History of the NWHC

The NWHC was established in 1975 as a biomedical laboratory dedicated to assessing the impact of disease on wildlife and identifying the role of various pathogens in contributing to wildlife losses.

Founded in 1975 to consolidate U.S. Fish and Wildlife expertise into a single program, the National Wildlife Health Center (NWHC)  was the first federal program devoted to addressing wildlife health issues, including responding to wildlife die-offs, providing technical assistance in the diagnosis, prevention, and control of disease, and conducting disease applied research. Under the Department of the Interior (DOI), the NWHC began as a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service laboratory that consolidated existing wildlife disease expertise into a single program. The original laboratory was shared with the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The impetus behind the creation of the NWHC was, in part, a consequence of the catastrophic loss of over 40,000 waterfowl as a result of an outbreak of duck plague at the Lake Andes National Wildlife Refuge in South Dakota.

In 1992, the Honolulu Field Station (HFS) of the National Wildlife Health Center was established to assist natural resource agencies with wildlife health and disease-related issues in Hawaii and other Pacific Trust Territories. Significant projects at the HFS include research into the causes and ecology of Green Turtle Fibropapillomatosis, and investigating potentially invasive diseases of marine organisms including marine mammals, reef fish, and invertebrates. The HFS also collaborates with the State of Hawaii and other institutions to assess health of coral reefs in Hawaii and other areas of the Pacific.

In 1996, the NWHC, along with other Department of Interior research functions, was transferred to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), where it remains one of many entities that provides the independent science that forms the base of sound management of the Nation’s natural resources.

Wildlife health and ecosystem health go hand in hand. The USGS NWHC focuses on issues related to wildlife health, which includes a broad spectrum of concerns that also impact public health and domestic animal health. The NWHC maintains an integrated balance between epidemiologic and diagnostic investigations and research. Combating wildlife disease emergence and re-emergence are top priorities for the staff at the National Wildlife Health Center.


Learn more about the USGS NWHC Historical Timeline.