More than a thousand sign petition protesting firings
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
More than a thousand people have signed a petition protesting the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s elimination of “the last vestige of support for research and science” at the garden after its latest round of firings.
On August 21, BBG suspended its science program and eliminated the last three research and science positions at BBG: Curator of the Herbarium, Herbarium Supervisor, and Manager of the New York Metropolitan Flora Project. BBG also eliminated the Director of Greenbridge, BBG’s community outreach program.
Claims from BBG’s administration that this merely presages the “re-envisioning” of their science programs defy credibility, according to Chris Kreussling, aka the “Flatbush Gardener,” who posted the petition on Change.org.
“BBG has eroded its science staff, programs and activities to nothing, in violation of its mission,” he wrote.
Kreussling says that while BBG has spent millions on a fancy new Visitor Center, several gardens and an overhaul of the Children's Corner, it has virtually eliminated its scientific mission: “Engaging in research in plant sciences to expand human knowledge of plants, and disseminating the results to science professionals and the general public.”
BBG’s Herbarium, with its records of local flora dating back to the 1700s, is crucial to plant research nationwide. Government agencies and scientific institutions use the data, including the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the city Department of Environmental Protection, the Greenbelt Native Plant Center, the Long Island Native Plant Initiative and many others.
BBG spokesperson Kathryn Glass told the Brooklyn Eagle on Wednesday that the elimination of science from the garden is only temporary. “Scientific research remains fundamental to Brooklyn Botanic Garden's mission, and will have a strong role in the future here,” she said.
“The Garden will use this hiatus –- the result of a convergence of a financial shortfall, an engineering problem at our off-site science building, and the absence of our director of science who is on loan for a fellowship –- to regroup and carefully develop a new focus for scientific research.
“Attrition in science and in other departments helped BBG to weather the downturn in the economy without compromising its beauty, safety or accessibility to the public,” she added.
Glass said it’s not true, as the petition states, that the garden was hiring marketing and communications staff while firing researchers. “In fact both those areas were downsized in the recession,” she said. “It is true that we've added two short-term campaign fundraising positions during this period of historic growth and change at the Garden,” however.
All of the new capital projects are “part of the Garden's capital campaign -- an effort that was borne of a master site plan developed in 1999 with the Garden's Board and staff to strengthen the garden's infrastructure,” she said. The projects added irrigation, electricity and more sustainable practices such as water conservation.
“The plan also improves the Garden’s entrances and amenities, and develops four new acres of underused space to better serve the public in its second century of service,” she said.
Glass says BBG is "actively engaged in developing the plan for a science research program. There's a total commitment on the part of our Board and our President to bringing a science program back to BBG." The garden “is now focused on envisioning a relaunched research program with a sustainable source of funding to ensure its stability and lasting impact," she said.
“Building a new science building is part of BBG's master plan, too; and that is the project that we are now turning to, in part because of an accelerated problem with the current building's foundation.”
Jessica Gurevitch, an ecology professor at Stony Brook University, worries that once dismantled, BBG’s respected research program can’t be put back together the way it was.
“The accomplished researchers had been working a long time on various projects of great scientific importance, and they’re not easily replaceable,” she told the Eagle. “These were people with long-standing expertise, with ongoing research projects of great interest to the scientific community and the public as well. You can’t just plug someone else into it and they’ll be up and running. That’s not how science works.
“They’ve also interrupted access to the bulk of that research for people who rely on it, from academic researchers to people involved with state and local government and people interested in gardening,” she said. “This is drastic stuff.”
Glass said that BBG has “accepted a very generous offer from the New York Botanical Garden to assist BBG in ensuring that [the Herbarium] is safe and accessible while we plan to move it into temporary quarters. BBG's library resources remain accessible to users.”
While Gurevitch was relieved that the collection would be preserved, she said it was “kind of embarrassing” that an important city like New York would have only one research botanical collection.