National Geographic : 1908 Feb
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE commerce the danger of the introduction of noxious birds, mammals, and insects is ever present. To prevent the introduc tion of birds and mammals likely to be come pests is one of the special duties of the Biological Survey. GUARDING AGAINST DANGEROUS IMPORTA TIONS The English sparrow serves as an ever-ready example of the disastrous consequences of the unwise introduction of a species into a new home. Under the present law and system of inspection, this pest could never have obtained a foothold in America, since so well known were the bird's habits in its native land that its disastrous career on this con tinent would have been foreseen and its entry prohibited. Under the mistaken idea that the mongoose would prove beneficial by de voting itself to the destruction of small rodents, and ignorant of the fact that the animal is omnivorous and one of the most destructive creatures in existence, more than one attempt has been made to im port it into the United States, where its successful introduction would prove noth ing less than a national calamity. Attempts to bring in numerous noxious birds and beasts have been frustrated only by the vigilance of the inspectors. It is, however, necessary to guard not only against intentional importation of noxious species from mistaken philan thropic motives, but unintentional ones; and when it is understood that under the 433 permits issued last year for the entry of foreign birds and animals were in cluded 274,914 canaries, 47,383 miscel laneous birds, and 654 mammals, it will be seen that mistakes of identity by im porters might easily be made, and that under the guise of innocent species nox ious ones might find entrance. Every shipment of birds or beasts, therefore, is carefully scanned by expert agents, who seize upon noxious species and prevent their entry into the country by compelling their destruction or their return to the port of shipment. The Lacey act is not intended to restrict legitimate trade or work undue hardship on importers. In the great majority of cases it can be enforced so as to cause only slight delay and yet prevent the entry of species which may become pests. As will appear from this short sketch, the work of the Biological Survey is em inently practical in its nature and intent. Beginning with investigations of the food habits of a few of our most important birds, the scope of its work has widened until it involves the study of all our birds and mammals in their manifold relations to man. The essential objects of this branch of the work are to show from a basis of ascertained fact the particular species that are beneficial and those that are injurious, and to indicate the best methods of preserving the one class and of destroying the other. Incidental to its main object, it endeavors to collect and to supply to those interested all available information relative to the dis tribution and abundance of our game and of our birds and mammals. Its list of publications is already a long one. Many of its reports are purely practical, in tended for the information and guidance of the farmer; others are more strictly scientific and are designed to serve ed ucational purposes. Strange as it may seem, the United States, one of the youngest of the world's powers, is a pioneer in the kind of eco nomic work outlined in the present paper. European countries, however, are now recognizing the immense importance to agriculture of such investigations and their absolute necessity as the basis for national and international laws. As the world's population increases and as vast regions of land now wild and uncultivated are brought under the plow, so must investigations of the kind entrusted by Congress to the Biological Survey ever assume more and more im portance.