North American Breeding Bird Survey, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Biological Resources Division, USGS, U.S. Department of the Interior
Data Center Description
The Biological Survey Unit (BSU) has had several affiliations within the Department of Interior (DOI) because of Bureau reorganizations since 1982 (Fisher, 1982) when its history and structure was last summarized. Among these were removal from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to the National Biological Survey (NBS) and thence to the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS). This update of Fisher (1982) reviews the history of the unit and summarizes its current composition, responsibilities, and activities.
The United States Government has a long history of involvement in research on wildlife and in the building, maintenance, and use of museum collections. The BSU traces its roots back to 1885 and the formation of the Section of Economic Ornithology in the Department of Agriculture. This Section, originally proposed by the American Ornithologists' Union and the Smithsonian Institution, was established by Congress to investigate food habits and migration of birds in relation to insects and plants. The section, under the leadership of C. Hart Merriam, was expanded in 1886 to include mammals, and was elevated to division status as the Division of Economic Ornithology and Mammalogy. Its general function was to provide information on pests to the rapidly expanding farm industry, and for the first few years studies of food habits were emphasized. Merriam, however, was more interested in plant and animal distributions and in the physical and climatic factors that influence them than he was in crop pests and feeding habits. As a result, the Division began conducting general surveys of bird, mammal, and other biotic community distributions, plotted the results and used them to construct life zone maps. Merriam perceived this information to be of value to agriculture, and he established several series of publications for the transmission of this information to farmers and other interested parties.