to be a certain amount of cooperation between the Local Flora and the Field Committees. LIBS has members of its local flora committee get together and construct atlases of where different plants are located and, obviously, reports of their field trips helps this project. The Torrey Botanical Society needs to do something similar. In fact, the Local Flora Committee could suggest to the Field Committee places to visit so that certain problematical species might be located or certain problematical areas be rechecked.
As we all know, there is currently an ongoing NYMF project that is documenting plant distribution. This is a good project, but it takes a different approach than the way the field work in Torrey is conducted. The NYMF project takes plots based on statistical theories of random distribution. Field trips do not use plots. We investigate known areas and go for the most botanically rich spots. These are not randomly selected. They are based on the knowledge of local botanical enthusiasts.
Since the field committee gathers information by parks and preserves, the Local Flora Committee should help gather part of the data for their floras from this Field data. These two Committees need to be on the same wave length rather than on opposite wave lengths. They need to work together.
We need help in putting on the historical information from our TBS files and from other sources so we can stress what we have and what we have lost for each park/preserve. In this regard, we need a few volunteer typists who will enter old plant list information into the computer and then e-mail that information to the webmaster so it can be placed in the appropriate places.
NEW COMMITTEE: LOCAL NATURE/CONSERVATION GROUP LIAISON
We and many others have a big meeting with NY-NJ Trail Conference, November 12, which is being co-sponsored by Dr. Joan Ehrenfeld of Rutgers that should be interesting. The state is asking the Trail people to have "scientific" proof that they are not destroying precious wildflower areas when they put in their trails. And most hikers couldn't tell you the difference between black cherry and black birch. So that presents us with a real opportunity to affect a very large group of people.
TBS should co-opt Dr. Ehrenfeld and make her Chair of Local Nature/Conservation Groups Liaison Committee. TBS is the only society that has the field botany connections to help them learn a little botany. We could offer to pay her transportation costs to the TBS meetings. It would seem a natural connection.
HISTORIAN AND RECORDING SECRETARY
Since around 1978 the archives of the TBS housed in the basement of the NYBG library have not received any additions to its materials. We need to get the historical materials to the library archives. We should ask the membership if they can help gather historical materials that they might have in their possession that TBS does not have.
TBS has to provide space in the archives for field materials: mainly plant lists and associated discussions of geology, history, directions, etc. Susan Fraser, the NYBG archivist, has explained that future storing of archival material should be accompanied with funds necessary to buy the acid-free storage materials and pay for an assistant to properly document the storage material. The possible cost could vary on how much material we have to store.
The historical plaque honoring John Torrey that was unveiled at the Torrey grave in Sterling, Long Hill Township, New Jersey should be placed in an appropriate place in Sterling, such as the court house or the town hall. Mary Lou Weller of Gillette, Long Hill Township, NJ can be of assistance in this endeavor.
The recording secretary needs to make sure the minutes of the meetings get into the Torrey Botanical Society archives.
The web is a very powerful tool. And its power will grow as it grows in size and use. It is definitely the wave of today and of the future.
Most of the botanical societies seem not to want to put plant list information on the web. They want to keep this information to themselves because "others" cannot be trusted -- they will pick the flowers. Well, one can always withhold certain flower information, so that is not an obstacle that would stop them. It is their ostrich-like thinking that stops them. We need to be monitoring the health of our parks and we never will be able to do this effectively if we take the attitude that we won't reveal our lists of plants.
Botanists and botanical administrators need to realize that every time a person with a computer uses a search engine to find out about local botany or other botanical subjects and an entry by the TBS comes up on the screen and the person sees this, this acts somewhat like an advertisement for the TBS. The current TBS website is nearing 6,000 hits and that is a lot of hits. As we put more and better information on the website, the number of hits should increase substantially. Through the website Torrey can establish an excellent reputation as the place to go for information on botany in the local area and as one of the best web sites for other areas also.
1. The Torrey Botanical Society has changed over time from a gemeinschaft situation to a gesellschaft situation, that is, from a unified group with clear and common goals to a fractured group with no clear and common goals except, in general, to encourage interest in botany. The TBS is a local society that was started to deal with local issues, namely the regional flora. But today the TBS cares little about the local flora, leaving that to the "amateur" field botanists along with a few academic field botanists. The only problem, however, is that no satisfactory goals have replaced the old goals and so the society is without overall goals.
2. The Torrey Botanical Society was primarily founded out of an interest in the local flora. Over time this interest has weakened, but other goals have not come to the fore to give the Society a sense of unified purpose.
3. Because of this, currently the Torrey Botanical Society finds itself in a rough situation. Hence, the reason for the history. Because the TBS traditionally has speakers on very narrow topics, the more business oriented NYBG administration probably figures much like the larger public that the botanical organization is not of much relevance to any goals in which they are particularly interested.
4. The Torrey Botanical Society was the founder of the NYBG. (Credit has been wrongly assigned to the Drs. Britton by the NYBG.) This has to be made widely known.
5. The herbarium of the Torrey Botanical Society was put in the care of the NYBG under the explicit conditions that its separate identity be maintained and that it be available for viewing by any and all members of the Torrey Botanical Society. The NYBG Board of Directors and the TBS may not have been aware of this agreement and integrated the TBS collection into the overall collection. The Society did not effectively protest this situation.
6. Once there was no separate TBS herbarium, the right to a separate Torrey Room given to TBS by NYBG at the time of the Society's 100th anniversary was effectively rescinded by the NYBG. The Society now has to meet in make-shift conditions in the herbarium area.
7. The TBS needs a clear mission statement that both gives the society effective goals and lets others know what the society is doing for the larger community. Then the Society needs to sit down with the NYBG Board of Managers and have a serious discussion of our grievances.
8. A mutual working relationship needs to be worked out with the NYBG. The Society can promote NYBG through its websites (by banners for instance), its field booklets, its lectures, etc., but NYBG should also promote interest in TBS.