U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Historic Preservation
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Collections recovered from the Steamboat Bertrand on display, DoSoto National Wildlife Refuge. Animated graphic that says - Learn, discover, protect


Excavation of the Steamboat Bertrand in 1969, DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.
Excavation of the Steamboat Bertrand in 1969,
DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge.
What is museum property?

Museum property, often referred to as objects, artifacts, specimens or collections may consist of many different things worthy of preservation. It's a form of personal property, but contains characteristics or values that we want to preserve into the future. Museum property can include archaeological collections, fossils, artwork, botanical and zoological specimens, and historical photographs, objects and documents. Using the term museum property may be misleading because many people think that you need to have a museum or exhibits to have those kinds of materials. In fact, even if you are not responsible for managing a museum or exhibits, there may be objects, photographs or documents around your workplace that are worthy of preservation. Answering the following questions will help to determine whether or not you have these kinds of objects or collections where you work.
  • Does the object appear to be rare or unique? For example, is it one-of-a- kind vehicle or scientific instrument?

  • Does the object (or collection) tell an important story about the mission of the Fish and Wildilfe Service and its programs?

  • Is the object or collection associated with an important person or event in American history or a person who or an event that has shaped the Fish and Wildlife Service's mission?

  • Was the object or collection created as a result of or collected through research performed by the Fish and Wildlife Service or at one of its field stations?

  • Might the object or collection likely increase in value, unlike other classes of personal property that depreciate in value?

  • Is the object important because of its age?

  • Is the object or collection associated with preserving cultural traditions or heritage?

  • Is the object or collection artwork?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, there is an excellent chance that you are responsible for museum property needing special security and storage arrangements.

Why do we keep museum objects?

The Fish and Wildlife Service plays an important role in preserving our cultural and natural heritage. At the most basic level, museum objects are the tangible results of our work that involves managing natural and cultural resources and honoring our trust responsibilities to tribes. They are inherently valuable for understanding the natural processes of the world around us, documenting important events and places in our lives, and providing insights into the interactions among humans and their environments. We preserve natural and cultural materials to assist us in completing needed scientific research, documenting our history and mission, and for instilling a resource conservation ethic in the general public through educational and interpretative programs.

For example, the preservation of artifacts excavated from archaeological sites helps us document and understand America's rich prehistory, history, and cultural diversity. Preserving fossils, zoological, and botanical specimens also contributes to our study of how life has changed and adapted on our planet over thousands and even millions of years. Other types of museum objects, such as art and cultural objects are important for their aesthetic qualities and preserving traditions. Also, Federal laws require us to preserve and protect all Federal property and certain types of museum property, such as archaeological collections.

The bottom line? Museum objects are useful and must be preserved because they tell us about our environment, ourselves, and the past that we all share, and because they help us fulfill the Fish and Wildlife Service's mission.


What would you do if you discovered an old object on your station that looked important (e.g., a duck stamp signed by "Ding" Darling or magnifying glass used by Rachel Carson)? Where do you preserve the key documents and objects that mark the opening of a new station or a station that was founded over 100 years ago? These materials are an integral part of a station's history, and, therefore, the heritage of the Service-so are some of the unique and antiquated equipment used by the station. Saving important documents and objects housed in refuge or hatchery offices, regional offices, or other Service facilities, is an important responsibility that all Service personnel should consider part of their everyday job.

In addition to holding historical objects in trust for the American public, preservation of the Service's heritage can provide material for education about the Service's mission and accomplishments in conserving the nation's fish, wildlife and plant resources. It is paramount that our generation ensures that the remnants and reflections of our proud heritage are not lost to generations to come.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) is second only to the Smithsonian Institution in holding natural and cultural objects in trust for the American public. With over 117 million objects and documents, Interior's collections run the gamut from art to zoology. As part of DOI, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) has its own unique heritage and a prominent place in the Country's conservation history to contribute to this collection. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide Service personnel with basic information on what and how to preserve significant Service documents and objects. This information is intended to be used only as a quick reference for questions about preservation in the Service. For more specific assistance, you can reference the documents cited below, visit the Web site http://training.fws.gov/history/preservation.html, or contact your Regional Museum Property Coordinator listed below.

Deciding What to Save

The first thing to remember about preservation is that 'If it is treated as junk, it becomes junk'. Therefore, knowing what has historical significance and what does not is important. There are no hard and fast rules, but here are some general guidelines that can point you in the right direction.

If a document or object is associated with, or signed by a significant figure, it should be saved. A significant figure can be a President, Service Director, prominent conservation figure (such as Rachel Carson or Jay N. "Ding" Darling), or other person important to a station, cause, or program. Special attention should be given to documents, including hand-written notes or documents with annotations by a significant figure.

If a document or object is associated with a significant event, program, or activity (e.g., a station's founding, the condor recovery program), it should be saved.

If a document or object is rare, extremely old, or otherwise considered valuable, it should be saved.

If an object or document represents a common activity that was used in the mission of the station or Service, representative samples should be saved for posterity. For instance, the cannon net from Swan Lake NWR, fish hatching jars, and banding pliers represent what we do, and how we have accomplished our day-to-day activities. Objects like these should be represented in Service museums.

If a document or photograph captures the history of the land prior to the development of a refuge or hatchery, it is important and should be saved.

Lastly, your instinct can help identify other items not covered by the previous examples. If you have a feeling that something is historic and of importance to the heritage of the Service, the document or object should be kept. Don't be afraid to trust your instincts!

Museum Property

The following categories of items already exist as Service museum property and provide further examples and definitions of the types of objects to consider preserving for the historical value: Archaeological Collections: Archaeological artifacts usually resulting from systematic research on Service lands. Artifacts and records of the project must be curated by law and regulation.

Ethnographic Materials: Items associated with traditional culture and life ways of indigenous or ethnic groups, such as clothing, blankets, baskets.

Art: Paintings, drawings, prints, wildlife mounts, antiques, sculptures, and tapestries.

Documents Which are not Official Records as defined by the National Archives: Commissioned photographs, documents associated with an important event or person in Service history, audio and visual images.

Historical Objects Related to FWS: Early equipment or tools, historic fire arms, decoys, furniture, scale models, and boundary signs.

Botanical Collections: Herbariums.

Geological Collections: Soil samples, core samples and geophysical specimens that document land forms or in support of engineering studies.

Zoological Collections: Prepared biological specimens, wet specimens, type specimens, voucher specimens, wildlife mounts with scientific, historic, or long-term educational value.

Paleontological Collections: Vertebrate and invertebrate fossils found on Service lands.

Environmental Samples: Samples of water, soil, air; collected to document base line conditions for long term research, monitoring, or other analysis.

The following items are examples of objects that are not usually considered significant for preservation:
  • Official records as defined by the National Archives.

  • Most books (See 126 FW 1).

  • Mass-produced posters or reprints.

  • Working collections and samples consumed in analysis.

  • Expendable teaching collections.

  • Mounted zoological specimens having no scientific, historic, or long term interpretive value.

  • Exhibit cases, dioramas, special lighting, or graphics used for display.

  • Seized Law Enforcement property.

Tips for Preserving Historic Objects

Once you have determined an object or document is likely to be historically significant, the next step is to ensure that it will be preserved into the distant future. Accomplishing this can be simple – none of these actions are time consuming or difficult to accomplish. The first step is to document the object. Accountability affords the object some level of security! Next, use the following rules of thumb to assist you in preserving materials at your station.

The most important step in ensuring the long-term preservation of any object is to place it in a stable, controlled environment. Doing this will protect it from adverse conditions that would promote or accelerate deterioration. Perhaps the most important environmental factor to control is the relative humidity (RH).

We should think of objects as sponges. They absorb and release moisture from the air around them, which causes shrinkage and swelling. To avoid the constant movement from swelling and shrinking, the relative humidity in the atmosphere should be kept as stable as possible; with optimal levels at about 40% to 55% RH. Temperature should not fluctuate either, as it affects RH (the higher the temperature, the more moisture the air can hold). Temperature should be kept as close to 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit as possible.

The object, especially if it is a document or photograph, should be put into some sort of polyethylene sleeve or protective cabinet, archival box or polyethylene bag. This will help inhibit rapid fluctuation in RH and temperature, and keep out airborne soils, pollutants, and pests. It should be kept out of sunlight, and away from all light if possible. Light is very destructive, and damage is cumulative. In other words, a little light for a long period of time is as bad as a lot of light for a shorter period of time. Direct light also causes a rise in temperature. It has been proven that for every 18 degrees Fahrenheit increase in temperature, the molecular deterioration of an object doubles.

Hot attics and damp basements are probably the worst places to store objects. Think of your museum object as a person. It wants to be in a cool dry place at all times; free of pests, molds, and airborne pollutants. More detailed tips on taking care of objects by specific material types can be found in CCI Notes and NPS Conserve-o-grams at the Web sites listed below. These are available at the World Wide Web addresses and from contact people listed below. If you want the item preserved off-site, contact your Regional Museum Property Coordinator or the NCTC Museum Curator for assistance.

If you decide to preserve the item off-site, you can request your item, as well as other items, to use for education and outreach purposes (i.e., public education programs, special functions at your refuge or hatchery, exhibitions, or other special occasions). Items that are maintained by NCTC can be borrowed for many different purposes to help you promote the mission of the Service at your local station or office. You should contact the NCTC Museum Curator for assistance in these matters.

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