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Babbitt launches new research agency.

The federal government launched an ambitious new approach to environmental science this fall. The National Biological Survey (NBS), which came into existence in October, will "take the field biology of the Department of the Interior--the best in the world--and redeploy it in a new yar," said Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt.

Babbitt has charged the survey with cataloging and mapping every plant and animal species in the nation. The goal is to assemble a detailed picture of the country's ecological makeup and update it regularly so that serious environmental problems can ve dected early on.

The survey idea has met with enthusiasm from evironmental groups including NPCA. But there is also concern that tapping the research staff of the National Park Service and other Interior Department agencies for the survey means the agencies' own short-term scientific needs may not be met.

Babbitt last spring called creation of the survey his highest priority, saying it will "provide a map to help us avoid environmental and economic conflicts." With better management, he said, there do not have to be "train wrecks," like the clashes over ancient forests of the Northwest and other places where extensive loss of habitat has put wildlife on the endangered species list. The survey would help by providing "an early warning system," said Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.), an NBS proponent.

The new agency will pull together not only existing Interior Department efforts but also research being done by state agencies, private institutions, universities, and industry. "There is a tremendous amount of data, but the challenge is to integrate it all so people can see the bigger picture," said Dr. Eugene Hester, deputy director of NBS. The National Academy of Sciences advised the survey in an October report on how to bring data together from all these sources and make the compiled information easily available.

Scientific staff for the survey come from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and other Interior Department bureaus. The idea is that research scientists from each agency will join the survey, while applied scientists and managers remain. Steps are being taken, Hester said, to ensure NBS serves the other agencies' research needs.

Report after report from NPCA, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Park Service has called for an overhaul of the parks' poorly funded and staffed science program. The Park Service recently took a step NPCA and others have recommended, creating a science advisory committee to promote improvement efforts. Many argue the loss of research staff will be a setback.

"Our question is not whether there should be an NBS (there should!), but whether it is right to remove science from the national parks in the process," Dr. Jerry Freilich, eclologist at Joshua Tree National Monument, and Bob Moon, now chief of resources management for the Park Service's Rocky Mountain region, wrote to Babbitt's office this summer. "There is simply no way to create one agency that will serve another agency without fail."

But the potential benefits for the parks are also clear. "Many threats to parks come from the declining health of the larger ecosystems of which parks are a part," said Michael Weland, NPCA Washington representative.

"The Park Service would never have the authority or the resources to monitor these larger systems, but NBS can."
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Title Annotation:Secretary of the Interior establishes National Biological Survey to catalogue every animal and plant species in the US as part of effort to enhance environmental protection of national parks
Publication:National Parks
Date:Nov 1, 1993
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