New & Noteworthy

Archive for May, 2010

25 May 2010

NSC Alliance Comments on Collections Digitization Plan, Collections Community Can Too

On 25 May 2010, the NSC Alliance submitted comments on the “Final Draft Strategic Plan for Establishing a National Digital Biological Collections Resource”. The strategic plan is a 10 year, national effort to digitize and mobilize images and data associated with biological research collections. It was drafted by workshop participants at the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center in February 2010.

In its endorsement letter, NSC Alliance cited the need to digitize the nation’s biological collections in order to protect the invaluable scientific knowledge contained within them. Natural and manmade disasters, such as the fire that recently swept through Brazil’s Butantan Institute, pose a real threat to collections. As media reports have chronicled, the fire destroyed one of the world’s largest collections of snakes, spiders, and scorpions. Although not a substitute for the original collections, digitized resources do provide a record of an institution’s holdings and data.

NSC Alliance also called for the support and participation, both financial and technical, of all federal agencies that maintain collections or have collections housed at non-federal facilities.

Members of the collections community are encouraged to submit comments this week on the digitization plan.  To read the plan or to submit comments, visit

Click here to read the comments submitted by NSC Alliance

24 May 2010

NAGPRA Official Responds to Scientific Criticism of New Rule

Recently, leading anthropologists and archaeologists sent a letter to Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar expressing deep concern with a recently implemented rule from the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) National Office in Washington, DC.  NAGPRA is housed within the Department of the Interior’s National Park Service.

According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) website, ScienceInsider, the scientists sent the “letter of protest” to Secretary Salazar on May 17.  The website further reports that the letter stated that the rule as written will cause “an incalculable loss to science” by permanently making such remains unavailable, and that the rule is “contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the law.”

ScienceInsider reported on May 24, 2010, that Sherry Hutt, NAGPRA Program Manager, “responded to some of the scientific concerns in an e-mail to ScienceInsider, suggesting that the remains covered by the rule aren’t likely to have much scientific value.”

ScienceInsider also reported: The original NAGPRA statute strove to balance the interests of science and Native Americans, and has spurred cooperation between them, says lead author Bruce Smith of the Smithsonian Institution.  NAGPRA requires that museums and other repositories repatriate culturally affiliated remains and draw up a list of unaffiliated remains, but it is silent on what to do with the unaffiliated remains.  The new rule requiring their disposal is “very bad news for science,” Smith says.  He adds that “the potential for overlapping and conflicting requests [for remains] is enormous.”

The NSC Alliance has in recent years formally commented on the NAGPRA Office’s efforts to craft and implement the latest rule.  These comments are not reflected in the final rule.  The new NAGPRA rule is at  The most recent NSC Alliance comments are available at

20 May 2010

Survey Seeks Information About Living Plant Collections

How much of North America’s plant diversity is safeguarded in ex situ collections?  The short answer is we don’t know, but BGCI-US (Botanic Garden Conservation International-US), in partnership with the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and the United States Botanic Garden, is using the North American Collections Assessment to answer this question.  Results will be widely distributed in a report, and will support BGCI’s global analysis to be presented in October to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as progress towards the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC).

Gardens and other organizations with living plant, seed bank, or tissue culture collections in every region of Canada, Mexico, and the United States are being asked to contribute to this global conservation effort by August 1.

Calling all Collections Managers

This survey is quick, easy, and FREE.  Every living plant collection, large and small, can participate in this global conservation initiative by uploading a simple spreadsheet of taxa held in your collections to BGCI’S PlantSearch database.  Within 24 hours, you will find out the conservation value of your collections, receive a names audit, and connect your entire collections to a global botanical network — which can aid your institution and others in collections management, botanical research, and ultimately plant conservation.

Launch of the North American Collections Assessment

Unique benefits will be provided when you submit your collections data to PlantSearch. In addition to IUCN Red List data, you will also receive NatureServe G-Ranks for North American taxa when you contribute your plant list.  These data are not available in this format anywhere else.

Please go to for details on how you can make your collections count in 2010.

12 May 2010

NSC Alliance Comments on Rule Regarding Culturally Unidentifiable Native American Human Remains

On May 12, 2010 the Natural Science Collections Alliance (NSC Alliance) submitted comments to the Department of the Interior regarding a rule that outlines procedures for the disposition of culturally unidentifiable Native American human remains in the possession or control of museums or federal agencies.  NSC Alliance called for the rescission of the rule, as the rule “is arbitrary and capricious, manifestly contrary to the requirements of the North American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act … and patently illegal under any reasonable standard of agency or judicial review.”

The rule goes into effect on May 14, 2010.  For more information about the rule, see

Click here to read NSC Alliance’s comments

Click here to read comments from NSC Alliance member Illinois State Musuem

04 May 2010

Op-Ed by NSC Alliance President Links Biodiversity, Collections

In a recent publication on, Dr. William Brown calls for the preservation of natural history collections as a way to preserve biodiversity.  “Natural history museums and related institutions … are the keepers of the codes of life. They have the collections and the curators, scientists and educators who understand biodiversity,” wrote Brown, who is President of the NSC Alliance, as well as the President and CEO of the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

The op-ed offers two recommendations that would jointly serve the preservation of biodiversity as well as science collections: preservation of viable tissue and DNA from all known species, and the digitization of all type specimens.  These recommendations are drawn from a report authored by the chief executives of eight internationally recognized natural science collections.

To read the op-ed, please visit,0.  The full set of recommendations can be downloaded here.