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A Biological Survey for the Nation EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The idea of a national biological survey has a long history in the United States, beginning with the formation of the Division of Biological Survey in the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the end of the last century. After that division was transferred to the Department of the Interior (DOI) in 1939 and made part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the survey component gradually declined. In recent years, increasing concerns about the nation's biological resources have led to calls for a new biological survey. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt has recently initiated the process of forming a National Biological Survey (NBS) within DOI. To create the new agency, the Secretary is combining portions of the biological research and survey activities from DOI bureaus. As identified in the department's FY 1994 budget justification to Congress, the mission of the NBS is ''to gather, analyze, and disseminate the information necessary for the wise stewardship of our Nation's natural resources, and to foster an understanding of
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A Biological Survey for the Nation our biological systems and the benefits they provide to society. The NBS will act as an independent science bureau without advocating positions on resource management issues and without regulatory or land and water development authorities.'' In February 1993, Secretary Babbitt requested advice from the National Research Council on the formation of the NBS. In response, the Committee on the Formation of the National Biological Survey, was formed, consisting of scientists and persons with experience in government, industry, and public-interest organizations. The committee conducted its study from March to September 1993. This timetable was designed to ensure that DOI received timely advice on its activities. The committee was charged with addressing scientific, functional, information, and coordination issues related to the scope and direction of the NBS in the context of the larger national picture. It is important to note that the charge included neither an examination of whether or not the NBS should be established nor a detailed evaluation of DOI's specific proposal. In addressing its charge, the committee discovered a wide range of national needs, a broad distribution of relevant efforts and resources already occurring in federal and nonfederal organizations in a relatively uncoordinated fashion, and a wide range of management needs within the Department of the Interior. These findings, combined with the short timeframe, led the committee to conclude that it would be most effective in fulfilling its charge if it focused on the broader needs, opportunities, and activities as they related to the stated goals of the NBS rather than concentrating on the details of its structure or specific research agenda, except to the extent that such an examination seemed essential to deal with the broader issues. This report proposes a research agenda for the National Biological Survey that is far broader than the existing research effort in the Department of the Interior but that is also focused according to likely immediate and long-term user needs. A National Biotic Resources Information System is envisioned to make reliable
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A Biological Survey for the Nation biological information more accessible to diverse users. The report also describes how the many public and private entities involved in current research on biological resources can work together in a new entity, which the committee has called the National Partnership for Biological Survey, to provide comprehensive information that will be useful for decision-makers at all levels of government and outside government. WHAT NEEDS WILL A BIOLOGICAL SURVEY FOR THE NATION ADDRESS? A biological survey for the nation will provide information that is critical for addressing a number of issues: Finding ways to preserve the nation's biological heritage. Achieving this goal requires extensive information on the current status and trends in distribution and abundance of species and on relationships among species, and an understanding of the ecological processes on which they depend. Managing biological resources in a sustainable manner. Sustainable use depends on accurate knowledge of the identity, distributions, and ecology of the species being used and those with which they interact. Maintaining essential ecological services, such as water supply, flood and erosion control, and climate amelioration. We need to understand how natural ecological services operate and to what extent they depend on the biological richness and diversity of ecosystems. Understanding the impact of human settlement patterns (metropolitan growth, renewable land use, and nonrenewable-resource extraction) on biological resources. The impact of daily human activity has had and will continue to have a great effect on the nation's biota. Maintaining contributions of our nation's biota to the aesthet-
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A Biological Survey for the Nation ic quality of life. We need to know how species and ecosystems contribute to our quality of life and how patterns of human use affect those contributions. Understanding the effects of climate change. To anticipate the nature and intensity of ecological changes that might be induced by natural or anthropogenic climate change, we need information on how past climate change affected species and biological communities. Deriving new economic wealth from biological resources. Only a small fraction of species have been tested for potentially valuable chemicals, foodstuffs, or materials, and ecological information on the nature of the natural products of wild species is fragmentary. Restoring degraded environments. Restoring environments that are degraded by erosion, depletion, pollution, or the invasion of nonnative species will require accurate information on the ecological and physical processes affected by degradation and knowledge of which species can best establish themselves on degraded sites. Some common weaknesses exist in the availability of information to address those issues. In some instances, data have been collected but are not organized in useful ways. In many cases, data are unavailable, have not been collected over a sufficiently long time for trends to be separated from short-term variations, have been collected only in a few localities, or have not been recorded in a format that can be used to make decisions about the management, use, and conservation of the nation's biological resources. Many national and local agencies have responsibilities for understanding and managing the nation's biological resources, but there is no effective cross-institutional framework for identifying and conducting research of the highest priority, coordinating research activities, or making information available in a coherent
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A Biological Survey for the Nation and usable way to the many agencies and other organizations that need it. HOW CAN A BIOLOGICAL SURVEY FOR THE NATION BE CREATED? The National Biological Survey is a critical step toward assembling a comprehensive assessment of the nation's biological resources, but it cannot by itself come close to meeting the full range of needs and objectives in scientific research, inventory, and information management that a biological survey for the nation must fulfill. The NBS should therefore have a dual mission: to meet the scientific research and information needs of DOI for management of the lands within its jurisdiction and species for which it has responsibility (and geographic areas that affect either of the above) and to provide national leadership and vision for this comprehensive assessment. To achieve the best possible results, this assessment must be a coordinated national effort at all organizational and jurisdictional levels. This joint enterprise can be called the National Partnership for Biological Survey. The committee therefore recommends the following: The United States, under the leadership of the Department of the Interior, should establish a National Partnership for Biological Survey (NPBS). This will be a new national, multisector, cooperative program of federal, state, and local agencies; museums; academic institutions; and private organizations. Its purpose will be to collect, house, assess, and provide access to the scientific information needed to understand the current state of the nation's biological resources (status), how that status is changing (trends), and the causes of the changes. The mandate and mission of DOI make it the logical agency to
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A Biological Survey for the Nation lead the development and implementation of the National Partnership. The department has broad research and management responsibilities for the biological resources of the nation and strong links to key nonfederal partners, and by initiating the formation of the National Biological Survey, it has already indicated its willingness to take on a leadership role. Although the National Partnership does not yet exist formally, many of its elements do. The Department of the Interior (DOI) is the nation's largest land manager and the steward of many of the wild living resources of the United States. It also has a historically strong partnership with the states. The National Biological Survey (NBS) will provide scientific research and information within DOI to help manage the lands and species for which the department has responsibility. Other federal agencies should participate. Major partners should include the Department of Agriculture (USDA), especially the Forest Service, the Soil Conservation Service, and the Agricultural Research Service; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce; the Department of Defense, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Environmental Protection Agency; and the National Science Foundation. All fifty states have natural resource agencies charged with the management of the state's fish and wildlife resources. Many states have their own biological surveys. Natural Heritage Data Centers, coordinated nationally by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), exist in every state. The Smithsonian Institution is a national leader in the development of specimen-based databases and houses extensive collections of organisms. It also hosts the Biological Survey Unit staff of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and biologists from NOAA and USDA. Museums are the major depositories of the biological specimens and associated data that constitute a primary resource for the
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A Biological Survey for the Nation NPBS. They are involved in specimen-gathering, identification, collections management, research, data development and analysis, and information dissemination. Universities have advanced programs in research and training in the scientific disciplines that the National Partnership will require. Nongovernmental organizations include some major landholders, managing land for the conservation of biological diversity. Several have established databases on biological resources. Cooperative programs and existing national networks deal with large components of the North American biota. Native American groups in the United States use and often manage lands that contain over 20 million acres of habitats that harbor endangered species, old growth forests, rare communities, and unique ecosystems. Puerto Rico, U.S. territories, and possessions contain important biological resources under federal and local jurisdiction. Private landholders and user groups should contribute to and benefit from the NPBS. Private landholders own most of the land in the United States. The associations representing the private-sector—focused on such groups as land developers, home builders, and the agriculture, forestry, mining, and grazing industries—should find that information from the NPBS will add greater certainty to future land-use planning. Thousands of individual scientists perform critical research and generate and possess detailed knowledge necessary for the success of the NPBS. Foreign biological sources have knowledge and expertise that is especially important in areas contiguous to U.S. holdings. No one country can house the best, or only, specialists on all groups of organisms. DOI and other agencies have special international responsibilities relevant to the Partnership under various laws, treaties, and agreements. The major missing elements required to create an effective National Partnership are some key programmatic components and
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A Biological Survey for the Nation mechanisms for horizontal and vertical integration and coordination of the ongoing independent efforts. The recommendations below are intended to help provide these missing elements. Some are directed specifically to the National Biological Survey and some to the broader Partnership. The latter class also applies to NBS in its proposed role as a leader of the NPBS. The committee recognizes that various factors may affect the specific form that the Partnership eventually takes, but believes that the functions and needs it identified are relevant to any attempt to create an effective biological survey for the nation. WHAT ARE THE NECESSARY FUNCTIONAL CAPABILITIES OF THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP? To carry out its responsibilities, the Partnership, including NBS, must have several specific functional capabilities. It must be Able to conduct credible science. The fundamental purpose of the NPBS is to provide a rational and objective scientific basis for meaningful stewardship of the nation's biological resources. The scientific credibility and reputation of the Partnership are therefore of utmost importance. Able to stimulate and coordinate appropriate research. The National Partnership should be broadly based scientifically. It should also be broadly connected, both nationally and internationally, and its programs should be designed to gather information that will be of maximum use in guiding further activities. Organized for program continuity. Data on status and trends of the nation's biological resources become increasingly valuable as the length of the record increases. Interruptions would seriously reduce the value of these data.
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A Biological Survey for the Nation User friendly and adapted to a variety of users. Users need timely, accurate, and easily interpreted information that will vary widely in scope and purpose. The NPBS will need to facilitate access to information in a variety of forms for many different users and uses. The National Partnership will provide new information and much more powerful tools for managing, using, and preserving biological resources. It will provide a stronger information base on biological resources, an organized framework for collaboration and priority-setting, and economies of scale and more efficient use of research resources. HOW WILL THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP STRENGTHEN THE INFORMATION BASE FOR PLANNING AND OPERATIONAL DECISIONS? Performing Research One of the most important uses of the scientific information gathered by the National Partnership is to assist decision-makers in addressing existing issues about biological resources and in anticipating future ones. The National Partnership should develop a strong, scientifically credible research program designed to meet this goal. The research of the Partnership should identify changes in biological resources and determine why those changes are happening. It should identify trends in a timely manner so that actions can be taken while multiple options are available, determine how local actions influence events elsewhere, reduce the chances of taking costly remedial actions unnecessarily, evaluate the effectiveness of management decisions, and direct attention to areas
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A Biological Survey for the Nation where problems are most likely to develop in the near future, such as urban expansion zones, estuaries, rivers, and zones of intensive resource extraction. Key scientific objectives of the National Partnership for Biological Survey should include the following: Determining what specimens and data representing the U.S. biota exist in the nation's institutional collections. Discovering, describing, classifying, and mapping U.S. species of selected taxa. Establishing taxonomic specialists, collections, and databases for large and important taxa. Studying the biology of selected species of importance. Developing classification systems for ecological units and a set of core ecosystem attributes and protocols. Developing predictive models to facilitate sustainable management. Performing research on the restoration of degraded environments. Performing research to develop biological protocols for pollution and to identify useful biological indicators of ecological trends. Establishing collaborative pilot projects for interdisciplinary research on biological resources in selected regions of the United States. These projects should target areas that are changing rapidly because of human activity, have high biodiversity, have diverse co-occurring ecosystems of different types, or are unique ecologically. The committee believes that the scientific activities and programs of the NBS should focus both on its responsibilities as the main biological research agency within the Department of the Interior and on its proposed role as the lead agency for the National Partnership. The large amounts of land managed by DOI, along with the department's other responsibilities with regard to
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A Biological Survey for the Nation the nation's biota, make NBS especially important in providing key elements of a program to assess the status and trends of biological resources. The committee therefore recommends the following: NBS should perform research needed for the management of lands within the jurisdiction of DOI and species for which it has responsibility. It should also ensure, both through its own scientific activities and its proposed role of national leadership, that needed research is performed to fulfill the central purpose envisioned for the National Partnership—to generate the information required to understand the current status of the nation's biological resources, how that status is changing, and the causes of the changes. The committee believes that DOI should work to ensure that needed research is done by NBS or other entities no matter what specific form the Partnership eventually takes. To fulfill its scientific mission, the NBS will need additional staff in a number of scientific disciplines. It should perform a systematic assessment of needs based on existing staff capabilities and program requirements and develop and implement a plan to hire needed experts. This should be the activity of highest priority for the application of additional budget and staffing resources. Agencies whose participation is essential to the success of the Partnership, such as the National Science Foundation, should receive increased funding so that the Partnership can take full advantage of the nation's relevant scientific expertise. Funding increases will also be needed for other appropriate agencies. Making Information Useful One of the challenges for the Partnership is to communicate research results effectively to resource managers, planners,
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A Biological Survey for the Nation aries, it will need a mechanism through which all sectors involved can advocate, justify, and discuss proposed programs and activities that will affect them. Because the scope and activities of the National Partnership are quite broad, and because of the extensive amount of intergovernmental and nongovernmental coordination required, the committee believes that no existing model for national coordination is readily adaptable to the National Partnership. A unique and innovative process is probably needed. It therefore recommends the following: Formal mechanisms should be established for coordination among the entities with responsibilities for the National Partnership for Biological Survey. The mechanisms should collectively exhibit the five characteristics described below. The coordination mechanisms should Provide for high-level, balanced input from diverse participants and users into the development and implementation of the Partnership. Take full advantage of the federated structure of American government, in particular the states. Have a clear lead organization with primary responsibility and authority for fostering coordination. Provide for continuity of involvement by participants and users. Be designed to encourage active, voluntary participation. Coordination among nonfederal participants might be accomplished via a standing body of appropriate representatives. The link to federal programs could be provided through the Secretary of the Interior. In the committee's view, what is needed is a high-level forum for the discussion, development, and implementation of policies and priorities for all nonfederal stakeholders in the National Partnership, not merely an advisory body. The forum could identify and recommend national (not solely federal)
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A Biological Survey for the Nation policies and priorities for biological-resource assessment (not management decisions) and make recommendations for all segments of the Partnership, both federal and nonfederal. It could also review NPBS programs for their appropriateness to policies and priorities and recommend appropriate changes. Recommendations for programs would be passed to the appropriate entity for action and feedback. Each representative would work directly within the sector of the community (e.g., museums, etc.) that he or she represents to implement policies and priorities. An effective mechanism for federal coordination might be an interdepartmental committee on biological survey. Such a committee could be chaired by the Secretary of the Interior and include the heads of key federal departments and agencies involved in the Partnership. The mechanism should provide cross-agency coordination of federal policies and participation in the Partnership and it should identify federal-agency priorities for the conduct of biological research and resource assessments. The interagency committee would be both a forum for high-level policy discussion and coordination and a framework for increased day-to-day interaction at the working level. Appropriate mechanisms also need to be established to obtain scientific advice for the Partnership and to ensure proper data management. These mechanisms would identify priorities for research and protocols for surveys and inventories; establish procedures for quality assurance in research and data management, including the development of database standards; plan the development of the NPBS data network; and develop recommendations for ensuring access to data by public and private users. One way to obtain the necessary advice and guidance would be to establish committees in science and data management. Coordination within DOI The director of the NBS must be an acknowledged and respected professional leader in the biological-science community
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A Biological Survey for the Nation and should be selected in a way that helps to ensure the scientific independence of the agency. A chief scientist should be similarly appointed and should be free of management responsibilities other than for the development of scientific programs. Much of the work of the NBS will serve needs within DOI. For example, in many instances, a DOI land manager might require on-site scientific expertise. Land-management bureaus should retain a small cadre of scientific expertise to address unique site-specific and short-term biological resources issues and to facilitate interaction between the bureaus and the NBS. The secretary should establish an office in each state to facilitate joint NBS activities and to provide a communication channel among state agencies, private and individual participants, and federal agencies. This may be the most important consideration for ensuring that the NBS achieves liaison with all possible contributors. Because a state organizational structure for the NBS is recommended, neither the NPBS or the NBS needs alternative geographical bases. Nonetheless, collection, analysis, and dissemination of data might, for some purposes, be categorized by ecological criteria that do not necessarily correspond with any political boundaries, such as watersheds, vegetation zones, or wildlife migration routes. HOW WILL THE NPBS PROVIDE AN ORGANIZED STRUCTURE WITH STATED PRIORITIES FOR ACQUIRING NEEDED INFORMATION ABOUT BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES? The NPBS research program should be well-balanced between the conduct of new fundamental research designed to advance science and the conduct of more practical research focused on near-term problem-solving. A robust national biological research program must encompass the entire spectrum. Because the NPBS
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A Biological Survey for the Nation must address many scientific needs and because the resulting information has many uses, no single criterion can be used to establish priorities. A strength of the NPBS is that multiple criteria for setting priorities can be brought together under its coordinating framework. Priorities should be based on the degree to which proposed research advances the following goals: Evaluation of biological resources that are demonstrably or potentially important but for which relatively little information exists. Information required for the maintenance of biological diversity and the long-term sustainability of ecological systems. Understanding of the status and trends of biological resources that are changing rapidly, are rare, or are threatened by factors such as land use, natural patterns or harvesting activities, or natural changes in the environment. Information about biological resources that are identified as important according to legal mandates or because of their current or potential economic value. Understanding of ecological processes that provide services, such as control of nutrient and soil loss, degradation of pollutants, and maintenance of biological diversity. Conduct of studies whereby relatively small investments will yield large returns in understanding. Information that will guide the remediation and restoration of damaged or degraded ecological systems. HOW WILL THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP PROVIDE IMPROVED PROGRAMMATIC EFFICIENCIES AND ECONOMIES OF SCALE? Through its coordinating mechanisms and ability to set priorities, the National Partnership can provide increased efficiency in
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A Biological Survey for the Nation the use of scientific resources. Redundancies can be avoided or eliminated. Full use can be made of resources. Collaboration among public and private organizations can permit the development of projects that would be far too large or difficult for a single organization. Investments made now to improve the knowledge base should pay off in the future by lessening the risk of costly political conflict and the need for expensive environmental repair efforts. Research Extensive biological research and inventory programs exist in several federal agencies. The proposed coordination mechanisms will permit better evaluation, prioritization and, where appropriate, reprogramming of current spending on programs relevant to the goals of the Partnership. Where necessary, the NBS should develop cooperative agreements. Effective leveraging of the other federal programs will necessitate some funding increases in the NBS budget to support these activities. Such increases in investment by the NBS will be more cost-effective than undertaking large new programs. Information Management Much of the information generated by the Partnership will be exchanged over computer networks through a distributed federation of databases, which will be more cost-effective and efficient than a large centralized database. A federated approach that takes full advantage of advances in information technology will permit rapid, easy access to a wide array of databases distributed around the country. To facilitate the sharing of data among participants, the NBS should establish a facility for archiving and distributing regional and national data sets and for meeting the goals of DOI's
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A Biological Survey for the Nation new National Biological Status and Trends Program, which will be part of NBS. NPBS data management should ensure that its databases coevolve with the major federal environmental and socioeconomic databases to minimize redundancy, to avoid conflicting terminology and classification systems, and to maintain consistent data standards and formats. HOW SHOULD THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP BE IMPLEMENTED Implementation of both the NBS and the Partnership should be phased in according to a well-planned strategy that provides for early results. The strategy should identify specific near-term, intermediate-term, and longer-term priorities. Otherwise, too many tasks might be initiated at one time, programs might be started before clear goals have been established, and results might therefore fall short of needs and expectations. The committee therefore recommends as follows: Development of the National Partnership and the National Biological Survey should be guided by a single strategic implementation plan developed under the leadership of the Department of the Interior with the full participation of NPBS partners. Some proposed key elements of the plan are listed below. Near-Term Priorities (Immediately to within 1 Year) NBS Appoint key leaders
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A Biological Survey for the Nation Phase in personnel transfers Assess existing national biological databases Identify priorities for additional information Assess collections Establish register of taxonomic specialists Develop national research plan Initiate regional collaborative pilot projects Establish data-management office headed by senior official NPBS Establish national coordination mechanisms Develop FY 1995 budget initiative for DOI, NSF, and other agencies involved Develop strategic plan for information management Develop national research plan Initiate regional collaborative pilot projects Intermediate-Term Priorities (within 3 Years) NBS Broaden mix of scientific disciplines Establish or expand research programs in environmental indicators Establish or expand research programs in inventories of areas rich in biological diversity, unique ecosystems, and potential candidate areas for restoration Develop series of manuals, monographs and atlases and system of ecological classifications based on attributes Establish moderate-size data-management facility
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A Biological Survey for the Nation NPBS Develop multiyear authorization Establish national data network Long-Term Priorities (within 5 Years) NBS Develop strong capability in ecological analysis Broaden scientific priorities to include research efforts in restoration biology Expand inventories Develop predictive models Fill information gaps NPBS Develop programs to deploy new information technology Evaluate data-management programs. Although priorities might change over time, the committee believes that phasing the steps outlined above according to a well-planned strategy will lead to a successful NBS and National Partnership. Establishing the priorities outlined here will help both the NBS and the NPBS to provide quickly the kinds of results that are essential if they are to show their value to the nation.
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A Biological Survey for the Nation WHAT ARE THE LIMITS TO THE NATIONAL PARTNERSHIP? The National Partnership has the potential to serve the nation well as it grapples with increasingly contentious and challenging issues in managing its biological resources. Yet, the very richness and diversity of our biological resources mean that decisions will often need to be made from incomplete information. Even when sufficient information is available, government must respond to public concerns that might influence decisions in a direction different from that indicated by scientific findings. The NPBS will provide a much stronger information base from which to make decisions about the nation's biological resources, but hard choices and conflicts will remain. The National Partnership will be most useful in preventing costly environmental confrontations if it has a paramount scientific function, maintains a long-term commitment to scientific excellence, and is well-integrated across its membership.
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A Biological Survey for the Nation A BIOLOGICAL SURVEY FOR THE NATION
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