- The Washington Times - Monday, May 7, 2001


Bowing to pressure from scientists and animal lovers, the head of the Smithsonian Institution said yesterday he is withdrawing a proposal to close a research center run by the National Zoo in the Virginia countryside.
"We made this decision because it was clear from the messages we received from individuals and organizations around the country that the proposal was interpreted by many as indicating that the Smithsonian was backing away from its commitment to science in general, and to the biological sciences in particular," Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small said in a written statement.
In addition to running 16 museums and the National Zoo, the Smithsonian does a wide range of research in fields ranging from African art to astrophysics.
The Smithsonian board of regents, headed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, was scheduled to meet today to consider Mr. Smalls program, including his original plan to close the zoos Conservation and Research Center near Front Royal, Va.
The 3,200-acre center is on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 70 miles west of the District and is not open to the public. Specializing in preserving endangered species, it has been used by scientists from throughout the United States and approximately 80 other countries.
Several members of Congress had registered opposition to closing the center. Also, Mr. Smalls plan has been the subject of reports on national television news shows featuring small herds of endangered animals frolicking on the rolling hills of the center or close-ups of small, wide-eyed creatures peering at the camera from their enclosures.
Because of budget pressures, Mr. Small also has proposed to close the Center for Materials Research and Education, which analyzes finds from archaeological digs.
It was not clear yesterday which cost-cutting measures Mr. Small will continue to press.
His statement said "nothing could be further from the truth" than any notion that his plan to close the zoo center represented a backing away from the biological sciences, "but clearly this action is necessary to correct that false perception."
"While our intention had been to save the significant cost of managing such a large physical property and reinvest those savings in scientific research, it is now obvious that the message did not come through," Mr. Small said. "Rather than continue a controversy that was harmful to the Institution, we decided to withdraw the proposal."
Proponents of keeping the Front Royal facility open argued that some of the research done there with endangered species simply could not be accomplished in closer quarters.
"If the CRC were closed, it would be impossible to replicate it anywhere else," said U.S. Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican.
"I am particularly pleased that the outstanding scientists who work there, many of whom are pioneers in their fields, will be able to return to producing quality science instead of worrying about losing their jobs," he said.
The Smithsonian was founded in 1846 "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men" with money bequeathed by James Smithson, a British scientist.
A document from Mr. Small earlier this week pointed out that while the range of research at the Smithsonian has greatly increased over the past 20 years, funding — a mix of private and federal money has gradually eroded.
"Rather than making indiscriminate, across-the-board cuts for the sake of maintaining the status quo — as in the past — the Smithsonian is acknowledging that it can no longer afford to pursue every avenue of inquiry and (is) setting priorities," Mr. Small said last week.
He acknowledged at the time that zoo work on five projects to reintroduce endangered species to the wild might have to come to an end with closure of the Front Royal center.
In contrast to most previous Smithsonian secretaries, Mr. Small is not a scientist. He is a former executive of Fannie Mae and has been a promoter of private financing to increase the Smithsonians resources. President Clinton appointed Mr. Small last year.
The budget proposed by President Bush would authorize federal spending on the Smithsonian of $494.1 million in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, an 8.9 percent increase.

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