Conservation and Research Center (SI).

Leticia Cabrera lcabrera at UTB1.UTB.EDU
Mon Apr 16 20:45:07 CDT 2001

>The CRC at the Smithsonian Institution is being shut down.  Biodiversity workers should be aware of this. You may want to show your support and READ AND WRITE TODAY!!
> The Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center (CRC), a first class
>internationally renowned conservation organization, will be closed by
>December 31st, 2001 Smithsonian officials announced.
> Smithsonian officials plan to consolidate and reorganize SI science into a
>"single digit number of disciplines." They argued that "resources were
>simply not available to maintain the CRC as a world class facility and as a
>center for scientific excellence."
> For more than 25 years, CRC has been a pioneering force within the
>conservation community. From a cost-benefit perspective to society, CRC's
>staff has produced more scientific breakthroughs, published more
>peer-reviewed manuscripts, secured more grant funding, trained more
>developing country professionals (in the most countries worldwide), and
>placed more scientists in conservation leadership positions in the United
>States, and abroad, than most institutions. CRC's success is derived from
>the synergy of its physical location (a field site within the Eastern
>Deciduous Biome), the talents of its staff, the diversity of its
>conservation science, its emphasis on education and training, and their
>national and international network of collaborators and partners. The void
>that would remain if CRC was abolished could not be filled.
> Under this plan, virtually all conservation research programs will be
>eliminated. Gone will be programs in conservation biology (including
>long-term ecological field studies in the US and abroad), and in marine
>mammal biology, molecular genetics, small population genetic management,
>migratory birds, field ecology, GIS and remote sensing, and animal
>IN ANY LANGUAGE TO Virginia Representative Frank Wolf
>, Smithsonian Institution Secretary, Lawrence
>Small (si.smalll at, Undersecretary for Science, Dennis O'Connor
>(si.oconnord at, and The Coalition to Save Conservation Science at
>the Smithsonian (SaveConservation at

The following articles were published in Science and Nature:

Plan to Close Zoo Lab Draws Fire

Elizabeth Pennisi
The Smithsonian Institution plans to close two research centers as part of a move to consolidate and reshuffle its scientific activities. The plan, released last week, has raised an outcry among many researchers, who worry that other valuable programs may be cut as well. An influential member of Congress has already asked officials to rescind the plan, which is part of the agency's newly unveiled 2002 budget request (see previous story).

Considered by many the U.S. equivalent of a ministry of culture and science, the Smithsonian consists of 16 museums, the National Zoo, and a half-dozen research centers. Slated for the ax are the Center for Materials Research and Education, which seeks to improve preservation and curation techniques for museum artifacts, and the Conservation and Research Center (CRC), a 1290-hectare rural breeding and study facility for threatened or endangered species, operated by the zoo. The proposed closures are "a redirection of spending," as the Smithsonian focuses on a few key disciplines, says Lawrence Small, a former investment banker who last year took over as secretary of the 150-year-old institution.

The proposed cuts must still pass muster with Congress, which provides about 60% of the institution's $750 million budget, and with the Smithsonian's governing board, which is expected to review them next month. Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA), a member of the House appropriations panel whose district includes the center, immediately chastised the Smithsonian for the plan and called for a reversal of the decision. "I have let Smithsonian officials know of my extreme displeasure," Wolf said on 6 April, 1 day after word of the cuts was leaked to the media.

Smithsonian researchers say that they are shocked by the news, which was announced by the zoo's director, Lucy Spelman, during a surprise 4 April visit to the conservation center some 100 kilometers west of Washington, D.C. "It's kind of amazing," says Devra Kleiman, a former zoo researcher and now a conservation biologist at Conservation International in Washington, D.C. "At a time when most zoos are making major efforts to hire people to do research and conservation that link the work they do in zoos with the work they do in the field, the Smithsonian National Zoo, which was a model for that 25 years ago, [is] eliminating those functions."

In a staff memo, Spelman explained that "the resources are simply not available to maintain the CRC as a world class facility," even though Small insists that conservation research remains important to the Smithsonian. The CRC gets about $5 million per year in federal funds. The materials center, which was set up in 1963 to service all the museums, has a federal budget of about $3.3 million per year, but Small says it is "not an area of high priority" because most individual museums now have their own preservation programs. 

Small's plan would also create discipline-based institutes in astrophysics, geology and earth sciences, and the life sciences. A fourth, perhaps in conservation biology, would encompass the Smithsonian's remote field sites in Panama, Florida, and Maryland. Currently, each administrative unit, be it the CRC or a museum department, operates its own research program.

With personnel details yet to be announced, the proposed closures have had a devastating effect on staff members. "Morale is just right down in the basement," says one biologist who requested anonymity. Beyond the impact on their job status, some museum researchers worry that creating disciplinary institutes could conflict with the Smithsonian's stated mission of increasing the diffusion of scientific knowledge by putting too much distance between its scientific and educational activities. 

         Museum visitors take priority as Smithsonian curbs research 
The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC, the world's largest museum complex, plans to close at least two of its research centres, with the loss of 350 jobs. Some of the museum's scientists say its administrators are turning their backs on its research mission.
Staff at the Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia, a conservation biology facility employing 80 people, learned last week that it is to close by the end of the year. The centre conducts research on endangered species and breeding programmes under the auspices of the National Zoo, which is part of the Smithsonian complex.
Also to close is the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education, which employs a smaller number of researchers developing new techniques for preserving museum artifacts.
Scientists fear that the Smithsonian will continue to cut its research activities. According to one senior researcher, who recently left the institution and wished not to be named, the announcement is "the first shoe of probably many . . . this is a centipede".
The changes are "shocking and frightening for science", says Brian Huber, a palaeobiologist at the National Museum of Natural History and chair of the Smithsonian's academic senate. The senate will meet on 16 April to discuss the plans, but has no power to reverse them. They are likely to be confirmed by the Smithsonian's Board of Regents when it meets in May.
The Smithsonian Institution was set up in 1846 with funds bequeathed by James Smithson, an English chemist and geologist, to promote "the increase and diffusion of knowledge". But its annual operating budget of almost $600 million comes from the US Congress and from private donors - both of which tend to attach more importance to popular exhibits than to research.
Researchers at the museum complex believe that Larry Small, a former banker who was appointed last year as the first non-academic to serve as the Smithsonian's secretary, is behind the changes. "I feel strongly that Larry Small is not the right person to be in charge of the Smithsonian," says David Swofford, an evolutionary biologist who is leaving the natural-history museum for a post at Florida State University. "Morale is lower than it has ever been."
Dennis O'Connor, undersecretary of science at the complex, declined to comment on the closures, which are part of the 2002 federal budget proposal that was announced on Monday (see page 731). The overall budget for the museum complex is set to grow modestly in 2002, however.
A memo issued by Lucy Spelman, director of the National Zoo, says that the conservation center's closure is a result of budget constraints. But the memo twice mentions that funds released by the closure will be redirected to support public services at the Smithsonian.

More information about the Taxacom mailing list