Nature Conservancy Letter on Collections

Jim Beach beach at VIOLET.BERKELEY.EDU
Wed Nov 16 09:23:10 CST 1994

This letter was originally posted to the Biodiversity Information
Center (US) listserv: BIODICEN-L at  It contains
and interesting perspective on the relative importance of primary
biological collections data for National Biodiversity Information
Center and seems worth bouncing to the Taxacom list.

Apologies in advance for the line formatting.

J Beach, Museum Informatics Project, UC Berkeley

Forwarded message:

> From: patricia mehlhop, New Mexico natural Heritage
        Program <pmehlhop at> >

Subject: Comments on NBIC
> November 15, 1994
> Thomas E. Lovejoy
> Assistant Secretary for Environmental and External Affairs
> c/o Bruce Umminger
> Smithsonian Institution
> Washington, D.C.
> Dear Tom:
> I apologize that a sudden personal matter has, at the last minute, kept me from
> attending the November 15 meeting of the National Biodiversity Planning Board.
> Since I am unable to participate at the meeting and to represent U. S. Natural
> Heritage Programs, I am forwarding a few comments on the September 2 version of
> the conceptual paper for the National Biodiversity Information Center (NBIC).  The
> Drafting Committee has done an excellent job of presenting the need for NBIC and of
> developing the mission, objectives and guiding principles.  In the section on Structure
> and Administration, I was especially pleased to find the concept of periodic competition
> and review for the Center.
> There is a conspicuous, and to me unfortunate, bias in the document toward
> promotion of collections (presumably biological, but this is never stated).  I find this not
> only inappropriate, but narrow and potentially constraining.  We are using and altering
> our natural resources at an increasingly rapid rate.  NBIC should be committed to
> keeping pace with the corresponding increase in need for biodiversity information that
> our policy-makers, land use planners and other potential users of NBIC probably will
> have.  Committing the Center up front to promoting collections above other sources of
> information probably will render it inadequate.  For instance, there may not be time for
> the information users to obtain information from the primary data that collections hold.
> In addition, existing data and information sources, such as the Breeding Bird Survey,
> EcoData of the Forest Service for vegetation community data, endangered species
> observation records in Natural Heritage Programs and the numerous sources named
> in this draft, can be more useful for some purposes than data and information from
> collections.  NBIC should be committed to using and promoting all sources that merit
> it.  Also, new sources of biodiversity information and data that we cannot envision
> today will arise, and NBIC must be committed to evaluating them and to using and
> promoting those that meet the content and quality criteria.  Below, I point out specific
> changes that can be made in the document to broaden its biodiversity information
> focus.
> P.4, Objective 2.  Change "about collections held" to "on sources that are".  While you
>      state that there is one primary focus, you really present two foci that overlap,
>      but are not the same.  Collections are an extremely significant source of data
>      on the biodiversity of the U. S., but they are not always the best source,
>      particularly for rare species, small populations and most ecosystems.  The
>      Center should be committed to focusing on the best sources without making the
>      assumption that focusing on data in collections will focus on the numerous
>      aspects of biodiversity that are named in the second objective.
> P. 6, para 4, lines 9-11.  Change the sentence beginning with "Even though certain...."
>      to "The Center should acknowledge the importance of sources of primary data,
>      such as collections, since primary data are the means of verification of
>      information."
> P. 6, last para.; P. 7, first para  On line 2, change "primary data collectors and
>      producers" to "principal sources and producers of information and data.  This
>      section of the paper is on information management, but the focus appears to be
>      on primary data.  Don't forget that the Center will be serving information as well
>      as data users.  On P. 7, line 3, change "users will be" to "data users will be".
>      Add to the end of the paragraph "Information users may be referred to other
>      sources that have compiled and analyzed data, but that acknowledge the
>      original source.".
> P. 8, bullets.  Add a new bullet; "Association for Biodiversity Information and its
>      member Natural Heritage Programs and Conservation Data Centers."  ABI is a
>      new international association that was incorporated in September 1994 with the
>      following mission: We work together to collect, interpret, and disseminate
>      ecological information critical to the conservation of the world's biological
>      diversity.  It is holding its first meeting later this week.
> P. 11, Criteria for Selection.  Delete criteria (3).
> P. 12, para 2, line 2.  In front of "The technical staff.." add "It is envisioned that".  This
>      leaves flexibility in the structure.
> I congratulate you and the Drafting Committee on the fine work done in producing this
> document, and I look forward to receiving the next and possibly final draft.  Over the
> past months, I have communicated with many Natural Heritage Programs and with the
> Association for Biodiversity Information about the concept of NBIC.  I have received
> both interest and enthusiasm from them.  Should you need representation from
> Natural Heritage Programs in the future, I would be pleased to offer or arrange it.
> Sincerely,
> Patricia Mehlhop, Ph.D.
> Director, New Mexico Natural Heritage Program
> representing U. S. Natural Heritage Programs

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