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Partners urged for biological survey.

Species are a bit like novels. Some plants and animals, like bestsellers, are well known: Countless scientists have documented their habits and whereabouts. But about half of the roughly 650,000 species in the United States are still unpublished manuscripts waiting to be discovered, says Peter H. Raven, director of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.

In setting up a National Biological Survey, Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt faces the challenges of dealing with these two extremes, says Raven, who headed a National Research Council (NRC) committee asked to provide Babbitt advice about the survey. Slated to be a new entity within Interior, the survey should not only seek out the unknown species, but it should also compile and make accessible what's known about the nation's biological resources, the NRC panel concluded.

The U.S. government first initiated a national biological

Tvey a century ago, charging the Agriculture Department with taking a census of U.S. plants and animals. The Interior Department took over this task in 1939, but the survey never got off the ground there. Then Babbitt announced last February his intention of resurrecting the effort. He hopes the survey will provide well-researched information about the nation's biological resources, information that will help policy makers and environmentalists reach compromises about land use, he told Congress in September.

Though housed at Interior, the survey needs to reach out to other agencies, look beyond the department when setting goals, and be more than a one-time inventory, says Raven.

The NRC committee urged the department to set up a National Partnership for Biological Survey (NPBS), which would coordinate survey-type activities by all federal, state, and local government agencies, as well as museums, universities, and private organizations.

"What we're calling for is an enhanced cooperation of agencies [and organizations] that are working on this problem already," says Raven. "We're not calling for a complex [new] organization to be built."

This cooperative would come up with standards that would allow the various groups involved to share information easily and to avoid duplication of effort. "It would be an ongoing partnership that would function indefinitelly," adds Raven.

In addition, urges the NRC report, the survey should provide many kinds of users with access to data about species and about ecosystems through a computerized network, the National Biotic Resource Information System. The NRC panel hopes the system will include databases located in museums, university collections, state survey departments, even company archives. "We specifically do not recommend the establishment of one major, integrated database," Raven notes.

The report, "A Biological Survey for the Nation," concluded that the survey should provide the information needed to find ways to preserve the nation's diversity of plants and animals (see p. 248) and to guarantee that ecosystems function well enough to supply water, to control floods and erosion, and to modulate climate. Other research should address the impact of human development, land use, agriculture, and mining. The committee called for studies in sustainable management of biological resources, for the identification of economically useful products from plants and animals, and for improved techniques for restoring damaged environments.

Babbitt has already set in motion steps to create an NBS, and Raven noted that other agencies, such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the Forest Service, already work with Interior personnel on some projects. Over the next five years, however, these partnerships should expand and databases should go online, the report suggested.
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Title Annotation:National Research Council urges Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to set up National Partnership for Biological Survey to co-ordinate activities of agencies contributing to National Biological Survey
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 16, 1993
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