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Teaming with Life: Section I

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Cover Introduction   SectionI   Section II  Section III   SectionIV   Section V

Section I


Make Use of Current Knowledgein

Managing Biodiversityand Ecosystems of the US


"These are our national treasures.When we maintain our national parks, nourish our wildlife refuges, protectour water, and preserve places like the Everglades, we are standing upfor our values and our future, and that is something all Americans canbe proud of. God created these places but it is up to us to care for them.Now we are and we're doing it the right way, by working together."

William J. Clinton,12 October 1996


In order to manage the livingresources of the United States and the world sustainably, it is necessaryto use the scientific information that is currently available to informconservation strategies at the local, regional, and national levels. Itis also necessary to generate new knowledge to fill in gaps in our understanding—whichis the topic of succeeding sections of this Report. Our first recommendations,however, concern using knowledge that we do have, organizing it electronically,and providing it to all parties that need it. To accomplish this, we willneed to form partnerships among governmental organizations at Federal,state, and local levels, and between them and the private sector. Thesepartnerships, using up-to-date information, can begin the process of developingcoordinated local, regional and national strategies by designing best managementpractices and further sharing information.


Public-Private PartnershipsShould Manage, Use, and Conserve Biodiversity and Ecosystems

Develop coordinated strategies forconservation and sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystemsof the United States.


This Panel was charged withrecommending actions to improve the Nation's conservation of biologicalresources in the 21st Century. At present, governmental agencies and otherentities that are responsible for managing the Nation's natural capitalsometimes do so in an uncoordinated—indeed conflicting—manner, largelybecause they are operating from differing (and sometimes outmoded) knowledgebases. Also, many confrontations between advocates for the environmentand defenders of commercial activities could be avoided or resolved byapplying objective, scientific information—ready accessibility would enhancesuch use. Conservation and management should also be coordinated acrossall Federal, state, and local agencies and among governments and othermanaging entities. In fact, the United States should develop a comprehensivenational conservation strategy, building from the elements which currentlyexist.

To formulate such a strategy,we need to develop, through public-private partnerships, an objective,accessible knowledge base. The expansion of the capability of the NBIIto deliver, rapidly and accessibly, comprehensive and comprehensible informationfor devising strategies, making responsible management decisions, and resolvingconflicts is an essential part of bringing scientific knowledge into theservice of society. The Ecosystem Management Initiative, which attemptedto codify information needs in different regions, was a beginning. An agreed-uponknowledge base can then be used to foster local, regional, and nationalconservation strategies that are biologically and ecologically acceptableand economically sustainable. The goal of these strategies should be netenhancement of natural capital, so that future generations may enjoy thebounties of nature as well as economic prosperity. These strategies shouldinclude mechanisms for managing and protecting ecosystems sustainably inthe face of global change and guarding our natural capital in all its forms;they should also employ the best, most up-to-date scientific informationavailable, and should evolve to incorporate new information as it is generated.There are already some excellent examples of such strategies that havebeen developed around the country under the leadership of non-governmentalorganizations, elements of the private sector, or representatives fromlocal, state, and Federal agencies.

The Science Board of theDepartment of the Interior recently took a good step toward assuring theuse of the best information available in policy decisions. The ScienceBoard is chaired by the Secretary and includes the assistant secretariesand bureau directors. Each bureau has selected a significant managementissue that should be informed by science but which may offer room for improvementin this respect. For example, the Bureau of Land Management has chosento review fire management. A team, including representatives from otheragencies in the Department, has been formed to review the inclusion ofup-to-date science in the fire management decision-making processes ofthe Bureau. Following review, a presentation that includes analysis, stepsplanned for improvement, and recommendations on actions requiring authorizationoutside of the Bureau will be made to the Board. The review will be designedto answer several questions: Is the scientific information being used actuallyrelevant to the policies and decisions that must be made? Has informationbeen provided in a way that facilitates its use? Is the information timely?Is it credible? Is it understood by decision makers? Is it understood bystakeholders?

The process instituted bythe Department of Interior Science Board is commendable, and should beconsidered for adoption throughout the government.

Any plan for conservationand management should:

• be based on agreed-uponguiding principles,

• incorporate mechanismsfor managing ecosystems sustainably in the face of global change,

• protect critical ecosystemsand rare and endangered species,

• minimize the introductionof non-native species and mitigate damages caused by invasives alreadypresent,

• account for the needs ofsociety and the economy while guarding natural capital in all its forms,and

• provide for ongoing researchto continually better our ability to live prosperously and sustainablyon the benefits that we derive from natural capital.

The planning, thought, and explorationthat would go into the development of these strategies for the sustainablemanagement of biodiversity and ecosystems would be of great benefit tolocal communities, the Nation, and all levels of organization in between.Once developed, the strategies would guide future management decisionswhile allowing flexibility to incorporate new knowledge. In addition, thecoordination of actions among various agencies would help to eliminateduplication of effort and therefore save funds that could be invested morewisely. Coordination also would illuminate research areas in which agenciesand academia could cooperate, and would facilitate the development of informationsystems that would serve not only management agencies but also the public.The development process should provide forums for discussion, so that lessonslearned by one entity can be instructive to many. We should build on andlearn from efforts such as the Ecosystem Management Initiative, which attemptedto discern the appropriate Federal role in regional management. At present,we are probably not gaining the full value of lessons learned from policysuccesses and failures. Forums also provide an avenue for input from thepublic and from the private sector, which in itself can be of great valuein time and expense saved, opportunities for understanding gained, andin litigation avoided.

The absence of coordinatedstrategies for conservation is one factor that allows the continued degradationof our natural capital. If coordination of management and research activitiesamong Federal agencies, and between the Federal government and other publicand private stakeholders, is not achieved, many of these agencies willcontinue to manage inefficiently or to work at cross purposes with eachother. This in turn leads to unnecessary expenditures, interagency conflict,public dissatisfaction, and mismanaged natural resources. In the absenceof coherent strategies, it will become more and more difficult to bringthe results of up-to-date research into management and policy decisions.

Individuals, companies, localcommunities, state governments, and Federal agencies all have a stake inthe development of these strategies. A special role of the Federal governmentshould be to provide a framework for activities at all levels and to providefor the integration and availability of the highest-quality informationfor these purposes. In doing this, it should facilitate the organizationof workshops that would bring together knowledgeable people from government,academia, non-governmental organizations and the private sector to establishagreed-upon best practices for management of ecosystems. Compilation ofregional best practices that emerge from the workshops would then enlightena national strategy for managing Federal lands. Because much research hasshown that greater biodiversity improves the services that ecosystems provide,and because of the importance of preserving biodiversity as a capital assetfor future generations, the federal government has a special obligationto manage its lands to maximize their biodiversity. Indeed, such managementis socially necessary and socially sustainable because both its costs andits benefits are shared equitably by all current and future generations.

The development of nationallycoordinated strategies for managing biodiversity and ecosystems would bea natural outgrowth of the concept of "ecosystem management" that has beenemployed in several agencies in recent years, partly in connection withunderstanding the effects of global climate change on agriculture, humanhealth, and in other areas. The budgets of these agencies should includefunds for cooperating in the development of coordinated strategies forthe sustainable management of biodiversity and ecosystems. Trained biologistsand other specialists should be recruited by the agencies and promotedto management positions within them to insure that current understandingof the underlying facts and concepts involved in these strategies is representedat policy-making levels. Job descriptions, especially those for managementpositions, should be rewritten when appropriate to facilitate suchrecruitment and promotion.

All agencies with responsibilityfor managing biodiversity and ecosystems should be directed to cooperatein developing coordinated management of the nation's biodiversity and ecosystems.Certain elements of appropriate management are already in place or beingdeveloped, such as the plan for dealing with invasive alien species (seeBox 3). Other topics that should have priority among management actionsinvolve endangered species (see Box 4) and harmful marine algae (see Box5). Coordinated efforts have already been developed to deal with some localsituations. For example, the diverse group of stakeholders that constructedthe San Diego Multi-Species Conservation Plan (see Box 6) includes privatelandowners and other citizens, representatives of conservation groups,universities, industries, and agencies at all levels of government. Similaractivities, such as the Northwest Forest Plan and the public-private partnershipthat is working to save and improve the Everglades ecosystem, are underwaythroughout the Nation, and should be fully encouraged within a coordinated,national context.






















Increase the InformationContent of the

National BiologicalInformation Infrastructure


Promote and support rapiddevelopment of the National Biological Information Infrastructure to bringthe most up-do-date scientific research available into local, regional,and national conservation strategies.


The National Biological InformationInfrastructure (NBII) is that part of the National Information Infrastructuredevoted to providing biodiversity and ecosystem information, and biologicalinformation in general. The NBII is not a single facility, but rather adistributed one that includes all institutions or agencies that provideonline databases of biological information. However, the amount of informationthat the NBII can provide at the moment does not reflect even a small percentageof the body of ecological and other biological knowledge. There is muchinformation available in the scientific literature and even in databasesthat is not part of the NBII and is not readily accessible, but which couldbe extremely useful in the generation of habitat conservation plans andother biodiversity and ecosystem management strategies. Steps should betaken to increase the online electronic information content of the NBII;these steps are outlined below.

Biological information aboutbiodiversity and ecosystems is among the most complex scientific data tomanage electronically, yet it is vitally important that we do so. Thereare intellectual challenges in the area of biodiversity information analysis,synthesis, presentation, validation and long term storage that requireconsiderable information science and computer science research and infrastructure.In Section V of this report, we call for the research needed to enablethe "next generation" NBII that will address these challenges.

In the meantime, however,there are data collection and provision actions that should be taken nowto increase the biological information content of the current NBII. Theseinclude:

allocation of a certainpercentage of all research funding specifically for the long term managementof the data and information generated by that research,

development and adherenceto data and metadata standards and best use protocols,

provision of new fundingfor digitizing the data associated with specimens in natural history collections,and conversion of "legacy" ecological datasets, and

setting of priorities toguide information gathering. For example, data on endangered and invasivespecies should have a high priority (see Boxes 3, 4, 5).

Other priorities, based on recommendationsmade in the National Research Council study "A Biological Survey for theNation" (www.nap.edu/readingroom/books/ bio/contents.html), with whichthis Panel agrees, are presented in Access America section A04 (www.gits.fed.gov/htm/env.htm).

There are a number of currentFederal agency activities that can improve the performance of the NBIIif they are recognized by, and budgetarily supported by, upper levels ofparticipating agencies as an important contribution to the NBII. Theseinclude the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), the NationalEnvironmental Data Index (NEDI, [www.nedi.gov]), and CENDI, which was formedby an interagency (NASA, NIH and the Departments of Commerce, Energy, Healthand Human Services, Defense, and Interior) Memorandum of Understandingto facilitate information management. Other agencies, notably the Departmentof Agriculture and its subsidiaries, should be directed to participatein these efforts, which should be coordinated so that duplication of effortis prevented.

Federal government expenditureon research, development, and management that is related to environmentis on the order of $5.3 billion per year (including NASA expenditures forthe Earth Observing System, and Department of Energy expenditures on globalchange and energy issues that are inextricably linked with other environmentalissues). Of that amount, approximately $600 million is spent on informationgeneration through research, data collection through monitoring, and thestorage and analysis of data. Many of these data are measurements of thephysical parameters of the environment. The biological data that wouldbe delivered by the NBII can be combined with these data, making both moreuseful to all public and private sectors, and providing a greater returnon these expenditures than would otherwise be the case.

Existing high-quality informationis not currently being incorporated into management decisions. There area number of reasons for this, but two of the most important are: 1) lackof electronic availability of needed biological information, and 2) lackof skill on the part of many resource managers to analyze and interpretthat information. The recommendations for the NBII as described here willaddress the first of these shortcomings. The "next generation" NBII describedin Section V will in part address the second by increasing the ease ofuse of information through software developments, and by providing a systemthat is driven by user needs. Of course, entities that employ resourcemanagers will need to insist that those persons have appropriate skills.

The NBII is truly national,in that it interlinks datasets held by individuals, museums, governments,industry, and so on. However, the Federal government is a major user andprovider of information, and should play a leading role in the developmentof the NBII, and participate in public-private partnerships to enhancethe NBII. All agencies of the Federal government that hold or generatedata that are relevant to biodiversity and ecosystems should be directedto:

Make all data they hold(those in agency databases as well as those generated by the work of bothintramural and extramural individual researchers whom they support) fullyaccessible via the NBII.

Discover redundancies indata collection routines among agencies, and eliminate duplication of effortand expenditure wherever possible by combining efforts or utilizing datacollected by another agency.

Coordinate software andsystems development with other agencies to eliminate duplication of effortand expenditure wherever possible.

Cooperate with other governmentagencies, scientists, and the private sector to establish and adopt dataand metadata standards, authority files and thesauruses for biodiversityand ecosystem information.

An NBII that is truly functionalmust be designed from the perspective of the users, and must be adequatelyfunded to achieve the goal of full electronic accessibility to biologicalinformation for all citizens. Despite the great economic value of biodiversityand ecosystem services, the biodiversity and ecosystem information domainhas not received adequate attention from professional software developers.The building of the NBII is an excellent opportunity to forge public-privatepartnerships in software development by providing incentives for private-sectordevelopers to become engaged in this information domain. The Nation shouldharness the intellectual energies of small businesses by providing incentivesfor them to become involved. These incentives could take several forms:Contracts with missionagencies for specific developments, with follow-on agreements that providea market for those developments;

Cooperative agreementsamong several agencies and between them and the private sector for developmentand technical support of software that serves several agencies.

Direct grants for exploratorydevelopments in standards and software from the Biological Resources Divisionof the USGS, and from the Division of Biological Infrastructure of theNSF. Current budgets for these activities should be at least doubled overthe course of three years, and thereafter maintained against inflation.

The US possesses approximately750 million biological specimens in its natural history museums and herbaria.The georeferenced data (geographic coordinate data attached to the biologicalinformation) from these specimens is urgently needed as a tool to studystatus and trends of biodiversity and ecosystems, but the vast majorityof this information has not been digitized. Also, literature dating backto the time of Linnaeus (mid-1700s) and before is still vital to the studyof biodiversity and ecosystems. Therefore, critical Federal and non-Federalinformation resources (museums, libraries) will require funding to digitizetheir information and bring it online as a part of the NBII.

Funding for this effort shouldcome in part from a partnership among state and local government, institutional,and private sources, but substantial Federal funding must be provided toleverage support from other partners. Clearly, the priority of the informationto be digitized and the scientific merit of data-capture projects mustbe used as a criterion for allocating funds within a system of merit review.An appropriate mechanism for grants for digitizing data already exists.There is a working relationship between the NSF's Directorate for BiologicalSciences and the USGS/BRD, first established by Memorandum of Understandingin 1995 and strengthened by several interagency agreements since. Therefore,USGS/BRD, in partnership with the appropriate NSF/BIO programs, could fundsuch projects based on the NSF merit review system.

Within NSF/BIO, approximately$3 million is available annually to proposals for museum data digitization.The relevant programs should, over the course of the next several years,make data acquisition a priority for proposals and awards, and the NSFshould add significantly to the funds available to museums for informationprovision projects. Because the USGS/BRD is central to the developmentof the NBII, the agency's current budget for data acquisition should beincreased by an order of magnitude within three years, and maintained againstinflation thereafter.

Cover Introduction   SectionI   Section II  Section III   SectionIV   Section V

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