Beginnings of the Sierra Foothills Chapter

“All of the members of the Sierra Foothills Chapter would like to take this opportunity to thank all the other Chapters for welcoming us into CNPS. We hope we can live up to our mutual expectations and indeed help “speak for the plants.”
~ October 1990

(Written by Peg Carkeet and sourced from the October 1990, issue of CNPS Fremontia.)

On Rattlesnake Ridge one afternoon in May 1989, after inspecting a population of Tuolumne fawn lilies (Erythrinum tuolumnense), Jennie Haas, Kathy Burnett and Peg Carkeet were discussing the future of the lilies when the subjects of The 52 Nature Conservancy and the California Native Plant Society entered the conversation. The three ladies wondered if the time was right to try to launch a CNPS Chapter in the Central Sierra. The need for a local Chapter was apparent. Tuolumne and Calaveras counties were growing at unprecedented rates, controversies concerning the use of herbicides were brewing, and issues regarding grazing impacts and sensitive plants abounded within the National Forest lands. The Red Hills (a unique serpentine landscape in the lower foothills containing many “Inventory” listed plants) was undergoing a tug-of-war between a variety of groups including gun clubs, movie studios, private owners, the Bureau of Land Management, recreational vehicle organizations, and wildflower and wildlife enthusiasts.

A meeting was scheduled to take place on June 15. Ken Berg, CNPS Staff Botanist, gave an inspiring slide presentation to the forty-six people in attendance. A petition for acceptance was drafted and sent to the Executive Council. Three committees were formed: a Conservation Committee with Pat Stone as its exuberant chairperson; a Field Trip Committee chaired by Jean McEuen, a veteran of dozens of wildflower expeditions; and a Native Plant Committee, chaired by the undauntable Mary Ruth Casebeer. Fred Boutin, a horticulturist noted for his expertise on historic roses, volunteered to conduct a monthly forum in which plants brought to meetings by members would be discussed, cataloged, and/or auctioned.

The proposed Chapter continued to meet monthly. At the September statewide quarterly meeting the Chapter became official by a unanimous vote of the Board of Directors. Chapter members were thrilled and decided to adopt the name Sierra Foothills. The Sierra shooting star (Dodecatheon jefferyi) was chosen as the logo and was soon depicted on Chapter T-shirts designed by Ellen Burke.

The first Chapter officers were elected in November 1989. Coordinator/Director Kathy Burnett shared the responsibilities of President with Peg Carkeet. Because of our four-county coverage, four vice-presidents were elected: Denise Van Keuren, Jennie Haas, Mary Anderson, and Patti Wilson. Our Treasurer, Adele Wikner; Secretary, Alice Kraus; and newsletter editor, Mary Renner; along with our Data-Base link, Mike Mays, became our real workhorses as we immersed ourselves more deeply into Chapterhood.

We decided 1990 would be our year to educate ourselves, sort out our priorities, and begin work on the projects we felt to be most timely. A successful booth at the Sonora Christmas Craft Fair enabled us to start the year with $700 in our bank account. Membership at the beginning of 1990 was estimated by our membership chairpersons, Wendy Faris and Wayne Harrison, to be seventy-five with most Chapter meetings being attended by approximately thirty-five people of all ages and professions. Among these we count many United States Forest Service employees, teachers, horticulturists, botanists, nursery owners, homemakers, a computer programmer, secretaries, realtors, ranchers, photographers, artists, a mycologist, county employees, and even a county supervisor and his wife. Programs have included presentations on the wildflowers of Calaveras Big Trees State Park, fire ecology, bark beetle infestation, vernal pools, County Planning Department flow chart (and where CNPS fits in), and the USFS Sensitive Species Surveys.

Field trips followed the spring season from the lower foothills in March to the top of the Sierra in July. Plant sales were scheduled for April and October in cooperation with plant propagating members and local nurseries.

Issues tackled by the Conservation Committee have included an adopt-a-plant program, research on natural communities, wetlands, the Clavey River, public land grazing and the Red Hills; a cooperative meadow boardwalk building project with USFS at Pinecrest; Year of the Oak booth and heritage oak contest spearheaded by Dee Boutin; involvement requested by the County Planning Department and providing comments on the environmental effects on native plants of various projects; and, finally, a project in which all members can participate—weekly articles with drawings entitled “Speaking for the Plants,” about native plants of the Sierra published in Tuolumne County’s “Union Democrat” and the “Calaveras Enterprise” newspapers.

All of the members of the Sierra Foothills Chapter would like to take this opportunity to thank all the other Chapters for welcoming us into CNPS. We hope we can live up to our mutual expectations and indeed help “speak for the plants.” ~ Peg Carkeet