Bald Eagle mount at Morris WMD Visitor Center 1930s refuge sign Ethnographic collection at Neal Smith NWR Visitor Center
Bald Eagle mount at Morris WMD Visitor Center
1930’s Refuge Sign
Ethnographic collection at Neal Smith NWR Visitor Center


Museum collections held by USFWS consists primarily of archaeological objects and their associated records, but also includes natural history specimens, historic objects, documents, art, photographs, and ethnographic items.

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 Wildlife 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.

Some museum collections also include materials that are identified in the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA) and further defined in its regulations (43 CFR Part 10). This law addresses the rights of lineal descendants, Indian tribes, and Native Hawaiian organizations (parties with standing) to Native American human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects and objects of cultural patrimony, cultural items. The statute requires Federal agencies and museums to provide information about Native American cultural items to parties with standing and, upon presentation of a valid claim, ensure the item(s) undergo disposition or repatriation.

If you have questions relating to USFWS museum collections or NAGPRA, please contact your Regional Historic Preservation Officer.