The Pennsylvania Biological Survey traces its origin to an initiative by representatives of the National Audubon Society, Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and the former Department of Natural Resources (now two departments - Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and Department of Environmental Protection), who met in 1979 to discuss the need to develop a coordinated inventory and assessment of the flora and fauna of Pennsylvania. The Survey's first task was to document the status of plants and animals of special concern in Pennsylvania. A subsequent five-year effort resulted in the publication in 1985 of Species of Special Concern in Pennsylvania (H. H. Genoways and F. J. Brenner, eds., Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Special Public. No. 11, Pittsburgh, Pa.). This volume contained information on the status of 297 species, including representatives of all 5 classes of vertebrates, selected groups of invertebrates, and vascular plants.
Those who worked on the project realized that the publication of Species of Special Concern represented only a first step in their efforts to assess native biota of the Commonwealth. Thus, various technical committees that had worked on the project (e.g., plant, invertebrate, fish, amphibian and reptile, ornithological, and mammal) continued their survey efforts, working under the direction of a steering committee, which consisted of the chair of the technical committees plus representatives of the Pennsylvania Game Commission, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Environmental Resources, and the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory. Although this ad hoc Biological Survey worked effectively to update and expand the coverage of its survey of the Commonwealth's native biota, members of the steering committee realized that the continuing nature of this effort required a more formal organization. Accordingly, a constitution and bylaws were developed and adopted by the steering committee in January 1988. In September of that year the Pennsylvania Biological Survey was incorporated as a non-profit scientific organization under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and in 1989 was granted provisional tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service Code.
In 1989 the mammal and ornithological technical committees were designated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission as official scientific advisory committees to the Commission. Under the terms of a Memorandum of Agreement between the Pennsylvania Biological Survey and the Pennsylvania Game Commission, representatives of the two organizations meet annually to discuss matters relating to the Commonwealth's mammals and birds. A similar, but less formal, relationship exists between the fishes committee and amphibian and reptile committee and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which has jurisdiction for managing fishes, aquatic resources including aquatic invertebrates, reptiles and amphibians in the Commonwealth. The vascular plant technical committee provides data to the Pennsylvania Natural Diversity Inventory which is a source of information for implementing plant protection legislation in Pennsylvania.The Biological Survey is affiliated with the Pennsylvania Academy of Science and has sponsored plenary symposia at two of that organization's annual meetings. In 1987, the symposium was titled "Pennsylvania Biological Survey: A Legacy of Penn's Woods," while the 1990 theme was "Blueprint for the Maintenance of Biodiversity in Pennsylvania." A summary of this latter symposium, "Perspectives on Biodiversity in Pennsylvania and its Maintenance," a commentary paper, appeared in the Journal of the Pennsylvania Academy of Science (G. L. Kirkland et al. 1990).
In 1992 the Biological Survey developed an association with the Center for BioDiversity Research at the University Park Campus of The Pennsylvania State University. The intent of this mutually supportive association is to promote interagency communication and species status assessments. Ultimately, these assessments will provide a partial basis for constructing a statewide network of bioreserves. To underscore the importance of this initiative, the Survey prepared a report titled: "A Heritage for the 21st Century: Conserving Pennsylvania's Native Biological Diversity," published by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (S. G. Thorne et al. 1995).
A PABS conference in 1996, "Inventorying and Monitoring of Pennsylvania's Native Biodiversity" was called to produce a report on the number of Pennsylvania species and our knowledge of their status. Inventory and Monitoring of Biotic Resources in Pennsylvania, the resulting book published in cooperation with the Center for Biodiversity Research at Penn State University, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Pennsylvania Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, provides a benchmark for biodiversity in the Commonwealth.
In 1998, Pennsylvania Biological Survey held a conference in Harrisburg, "Conserving Pennsylvania's Natural Diversity: Creating a Cooperative Framework for Action" that brought together a variety of stakeholders including state agencies, private landowners, municipalities, and others to discuss how to mesh efforts in conserving biodiversity and to showcase examples of best practices.
The first ever Pennsylvania Wild Bioblitz was held on June 4-5, 1999, organized by PABS and the Biodiversity Section of the Pennsylvania Game Commission's Wildlife Bureau. For 24 hours biologists and citizen volunteers found and tallied as many wild species as possible in State Game Lands Number 211, north of Harrisburg in Lebanon County. The data from this survey were compiled to serve as a resource and comparative database.
In 2000, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources enlisted the Biological Survey to sponsor a Bioreserves Strategy Conference in State College. Approximately 100 participants took part in work groups that produced lists of important biodiversity elements and concepts by ecoregion. The resulting lists became part of a strategy document for state bioreserves.
Recently, PABS was the recipient of a grant from the World Wildlife Fund to prepare a Pennsylvania supplement to the Windows on the Wild middle school biodiversity curriculum. The curricular materials will help teachers tailor lessons about biodiversity to Pennsylvania issues and species, to bring the topic closer to home with students.