UVM considers fate of insect collection

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(Host) Vermont entomologists have launched a letter writing campaign because they’re afraid the University of Vermont might get rid of all or part of its extensive insect collection. But UVM says no decision has been made, and it’s still assessing the future of the collection.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) There are roughly one million invertebrates in the natural history collection at the University of Vermont. They include insects, spiders, larvae, slugs and snails. Some of them date back over a century. Cataloging and organizing the collection is an immense ongoing task.

The job falls primarily to retired UVM professor Ross Bell and his wife Joyce. For them, it’s a labor of love. The Bells spend most of their afternoons working with the collection.

It’s divided into two sections. Pinned specimens like butterflies and beetles are neatly arranged in cabinets along narrow aisles upstairs. Downstairs is the so-called “wet” collection, including larvae and spiders. They’re kept in jars in crowded onto cabinets and shelves. University safety inspectors say they’re concerned about the specimens because the jars are filled with alcohol. Bell is concerned that UVM will get rid of them.

(Bell) “The department head wants to throw it all out. ‘Just tell us and we’ll take it to the dump as soon as you’re through with it.'”

(Zind) Vermont entomologists have responded with a letter writing campaign to President Daniel Fogel urging him to keep the collection intact.

UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera says the university hasn’t made any decision yet. Corredera says the university first has to determine how much it will cost to improve to the collection space, and then how those costs fit with other priorities.

(Corredera) “That’s something that we will have a better sense of once we get more information about the value of the collection and for whom it is so valuable.”

(Trish Hanson) “I rely on it and I know there are a number of us who do.”

(Zind) Trish Hanson is an entomologist with the Forestry Division of the Agency of Natural Resources. She uses the collection to help identify insects that might pose a threat. Hansen says it’s one of the primary tools for evaluating environmental change in Vermont. She says the wet specimens are an important part of the collection.

(Hanson) “Most of the insects we deal with are in the immature stage for a large portion of their lives. If we were to neglect that part of an insect’s life stage, we would be missing all kinds of records in the state.”

(Zind) Ross Bell says the larger issue is how much the university values the collection. He says UVM needs to provide it with a budget and someone to manage it. Enrique Corredera says the university is still gathering the information necessary to make those decisions.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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