Trump Administration Plans to Eliminate USGS’s Biological Survey Unit

The agency is also poised to end a 50-year effort to restore endangered whooping crane populations.

By Diana Kwon | February 26, 2018

National Museum of Natural HistoryWIKIMEDIA, AMANDA

Following the budget deal made in the US government earlier this month, lawmakers are preparing to approve new agency funding priorities—for the first time since President Donald Trump took office—next month. Once formal appropriations bills are passed, the US Geological Survey (USGS) will be able to move forward with plans to shutter its Biological Survey Unit (BSU), The Washington Post reports.

The BSU, which is located at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, was established in 1885 to document and study plant and animal populations in the U.S. According to The Post, the office has an annual budget of about $1.6 million and six researchers who care for a collection of around a million bird, reptile, and mammal specimens.

“They’ve made a decision to mothball a reservoir of basic research, much of the baseline information on the fauna of the United States,” David Schmidley, a former president of the University of New Mexico, Oklahoma State University, and Texas Tech University, tells The Post. “And that, to me, makes no sense.”

Earlier this month, scientists who head the American Society of Mammalogists, the American Ornithological Society, and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists, penned an editorial in Science urging lawmakers to reconsider the decision to eliminate the unit. “BSU activity over the past 5 years has included collection of many thousands of specimens from multiple states and foreign countries, loans of scientific specimens to institutions in the United States and abroad, hosting visiting researchers, and publication of seminal scientific contributions,” they wrote. “[We] express deep concerns over these budgetary decisions, and we urge reconsideration of budget priorities to maintain and, indeed, to revitalize the BSU.”

According to The Post, those who support the proposed budget cuts argue that these collections don’t represent “cutting-edge research” and that they should receive private funds, rather than government support. “If this collection is that valuable, there are probably 20 billionaires that could endow it,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) tells The Post.

The BSU is not the only USGS program facing termination. The agency also plans to end its 50-year effort to restore endangered whooping crane populations.

Gingrich also tells The Post that President Trump and his allies are prepared to make fundamental changes to government operations. “A simple battle cry is that we need to move at the pace of technology, not the pace of bureaucracy,” he says. “And for every place that moves at the pace of bureaucracy, we need to overhaul it.”

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Avatar of: Salticidologist


Posts: 58

February 27, 2018

We have been headed toward the reprivatization of Natural History in the United States for some time.  Related subjects are no longer respected.  Zoology departments have been consolidated and renamed to make them look like applied sciences.  With greater wealth than ever in the hands of just a few people, at least one of them is going to need to step forward soon to fill in the growing gap.  However at this juncture I would recommend that wealthy donors put their priority on habitat preservation or restoration, as well as education in population ecology and the National Wildlife Federation.

Avatar of: HcXLS.32TR


Posts: 1

February 27, 2018



How can restoration, preservation, and education proceed if there is no baseline data to use as a foundation to move forward. Science funding agencies are as much to blame as politicians; the devaluation of baseline data has proceeded for a long time. It has eroded the ability to detect potentially devastating changes, compromised restoration efforts, and contributed to a declining interest in teaching about natural plant and animal populations in our schools and consequently to future scientists. What rational people will want to start a career in a dying profession? Would privitization revitalize or put an end to objective science?


Avatar of: Jcech344


Posts: 3

March 2, 2018

Why would  anyone believe that baseline data will be lost and that this effort will not continue?  Why is this a responsibility of our government vs all those associations who really do have a vested interest?  I suspect they will do it better and more cost effective.Cutting federal funding does NOT equate with loss of science.  If the effort is worth the cost than some individuals or organizations will step up to continue and I suspect improve it. They always have.

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