The Institute has a long tradition of information exchange with government agencies, universities, and local communities in Central and South America and the Caribbean. Through the State and Private Forestry Program (S&PF), the Institute provides professional, technical, and financial assistance to local communities and private landowners in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John). Through focused technical and financial assistance and conservation education, Federal resources are leveraged to protect and support sustainable management of the islands’ forests and ecosystems to produce goods and services that are important to many communities. This assistance is focused on cooperative forestry, cooperative fire protection, forest health, urban and community forestry, and landowner and legacy assistance programs. Key issues addressed by this program include: rapid urbanization and residential development and its sprawl into natural areas; ecological restoration of natural and built-up areas; water quality (including storm water runoff, and restoration of natural areas); soil protection and watershed management; sustainable urban forestry programs at the local level; damage of reefs and over-fishing of key species; and sustainable tourism development in small communities.
State and Private Forestry programs provide technical assistance to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The primary partners are the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) in Puerto Rico and the Department of Agriculture in the US Virgin Islands.
State and Private Forestry manages about 33 active grants involving $1.2 million cooperators' funds and $1.4 million Forest Service funds. These agreements focus on technical assistance, technology transfer and training. The Programs implemented in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands can be divided into the following categories:
- Forest History
- Conservation Education
- More Kids in the Woods: Kids Discovering the Santa Ana Forest
- Forest Health
- Urban and Community Forestry Program: All About Capacity Building
- Forest Stewardship Program in Puerto Rico
- Serves as the primary, most extensive (in reach and scope) private forest owner assistance program;
- Successfully sustains a vast, effective network of forestry technical assistance providers and programs;
- Provides comprehensive management plans (forest stewardship management plans) to landowners and offer education and technical assistance opportunities to landowners;
- Establishes strong and effective partnerships with State foresters, conservation districts, and many more partners to provide for broader forest landowner participation in USDA conservation programs.
- The Humacao Joint Priority Landscape
- Habitat improvement for Puerto Rico endemic bird species such as the Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata), Puerto Rican sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus venator), Puerto Rican broad-winged hawk (Buteo platypterus brunnescens), Puerto Rican screech owl (Megascops nudipes), elfin-woods warbler (Dendroica angelae), yellow-shouldered blackbird (Angelaius xanthomus), and Puerto Rican plain pigeon (Patagioenas inornata wetmore).
- Habitat improvement for Puerto Rico reptile species such Puerto Rican boa (Epicrates inornatus) and Culebra giant anole (Anolis roosevelt); and amphibians such as Puerto Rican rock frog (Eleutherodactylus cooki), and golden coquí (Eleutherodactylus jasper).
- Watershed conservation, restoration and improvement of forest health on properties within the Río Blanco, Río Grande de Loíza, and other important watersheds located in eastern Puerto Rico.
- Promote conservation of forest cover in properties located within the buffer and protection boundaries of the El Yunque National Forest, Puerto Rico State Forests, Natural Refuges, and other important ecosystems.
- Conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality.
- Tree planting, forest improvement practices, and education are the main strategies to promote forest conservation, habitat restoration, reduction of pests and diseases occurrence, improvement of soil condition, carbon sequestration, and improvement of degraded ecosystems.
- The Guánica–Maricao Joint Priority Landscape
- Habitat restoration for the reintroduction of the Puerto Rican parrot (Amazona vittata). With this reintroduction, the Puerto Rican parrot natural populations will increase to three (El Yunque National Forest, Utuado, and Maricao).
- Improve habitat for Puerto Rico endemic bird species: Puerto Rican nightjar (Caprimulgus noctitherus), Puerto Rican bullfinch (Loxigilla portoricensis), Puerto Rican screech owl (Megascops nudipes), Puerto Rican lizard cuckoo (Coccyzus vieilloti), elfin-woods warbler (Dendroica angelae), green mango (Anthracothorax viridis), and Puerto Rican woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricensis).
- Improve Río Loco Watershed condition as part of the Guánica Bay and Río Loco Watershed Restoration Project lead by NOAA and other State and Federal agencies.
- Implement conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and improve water quality.
- Establish shade on coffee plantations to reduce pests and disease occurrence, improve product quality and soil condition, and contribute to carbon sequestration.
- Knowledge and Perception of Forest Benefits and Drivers of Ecosystem Change: the Case of the Northern Karst and the Río Piedras Watershed
- Río Piedras Watershed
- Key Findings
- Language matters–half of the participants could define urban forests, but more than half had never heard of the term "watershed."
- Temperature regulation, oxygen production, and air purification were the most cited and considered the most important forest benefits.
- Few participants noted the connection between urban forests, rivers, and water.
- Communities in the Northern Karst
- Key Findings
- Language matters–more than half of the participants could define "forest." It is important to consider other terms for forests such as "monte." However, 75 percent of participants had never heard of the term "karst."
- Forest products, temperature regulation, and fauna and flora were the most cited forest benefits among participants. Air purification and oxygen production ranked as most important.
- There was less connection with water-related benefits of forests.
- Public Knowledge and Perceptions About Karst Forests
- Karst Forests and Their Benefits: A Comparison Between Local and Expert Knowledge
- Public Knowledge and Perceptions About Urban Forests in a Watershed Context
The Institute’s historian has in 2008 completed a book on policies affecting mangroves in Puerto Rico during the 19th century (La política forestal del manglar en Puerto Rico durante el siglo XIX). The 200- page volume is based on an analysis of information on the historical impact of specific policies and programs affecting the use of mangroves and a study of 31 mangrove forests. Included is information on the draining and conversion of mangroves to produce sugar cane. It also relates interactions between the coastal communities, land use decisions, and the extent and benefits of mangrove forests.
Another interesting historical work is "Árboles municipales oficiales de Puerto Rico". This document presents information on the historical relevance of the official trees designated in 37 municipalities. In the process it raises awareness of the historical role of forests and trees in the culture and economy of Puerto Rico. Each municipality used its own unique process to select and officially designate the tree. Those involved have included schools, communities and social and cultural organizations.
IITF Contact: Carlos Domínguez Cristóbal, email@example.com
If every school were able to establish an area for long-term ecological study near their schools, it would be a dream come true for teachers and students alike. Carlos Domínguez Cristóbal, S&PF conservation education coordinator, published a conservation education manual called Forestry Research: an Interdisciplinary Guide based on his experience working with students in just such a setting for nearly 30 years. In the forward to the manual, Institute Director Ariel E. Lugo says, "... the exercises involve the application of botany, zoology, ecology, mathematics, chemistry and social science concepts. Even more interesting, this guide contains a strong dose of history and toponymy that make it more innovative and distinctive than any guide I've seen throughout my career." The next step is to transform the dream into reality.
The Institute hopes the manual will help spur the adoption of forest schoolyards and outdoor classrooms throughout Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. A forest schoolyard is a dynamic laboratory of life. Sample exercises in the manual help teachers guide students into an encounter with nature, and many incorporate idiosyncrasies unique to Puerto Rico’s history and its tropical setting. Spanish and English versions of the manual were developed, which expands its utility as a model for programs in other tropical countries and for Spanish-speaking students in the United States and elsewhere.
Two schools in Puerto Rico–the urban elementary school Juana A. Méndez in Carolina and the rural middle school Eugenio Maria de Hostos in Arecibo–have recently expressed their intention to take students into outdoor classrooms. The middle school is located near the Cambalache State Forest, which has the potential to provide numerous opportunities for students to explore forest research questions.
The 2011 Conservation Education Bulletin was dedicated to student accomplishments at Francisco Morales High School in Naranjito, Puerto Rico. The number of schools with outdoor classrooms and research projects is increasing; therefore, future issues will seek to incorporate the latest news and field results from as many schools as possible. The bulletin is an important tool for sharing information among schools, the community, and partners.
IITF Contact: Carlos Domínguez Cristóbal, firstname.lastname@example.org
The future of natural resources conservation depends on future generations. Since 2007, the Forest Service has invested $3 million in diverse, partnership-based More Kids in the Woods projects that get "more kids in the woods" to learn about and experience the natural environment. In 2011, the More Kids in the Woods challenge-cost share program competitively funded 21 projects that help children establish a lifelong connection with nature and develop outdoor skills and interests, and healthy lifestyles. Kids Discovering the Santa Ana Forest was one such project that won funding through this competition.
Even though Puerto Rico is a small island with many beautiful forest resources, some kids have never had the opportunity to visit and enjoy the experience of observing and touching the natural features and creatures found here. Recognizing that we need to provide educational opportunities to those kids, the Natural History Society of Puerto Rico applied for a grant from the U.S. Forest Service More Kids in the Woods Program for the Kids Discovering the Santa Ana Forest project.
Implementation of the project was a big success, enabling children from underserved communities to have their first encounter with a tropical forest. Children from schools active under the No Child Left Behind initiative were invited to spend one day at the Santa Ana Nature Center. The project targeted teachers and students from the first through the sixth grades, but more advanced students were also included.
The Nature Center has about 100 acres and is part of the Monagas Park, which is a recreational facility managed by the Puerto Rico National Parks Company. The kids were greeted by the Santa Ana Nature Center staff, Eliezer Nieves and Dayamaris Candelario, who gave a brief overview of the events of the day. Activities included observation, studies, environmental games, and educational talks on conservation initiatives in general and the forest ecosystem they were visiting in particular. The students completed a pre-test at the beginning of the day to assess their knowledge about forests, endemic species, and parts of a tree. A post- test assessed what the kids learned and any changes in their attitudes regarding nature.
Then the fun began. The children walked through the trails of Santa Ana Forest and began their exploration. Once there, the students had the opportunity to observe some of the 50 different tree species present and the herbaceous plants that are part of the ecosystem. They were introduced to bird-watching and were told about both endemic and exotic species that live in the Santa Ana Forest. Reptiles such as the Puerto Rican boa, and lizards and amphibians were observed. The Santa Ana Forest has a huge variety of insects for students to discover; among these are butterflies, walking sticks, bees, and mantis.
Each student received the basic equipment needed to perform a variety of field studies. For example, each student got a magnifying glass to examine the parts of trees and insects; portable weather stations and soil thermometers to collect information on temperature and humidity; and measuring tapes and clinometers to measure tree diameter and height. Hands-on experience taught the kids how to identify the different parts of a tree, insects and animals of the forest, benefits of the forest’s ecosystems, and how wonderful nature is. The kids were excited about sharing their discoveries with each other.
Each group collected information, which was logged into the Nature Center database. The database also includes results of inventories of the forest biota, information on tree growth, and observations of wildlife behavior. That information is filed in the Santa Ana Forest data inventory and is used to develop educational fact sheets and to prepare presentations.
Back at the pavilion the students had the opportunity to discuss what they saw and how it made them feel. They talked about how forests work, their benefits, and how the interaction with nature benefits both physical and mental health. They discussed the fact that even though the forest is surrounded by heavily developed land it is still in good shape and provides environmental services to the surrounding neighborhoods. The students learned about the importance of conserving the forest environment and the sustainability of ecosystems.
Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods book was an inspiration for the project. Louv (2005 ?) explained that children exposed to nature show intellectual, spiritual, and physical improvement compared to those who have passive lifestyles and dedicate their time to video games and watching television. Also, kids from schools that have nature-based experiential education show improvement in social studies, language, arts, math, and science.
Collaborating Institutions: The Puerto Rico Department of Education, Puerto Rico National Parks Company, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, University of Puerto Rico, the Interamerican University, and the Natural History Society
ITF Contact: Magaly Figueroa, email@example.com
During FY 2011, the State and Private Forestry unit hired Christian Torres Santana to coordinate the Institute’s Forest Health Program, to provide technical assistance to partners, and to assist with implementing projects in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Forest Health Program focuses on providing technical, professional, and financial assistance to stakeholders monitoring forest pests, diseases, and other biotic and abiotic factors that may cause detrimental changes to the health of Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Islands’ forests. This year we have been closely working with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to establish a Statewide Forest Health Monitoring Program, to develop a Forest Health Conditions report, and to form an integrated Forest Health Committee. Under collaborative agreements we are working with the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez Plant Diseases and Pests Diagnostic Clinic to develop fact sheets of important forest pests and diseases and to provide training to University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez Agricultural Extension Service agents. From this project, an Integrated Management of Forest Pests and Diseases Website (http://sea.uprm.edu/forest/index.html) was developed to provide an accessible mechanism for the general public, biologists, arborists, managers, students, and scientists. The Website contains information on major forest pests/diseases and those of potential introduction, pest management, and basic identification in Puerto Rico.
The Forest Health Program specialist has joined the Harrisia Cactus Mealybug (Hypogeococcus pungens) Interagency Task Force. The mealy bug is a serious forest health concern in Puerto Rico’s dry forest. The task force has developed an informative brochure in Spanish to make visitors aware of this pest in the dry forests, on the main island as well as Vieques, Culebra, and other islands.
We are also working with the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Health Technology Enterprise Team to include Puerto Rico as part of the Pest Event Reporter database and to be able to develop risk maps for major pests and diseases.
IITF Contact: Christian Torres Santana, firstname.lastname@example.org
Both the Puerto Rico Statewide Forest Resources Assessment and the Strategies for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands identified urban forests and green spaces as important elements of urban scenarios that contribute to livable cities and a healthy urban environment. Capacity building is the strategy proposed to improve the condition of urban forests and increase the environmental benefits and services those resources offer. During Fiscal Year 2011 the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture, Virgin Islands Urban and Community Forestry Council, and the Puerto Rico Urban and Community Forestry Council invested their time and effort to build capacity among the communities and professional groups in areas related to the establishment, creation, management, and protection of the urban forests and green infrastructure.
The Virgin Islands Urban and Community Forestry Council, with the support of the Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program, adopted the campaign "We Plant Native Trees" and offered educational talks to kids and community groups and exhibitions that reached thousands of individuals during big events such as the Virgin Islands Ag Fair, and the Environmental Fairs in St. Croix and St. Thomas. The Council also contributed to the newspapers by sending articles covering aspects related to the importance of urban forests resources, and participated on radio talk shows. Professional tree managers and certified arborists of the International Society of Arboriculture in the Virgin Islands had the opportunity to participate in two specialized training sessions. The Council also continued with the enactment of a local Tree Law. The scope of this policy will determine applicable regulations for the protection and conservation of the forest resources in the urban areas. Although the process has not been easy, the Council effectively reached important political figures to get their support for the law.
The Puerto Rico Urban and Community Forestry Council hosted the 13th Caribbean Urban and Community Forestry Conference in December 2010, featuring the theme of Green Economy: Law, Community, and Capacity Building. The event was attended by more than 120 people from the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, St. Lucia, Dominica, Venezuela, and the United States. The Arbor Day Foundation made presentations about the Tree City USA and Tree Campus USA programs to the group; both of these programs promote planning, protection, and proper management of urban forest resources, education, and healthy communities. Representatives of municipalities, communities, and universities of both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands showed their interest in participating in those programs. Attendees represented urban foresters, law enforcement, planners, ecologists, foresters, horticulturists, and wildland firefighters.
The Puerto Rico Urban and Community Forestry Council also sponsored five specialized training sessions for tree management professionals and ISA certified arborists. The topics covered by those trainings were: bucket truck operation and safety, first aid, tree climbing, electrical hazards and tree management, and chainsaw operation.
The Centro para la Conservación del Paisaje received a grant to provide training sessions to the municipalities of Puerto Rico on the use of iTree, which is a software developed by the U.S. Forest Service that provides urban forestry analysis and benefits assessment tools. With iTree, communities should be able to determine environmental services provided by their urban trees through the analysis of the condition and structure of those trees, along with their location and health. The first step is collecting information on a tree inventory and then using the information to run the different extensions of iTree. Centro para la Conservacion del Paisaje hosted two training sessions, one in Caguas, the other in Cabo Rojo. The group will provide technical assistance to the participants on the implementation of iTree in their municipalities.
IITF Contact: Magaly Figueroa, email@example.com
The Forest Stewardship Program provides targeted technical and planning assistance to enable active, long-term forest management on important private landscapes. Landowners who implement forest stewardship management plans are in a much better position to participate in incentive programs, including U.S. cost-share and State tax abatement. The Forest Stewardship Program contributes to the following overarching goals.
The Puerto Rico Statewide Assessment and Strategies for Forest Resources identified the priority landscapes for Puerto Rico. State and Federal agencies and non-government partners established conservation priority landscapes as an opportunity to leverage resources. This initiative includes the preparation of forest stewardship management plans that promote watershed conservation by managing existing forests, restoring or creating riparian buffers, and establishing agroforestry practices. It encourages the implementation of landscape-scale and multi-landowner planning and streamlined processes to increase private forest landowners’ participation in cost-share programs through collaboration with USDA agencies and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Humacao Joint Priority Landscape is located in the southeastern corner of Puerto Rico. The area is threatened to be converted to non-forest uses due to urban sprawl. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service endorsed the collaborative effort to bring the communities within the area into a conservation effort. Landowner organizations and other groups supported this initiative.
The Guánica–Maricao Joint Priority Landscape was identified as a priority area by the NOAA Coastal Zone Management Program, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service. Landowners’ organizations such as the Puerto Rico Soil Conservation Districts and other groups supported this initiative.
IITF Contact: Magaly Figueroa, firstname.lastname@example.org
Forests provide a full suite of goods and services that are vital to human health and well-being. These natural assets we call ecosystem services. The U.S. Forest Service’s State and Private Forestry program partnered with Misión Industrial, a local non-governmental community organization, to better understand local perceptions of forest-based ecosystem services in two regions of Puerto Rico: the Río Piedras Watershed (a mainly urban site) and the Northern Karst (a mainly rural site). Misión Industrial asked a variety of community members in each area open-ended questions intended to allow them to express the values they attach to forests in their own words.
Human well–being and the quality of life of urban populations greatly depend on urban forests and green areas. Forested lands in urban areas are also important for supporting other resources such as water. However, population growth and increases in built-up areas put pressure on these urban forests. Hence, it is important to increase public knowledge and understanding about the benefits provided by urban forests, the factors affecting them, and the means of conserving and making wise use of such forests. The Río Piedras watershed hosts a variety of urban forests and is the main watershed for the city of San Juan.
The unique Northern Karst region of Puerto Rico contains some of the best examples of karst habitat in the Caribbean and supports numerous endemic species, an extensive track of mature forest, and Puerto Rico’s largest freshwater aquifer. Yet this region is also threatened by human activities and unplanned development, making it important to increase awareness and understanding of the benefits that karst forests provide.
The results from this collaboration will help the State and Private Forestry program and other governmental and non–governmental organizations develop targeted environmental educational strategies, awareness campaigns, and outreach initiatives aimed at increasing people’s knowledge about forests and their benefits in Puerto Rico, particularly in karst and urban forests.
The following short information sheets on these findings are available from the State and Private Forestry staff:
Contact: Nicole Balloffet, email@example.com