Assessing the Nation's Biological Resources

By Cracraft, Joel | Issues in Science and Technology, Fall 1994 | Go to article overview

Assessing the Nation's Biological Resources

Cracraft, Joel, Issues in Science and Technology

We need a new strategy for implementing the visionary National Biological Survey.

Bruce Babbitt took charge of the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) determined to expand the role of science in federal land-management policy and thus avoid, as he put it, "train wrecks" between environmentalists and traditional users of federal lands, both armed with more opinion than data. One of his first actions was to create the National Biological Survey (NBS). Although little-mentioned amid controversies over grazing and mining rights and other land-use disputes that have marked Babbitt's tenure, the NBS could be his most enduring legacy--if formidable obstacles to its effective implementation can be surmounted.

As conceived by DOI officials, the NBS's mission is broad and vital: "to gather, analyze, and disseminate the information necessary for the wise stewardship of our nation's natural resources and to foster an understanding of our biological systems and the benefits they provide to society." The NBS will be neither advocate nor regulator; it will simply provide accurate scientific information on the nation's biotic resources to any interested party. The appointment of respected University of Georgia ecologist H. Ronald Pulliam as director of the NBS underscores Babbitt's commitment to its scientific mission.

The importance of biological diversity is reflected in its obvious usefulness in providing food, shelter, clothing, and medicines, as well as in its less obvious functions, such as regulating climate, creating and maintaining fertile soils, and purifying water and air--not to mention contributing to humans' spiritual and psychological well-being. Given the life-sustaining and economically critical role of the species around us, having a deeper scientific understanding of them is essential for sound management and conservation action. The NBS represents the most comprehensive means so far proposed for accomplishing this.

Currently, however, the NBS's future effectiveness is a major question mark. Does it have the necessary research capabilities to fulfill its mission? Will it be able to integrate its work with that of the many institutions involved in researching and protecting biodiversity? Will it lead to the cooperation between research scientists and resource managers that will be necessary to translate Babbitt's vision into reality? Perhaps most important, will it ultimately make it possible to overcome the significant political roadblocks to the sustainable use of our nation's biotic resources?

Challenging agenda

For more than a century, the United States has sought to discover and document its living resources. The Division of Biological Survey, originally established within the Department of Agriculture, was transferred to DOI's Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in 1939. Over the intervening years, the survey languished. The escalating loss and degradation of biological resources, as well as heightened conflict over whether to exploit or preserve them, have now focused public attention on the urgent need for better scientific information.

In 1993, DOI set out to consolidate the biological research functions of its three lead bureaus--FWS, the National Park Service (NPS), and the Bureau of Land Management--under the aegis of the NBS. In addition to inventorying and monitoring the nation's biotic resources, the NBS will undertake basic and applied biological research intended to provide a strong scientific basis for management and policy decisions. This is a challenging agenda.

In a seven-month study requested by Babbitt, the National Research Council (NRC) laid out a wide-ranging analysis of the nation's research priorities in the area of biological diversity. Its report, A Biological Survey for the Nation, concluded that the magnitude of our pressing research and information-management needs far outstrips the capabilities of the new NBS. For example, a crucial first step is to inventory the nation's biotic resources, which, among other things, will provide the framework for monitoring short- and long-term change. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)


1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited article

Assessing the Nation's Biological Resources


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.