Restore Science to Brooklyn Botanic Garden
On Wednesday, August 21, 2013, Vice Presidents of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) notified four staff that they had been fired. The position of Director of Greenbridge, BBG’s community outreach program, was eliminated. Also eliminated were the last three research and science positions at BBG: Curator of the Herbarium, Herbarium Supervisor, and Manager of the New York Metropolitan Flora Project (NYMF). One Herbarium Technician and one part-time Herbarium Assistant, neither of which is a research position, were transferred to the Horticulture Department.
This latest round of layoffs eliminates the last vestige of support for research and science at BBG. Claims from BBG’s administration that this merely presages the “re-envisioning” of their science programs defy credibility. The current crisis is not a singular event. It's the just the most-recent expression of a pattern of decisions by which BBG has eroded its science staff, programs and activities to nothing, in violation of its mission.
The current administration was established in 2005. At every opportunity they have placed science and research last in priority. Science staff and the programs themselves have been demoted in BBG’s corporate hierarchy. No new science positions have been created. No one has been hired to fill science positions as they’ve been vacated.
Within its first two years, BBG's current administration transferred the Publications group from Science to Marketing. They demoted the Vice President of Science to Director of Science; even that diminished position no longer exists. In 2005, BBG had eight science Ph Ds on staff. Today it has none. The sole researcher BBG has claimed to have on staff is not paid by BBG, and no longer works there.
During the same period, BBG has created, expanded or maintained several senior and upper management positions in the areas of fundraising, development, communications, and marketing. BBG has completed three major infrastructure projects: the new Edibles Garden, the Visitor Center, and the Native Flora Garden expansion. A fourth project is already underway to overhaul the Children’s Garden area at the southern end of the Garden.
BBG has raised tens of millions of dollars of funding for these projects. But nothing for science.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s Herbarium (BKL) is an important resource to plant scientists worldwide. BKL contains many important historical plant collections, including the Whitney South Seas Expedition, the Mulford Expedition to the upper Amazon, the Camillo Schneider Cultivated Plants Collection, the Hall and Harbor Western US Expedition, and the Nicholas Pike Mauritian Ferns, among others.
Closer to home, BKL includes records of local flora dating back to the 1700s, a history of native and invasive plants critical to conservation efforts, plant identification, and understanding of the natural history – and future – of the region. Recent collections from the New York Metropolitan Flora Project, the New Jersey watersheds and preserves, the New Jersey Pine Barrens, the New Jersey Moss Flora as well as the Catskill Mountains have added over 50,000 specimens.
Many government agencies and scientific institutions depend on the data collected by BBG scientists, including the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (NYCDEP), the Greenbelt Native Plant Center (GNPC), the New York Flora Association (NYFA), the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP), the Long Island Native Plant Initiative (LINPI), the Long Island Botanical Society (LIBS), the New Jersey Natural Heritage Program (NJNHP), the New Jersey Department of Environmental Conservation (NJDEP), and others. BBG scientists, their collections, and their collaborations with all these agencies and organizations are the basis for ongoing and current understanding of the complex interactions of climate change, invasive species, habitat loss, widespread extirpation and extinction, and their impacts on the environment and ecology of the tri-state region.
Elimination of BBG’s science staff, program, and activities is a huge setback for all of these efforts.
We call upon the Board of Trustees of the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to:
Reinstate Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s field work, herbarium and library access, and the scientists needed to support these programs and services.
Restore science as a priority, as required by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s mission: “Engaging in research in plant sciences to expand human knowledge of plants, and disseminating the results to science professionals and the general public.”
Include Brooklyn, its neighborhoods, and scientific communities – the public for which Brooklyn Botanic Garden was founded, and is funded, to serve – in all decisions affecting its research and education programs and activities.