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Ellen Paul

It's official: NBII to be terminated

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Ronald Reagan once said, "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!"

 

Wrong.

 

The U.S. Geological Survey has formally announced the termination of the National Biological Information Infrastructure:

 

"In the 2012 President's Budget Request, the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) is terminated. As a result, all resources, databases, tools, and applications within this web site will be removed on January 15, 2012. For more information, please refer to the NBII Program Termination page."

 

Earlier this year, the Ornithological Council organized an ad hoc coalition to persuade the USGS to retain certain valuable parts of the NBII. We are still hoping that the USGS will find ways to continue supporting the Bird Conservation Node and the Wildlife Disease Information Node, but a recent reply to this letter suggests that funding for the coordination of open-access databases will cease although funding for MANIS, HerpNET, ORNIS, and VERTNET will continue through the end of the year. USGS will continue its participation in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, but not through NBII.

 

We have been told that the NBII termination will have "direct and immediate impact" on the Wildlife Disease Information Node and the Bird Conservation but no details were forthcoming.

 

The letter to USGS Director Marcia McNutt read as follows:

 

 

15 June 2011

 

Marcia McNutt

Director

U.S. Geological Survey

12201 Sunrise Valley Drive

Reston, VA 20192

 

Dear Dr. McNutt,

 

The undersigned scientific societies, institutions and organizations, and individuals scientists have learned that the U.S. Geological Survey has decided to terminate funding for the National Biological Information Infrastructure for the rest of 2011 and beyond. Many of us supported the original concept of the NBII and had been eager to see it achieve the goals established in the 1998 report of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. Inadequate funding and other factors resulted in a program that fell far short of those goals. Thus, we are not surprised to learn that in the face of a critical shortage of resources, the USGS has decided to end this effort. We know that this funding could be diverted to better uses, such as providing more funding for USGS researchers who have been making do with exceedingly small and ever-shrinking operating expenses.

 

However, we would like to draw your attention to a number of specific components of the NBII that serve important functions for the nation, for other USGS programs, and for other Department of the Interior agencies and other federal agencies such as the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These programs, described below, share another important characteristic – they are all centers of excellence. We therefore encourage the USGS to retain these programs within the Biological Informatics division of the Core Science Systems function.

 

Wildlife Disease Information Node (WDIN)

 

We are sure that the USGS leadership recognizes the critical role played by the WDIN in identifying and tracking emerging wildlife disease such as White-nose syndrome in bats and particularly with regard to zoonotic disease such as H5N1 avian influenza. Its cumulative expertise, knowledge, and capacity is highly regarded and unrivaled among federal agencies. The information-accumulation and sharing function of the WDIN – and particularly the Wildlife Health Event Reporter - is vital to the rapid and appropriate response to emerging wildlife disease, some of which threatens human health. Moreover, no other federal agency or private organization has the potential for long-term persistence. WDIN’s information products and data tools enable a wide range of people, from resource managers, policy makers and health practitioners to the general public, understand and collect important data on the role of wildlife disease in our environment. We urge the USGS to retain all functions of the WDIN, but highlight these specific functions to demonstrate the value of the WDIN:

  • The Wildlife Disease News Digest (http://wdin.blogspot.com) provides a daily review of national and international open source media reports.

  • The Wildlife Health Event Reporter (http://www.wher.org), is a simple web tool (with a companion mobile phone app) that allows members of the general public to report observations of wildlife illness or death. A more advanced version facilitates data collection for wildlife managers and “citizen science” projects.

  • The Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza Early Detection Data System (HEDDS; http://wildlifedisease.nbii.gov/ai/) was mandated by the National Avian Influenza Strategic Plan to integrate wild bird surveillance data from the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, and State/Tribal/Local agencies.

 

Participation in the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF)

 

Through NBII, the USGS has been a leading participant in GBIF. This international, government-initiated and -funded initiative enables free and open access to biodiversity data online. This means that biodiversity data is available to all and anyone, for scientific research, conservation and sustainable development. U.S. federal agencies and state agencies are among the users of GBIF services and products. Without the information infrastructure, the community-developed tools, standards, and protocols, and capacity-building made available by GBIF, the ability to make science-based decisions for species conservation will be severely hampered. The USGS should make every effort to retain the NBII positions and funding that enable the USGS to continue its vital role in GBIF.

 

We stress that the interoperability of biodiversity databases requires cooperation and coordination at the international level; the participation of the United States through the USGS is vital to both GBIF and to the federal agencies that rely on GBIF systems and data.

 

Support for coordination of open-access collections databases

 

Over the past decade, the scientific research community has developed open-access databases that contain data on millions of museum specimens housed in North American collections. Known as ORNIS (birds), MANIS (mammals) HerpNET, and FishNET (fishes) and known collectively as VERTNET, these collections document the composition, distribution, ecology, and systematics of the world's wildlife. They constitute a key part of GBIF’s underlying data sources. The USGS through NBII plays a small but vital role in VertNET by funding a coordinator position and a programming position. We urge USGS to continue funding for these positions.

 

Bird Conservation Node

 

In a 2009 evaluation of the NBII as a provider of scientific information about birds, the Ornithological Council stated, “The Bird Conservation Node (BCN) is the single most valuable source of information about birds on NBII, and it is very valuable indeed. At one time, it was a somewhat random collection of links to various websites about bird conservation. It is now a well-organized gateway to a very substantial body of important datasets and other information about bird conservation. It appears to be carefully edited and maintained. The BCN has what may be the “best and highest” use of a program such as the NBII. The Node facilitates access to avian data and information by supporting activities that:

 

* Improve discovery and availability of datasets via the Internet.

* Increase use of standards, common protocols, and methodologies for collection, management, and delivery of avian data to facilitate data sharing and integration.

* Improve access to web-based tools for data exploration and visualization that increase capacity to integrate data from a variety of sources.

 

This is precisely the kind of niche that NBII can and should fill…By bringing together USGS datasets and analytical tools alongside those of other organizations, the BCN is providing a tremendous, valuable service.” Other components of the BCN, such as serving as a clearinghouse for best practices documents and the myriad information scattered among the websites of the USGS Science Centers, were also considered valuable.

 

Since that report, the valuable content provided by BCN has increased dramatically, as has its role as a clearinghouse of information about best practices, monitoring protocols, and web tools. Losing the BCN would be highly detrimental to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, other federal agencies, and state agencies in achieving science-based bird conservation and management.

 

We hope to learn that the USGS values these components of the NBII as highly as do the many governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, scientific societies, and scientists and we look forward to hearing that the USGS has decided to retain these NBII program elements.

 

Sincerely,

 

 

Ellen Paul*

Executive Director

Ornithological Council

 

Tom Ryder

President

The Wildlife Society

 

Peter Saundry

Executive Director

National Council for Science and the Environment

 

Katherine McCarter

Executive Director

Ecological Society of America

 

Richard O'Grady, Ph.D.

Executive Director

American Institute of Biological Sciences

 

Jean-Marc Gagnon

President

Society for the Preservation of Natural History Collections

 

Sarah Courchesne

DVM Project Coordinator

SEANET

Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

 

Carla Cicero

Staff Curator of Birds and VertNet Principal Investigator

Museum of Vertebrate Zoology

University of California, Berkeley

 

Brian J. O'Shea

Collections Manager of Birds

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

 

Angelo Capparella, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Zoology

Curator of Vertebrates

School of Biological Sciences

Illinois State University

 

Rob Clay

Chair

Waterbird Conservation Council

Herrick BrownAssistant Botanist South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Heritage Trust Program Dr. Peter A. Schäfer Conservateur des herbiers Institut de Botanique Université Montpellier (France)

 

Robert L. McKernan

Director

San Bernardino County Museum

 

John (Jack) P. Dumbacher

Curator Ornithology and Mammalogy

Department of Vertebrate Zoology and Anthropology

Division of Research and Collections

California Academy of Sciences

 

Kevin Winker

Curator of Birds

University of Alaska Museum

 

John Bates

Chairman, Department of Zoology

Associate Curator, Bird Division

Field Museum of Natural History

 

Cecilia M. Riley

Executive Director

Gulf Coast Bird Observatory

 

L. Krishtalka

Director

Biodiversity Institute Professor

Dept. Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

University of Kansas

 

Richard Olmstead

President

American Society of Plant Taxonomists

 

Craig Moritz

Director

University of California

Museum of Vertebrate Zoology

 

Jack Clarke

Director of Public Policy and Government Relations

Massachusetts Audubon

 

Kim Bostwick

Curator of Birds and Mammals

Cornell University Museum of Vertebrates

 

Wilbur B. Amand, VMD

Executive Director

Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians

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