Chapter X. THE CLEMANTS ERA
For a long period of time, TBS had been a virtual dictatorship led by Dominick Basile. In the late 1990s, however, Dr. Basile began to lose interest in active involvement in TBS. This was welcomed by a new set of those interested in leading TBS. And chief among these was Dr. Steven Clemants.
In 1997 Steven Clemants of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden was president of the TBS. Dr. Steven E. Clemants was born on 22 July 1954 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He attended the University of Minnesota (B.S. 1976, M.S. 1979) and the City University of New York/New York Botanical Garden joint Plant Systematics program (M.Ph. 1983, Ph.D. 1984). He served as the New York Natural Heritage Program Botanist from 1985 to 1989. During his tenure with this program he developed, the botanical component of the Natural Heritage Database; surveyed New York for rare plants; worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service on recovery plans and status reports for federally endangered and threatened species; and worked with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to write the endangered and threatened species regulations for New York.
Since 1989 Dr. Clemants has been on the staff of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden serving as Taxonomist, Coordinator of the Metropolitan Flora Project and Director of Science. He is former Chair of the New York Flora Association, former President of the Torrey Botanical Society, and former Vice President of the Long Island Botanical Society. Currently he is Chair of the Local Flora and Vegetation Committee for the Torrey Botanical Society and the Long Island Botanical Society, a council member of the New York Flora Association and a board member of the Black Rock Forest Consortium, the Metro Forest Council, the NYS Forest Practices Board (Region 2) and the NY Soil and Water Conservation Technical Committee.
Dr. Clemants has contributed treatments of the Juncaceae and the Chenopodiaceae and Amaranthaceae for the Flora of New York State, a treatment of Juncus for the flora of Minnesota and Juncus for the Flora of North America. Currently, he is preparing treatments of Chenopodium and several genera of Amaranthaceae for the Flora of North America, Chenopodiaceae and Amaranthaceae for the Flora of Japan and Juncus for the Flora of China. Other research interests include the systematics of Juncus and Chenopodium throughout the world.
The new Torrey Botanical Society constitution set the Presidential term as two years and the first president under this new constitution was Dr. Scott Mori from NYBG. He was president in 1999 and 2000. Dr. Mori earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1974. He worked at the Institute of Systemic Botany at NYBG. He later became the Director of the Institute of Systematic Botany and Nathaniel Lord Britton Curator of Botany at NYBG. He has spent countless hours perched in the tops of flowering Brazil nut trees documenting their pollination and figuring out how pollinators have custom-designed the unique Brazil nut flowers.
Scott Mori has studied flowering plants in Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, Peru, and Brazil. He is particularly interested in the co-evolution between plants and their pollinators and seed dispersers. For this research he performs taxonomic studies on the Brazil nut (Lecythidaceae) family. In addition to this work, Dr. Mori has performed studies where he selected geographic areas of high species diversity in the Lecythidaceae for a detailed study of ecological relationships. The results of this work have given him a better understanding of the evolution of the family, as well as allowing him to make recommendations for the conservation of lowland, neotropical trees. Dr. Mori is preparing a vascular plant flora of Central French Guiana. Thus far, he has collected 2,035 species, 67 of which are new to science.
Dr. Mary Leck's new constitution slowly forced out the traditional supporters of the Basile dictatorship as their terms ran out. However and unfortunately, an unintended consequence was that once Basile's people were gone, they were replaced by Clemant's people. Slowly one dictatorship was replaced by another dictatorship. The wife of the new president, Dr. Scott Mori, was working as a photographer for Dr. Clemants on a book on the botany of northeast North America. Clemants stayed on the TBS Council by first serving as past president, and then, rather than bowing out, took the seemingly insignificant post of Corresponding Secretary. This gave him the right to stay in the Council. In addition, the new Recording Secretary for TBS was the personal, private secretary of Clemants. And, later, when Clemants resigned the position as local flora chair, his replacement was a graduate student doing her dissertation under his mentorship.
By rotating the officer positions, Clemants can always continue to be on the TBS Council and to rule it more or less from "behind the scenes."
FIELD COMMITTEE CHAIR PATRICK L. COONEY
The idea that BBG would be the final say on local flora was fine as long as no one really cared about TBS wanting to do anything about local flora. This, however, changed with the coming of Dr. Patrick L. Cooney as chair of the Field Committee.
The good ideas and great hopes that came out of the December 8, 1988 conference on Matters of Interest to New York City Area Field Botanists did not really come to fruition. Although many of the ideas were good, there were very few who volunteered to do the actual work to make the suggestions come true. (This would start to change with the coming of new technology, namely the Internet.)
The increasing demands on field chair Karl Anderson's time caused by the expansion of New Jersey Audubon's travel program made it difficult for him to keep in touch with the New York City area field trip leaders and participants. So he handed it over to Dr. Patrick L. Cooney.
Dr. Cooney was a sociologist by training and his ideas in the prophetic tradition of the Reverend Vernon Johns (father of the Civil Rights Movement in America) got him into the Who's Who of America. He had taken up field botany as a hobby when his wife told him she was tired of visiting historical places and wanted to go on hikes or visit botanical gardens such as the New York Botanical Garden. Cooney wanted to know the names of the plants, which his wife could not supply. To help him remember the names of the plants, Cooney started keeping extensive plants lists. So, he started learning the names of the plants. From this modest beginning he started his acquisition of botanical knowledge. He was also a docent for the New York Botanical Garden. On many a Saturday the NYBG would lead trips for $5 dollars a trip. Some of the trip leaders, such as Sylvia Stein and Dr. Edward Frankel, would hand out TBC booklets. Cooney went to a few of these trips, but his trip mates usually did not want to stay so long and wanted to leave soon after lunch. When his Saturday group broke up he started going to more and more of the TBC field trips. Soon he was coming to virtually every TBC field trip.
The next step was that he started to lead trips in 1993, the first couple to Cranberry Lake in Westchester County. The following year, 1994, he was on the Field Committee. In 1994 Karl Anderson asked Cooney if he wanted to be the field chairman for 1996. Karl said he would prepare the trip schedule for 1995, but Cooney would handle the trip reports for that year. And then in 1996 Cooney became Chair of the Field Committee.
Soon after Dr. Cooney became field chairman, he learned about the web and its power to put unlimited information into the hands of anyone with access to a computer. So he started putting his plant lists on the computer as well as the trip schedule and the field trip descriptions. This soon blossomed into a vast number of plant lists for virtually every important park or preserve in the metropolitan area covered by TBS.
The great expanse of the TBS website, especially in matters dealing with local flora in our natural areas and parks, eventually created two "competing" local flora projects: TBS and BBG.
It may have been that when Steve Clemants asked TBS if they had any plans for expansion in the local flora area and they said no, they obviously could not have known about the oncoming power of the web and a new pushy TBS field chair that wanted to do something with the local flora. The TBS web site approach with its very public data versus the BBG data base approach with its rather inaccesssible data were very different, but the expansion of the TBS website created a conflict of interest between TBS and the New York Metropolitan Flora project headquartered with BBG and Steve Clemants. Since the approaches of the TBS field section and the TBS local flora section were so different, there was no cooperation on the part of the TBS local flora section. This created a problem for the prospects of the mission statement.
Real animosity developed on the part of Clemants toward Cooney at a conference held at BBG to discuss the New York Metropolitan Flora project. While almost everyone else made flattering remarks about the project, Cooney said that in his role as a field leader he could not really use the metropolitan project. He explained that to be useful in the field the data should be organized by parks and preserves not by randomly selected areas throughout the metropolitan area, many of which in the next twenty years would be built upon or asphalted over. Clemants told Dr. Eric Lamont that Cooney had made him (Clemants) look like a fool and that he held a personal animus towards Cooney.
When Dr. Scott Mori became president of TBS he asked if Dr. Cooney could put information on the entire club onto the website. And this is how Cooney became the webmaster in addition to his duties as the Field Chair.
Writing in a prophetic tradition, Cooney was obviously practiced in critically analyzing institutions and he quickly became desirous of reinvigorating the TBS. This desire really increased when he scouted out a possible field trip site at Pine Swamp in Harriman State Park. Hiking to the top of one of the mountains he noticed the tree devastation of the area -- the trees were virtually all dead. This started him wondering about what was happening, but it stayed in the back of his mind. Then in a year 2000 trip to Hook Mountain with Nancy Slowik as leader everyone in the group who had made the regular trips to this mountain noticed the death of many of not only the trees, but also the shrubs, and the consequent massive take over of the area of the black swallowwort plant (Vincetoxicum nigrum, Asclepiadaceae). These two events then served to wake Cooney up to the realization that the TBS has to take a more active interest in the problems of pollution and conservation. He then started doing more readings in the area of pollution and started becoming more active in ways to help conservation efforts.
At about the same time others were becoming increasingly aware of the need for conservation. The state informed the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference that they could no longer willy-nilly put in trails on public lands without doing some type of environmental study to make sure no precious habitats were being disturbed. The Trail Conference then had to reach out to other groups to help them because they simply did not have the botanical expertise and it was very expensive to hire botanists who charge large fees for these studies. So the Trail Conference reached out to various experts in the area including TBS and Cooney in particular as head of the field section. It was hoped by Cooney that this was the start of a new area of greater cooperation of environmental groups in the area to increase concern over the many environmental problems in our area.
At the last meeting in the spring season of 2000 several botanists expressed dissatisfaction with the NYBG administration's treatment of the Society and expressed the desire to have more information on the TBS and especially its problem areas with the administration. They needed some type of ammunition to just stand up for their organization. They asked for a volunteer to search the TBS files for information about the relationship between the TBS and the administration. Cooney literally jumped at the chance to provide the information. But Cooney looked way beyond just this one problem of the organization to a study of its entire history. Cooney, like most of our field botanists associated with the field section, were very unhappy with the Society and Cooney took the opportunity to look into TBS history as a chance to make a difference in the Society. While doing the history, the NYBG archivist Susan Frazer told him about the importance of mission statements for clubs. And so Cooney not only wrote a brief history of the TBS but use the insights from the history and his own experiences with the Society to write a mission statement.