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Special Feature

In His Own Words
A Conversation With Edgardo González
Director, Forest Bureau
Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources

Co- and Regional Management:
Two Perspectives on Sustainability

ADJUNTAS, Puerto Rico — The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Puerto Rico, is turning the corner in its efforts to nurture full partnership with community groups that contribute in disparate ways to effective land management.  The department is supporting and assisting such groups with budgetary and management expertise, as Edgardo González, director of the Forest Service Bureau, in the department, notes in this conversation.

Q:   Why is co-management so popular here in Puerto Rico?

I am not sure that “popular” is the right word.  Co-management is an alternative that works.  I got a lot of information and examples from my visits to Central and South America, information on cases on how people (that is, the community) were more involved in the management of protected areas.  Even from concepts like biosphere research, where there’s a lot of interaction with residents in areas that have to be protected.  I thought it would be interesting to test some of those alternatives here in Puerto Rico.  Because I was fortunate to be involved in the phase where the governments agreed to protect the area in Adjuntas I was able to continue the process

The second phase was to establish the forest (Bosque del Pueblo) as part of the protected area system in Puerto Rico.

Finally, we had an agreement on activities that could be undertaken and needed from both sides.  If I were the agency in charge and I want to develop a project like recreational facilities in that area, What would be the resources and at what level would I like to have specific activities?  From there I would establish a budget to accomplish those activities and that budget can be use to establish a base line account to discuss co-management options with the community.

But what really makes co-management feasible here?

It has a lot of components.  We work with organized groups that have a lot of background, history and organization.  They are using co-management to help the Department of Natural Resources in Puerto Rico and also to provide community services that include recreation, education, environmental services and even employment options to the community.  When other groups see how well others are doing they convince themselves they can do the same.  After the Casa Pueblo agreement other groups started to get more involved—for example, with a group in the metropolitan area of San Patricio.

The Monte Choca community group with which we have an agreement is involved in the protection of an area to the north central part of the island.  These areas have different levels of our involvement.  In San Patricio, for example, our staff works there, but there is a lot of support from community groups that are identifying funds for projects on the ground.  That is the co-management alternative at different levels.  At one level we establish a budget that we transfer to the community; at another, as in San Patricio, we do not establish a budget but develop an integration program with the community, based on some of their needs to get their support and assistance on the forest.

So these community groups are truly helpful to getting co-management off the ground?

Yes, we have to point out that they were interested and they were eager to learn how to do it.  After they learn about management they realize it entails a lot of responsibility: opening areas, receiving visitors, managing people.  After they consider those management activities and agree in doing or collaborate in doing them, everything falls into place.

Do you have reasons not to be confident or hopeful about co-management?

It was something new for us.  Personally, there was no doubt that it would be an alternative that can work and help the management of natural protected areas in Puerto Rico.  There were questions, doubts and some DNER staff were reluctant to delegate anything because the laws were not clear of the level of delegation.  Even some people were afraid of losing their jobs.  I said to myself, “We don’t have the resources, we don’t have the budget, so there’s an option: let’s close the forests.  Or let’s work with this alternative and see how it pans out.”

It’s very important to monitor what’s occurring on the ground and also to support the community groups because, at the beginning, they were having problems with budget management and with getting employees—as a result of inexperience.  The agency also passes through a process of integration and recognition of the community participation and achievements. So our agency had to ensure that the community groups had the expertise in certain areas and provided additional resources, if necessary.  When everything was in place, the agency began to benefit from this alternative.  Yet some in the agency are still doubtful.

You are talking about benefits.  What benefits accrue to the agency?

Well, the area—that is, the forest—is open and it is providing a service that is not provided by us directly.  There’s a lot of construction that is more efficiently done by the community groups who tend to use a lot of volunteers.  Volunteers do the work faster and the budget and resources are used more efficiently.  Community groups also attract universities to engage in field research and to participate in workshops and activities that promote conservation.  The educational activities at Casa Pueblo are also a good example of the benefits and the new integration of private land ownership into conservation programs is another example.


                       

In defining a region you have to integrate people and the resources you are managing and co-management, again, is an alternative for that type of vision of regional management.

                    



Is there any other thing that is unique about your forest management that our readers should know?

 

It is our regional management perspective.  We have a protected area, where we integrate activities in a defined region.  We define our region based on watersheds.  We define what watersheds are inside or border a protected area.  Sets of watersheds may be assembled or separated by buffer zones inside protected areas.

Our next step is to analyze who is living there, who the owners are, the needs, the land use activities and other general information on the management region residents.  We are integrating the ecology of the region because the regions have hydrologic connection defined through the watershed delineation system, plus we are including the residents and social system in our approach.  If you leave the resources alone they would probably survive but because these resources have users and people associated with them we need to integrate or consider them as part of the region.  Management must focus on these regions to expand the application of programs and the participation of residents. 

So I think it is important to have a vision of regional management of our protected areas, and co-management is an alternative and a very good option if you want to have a regional management perspective. 

Why?  Because you have to work with the people around a protected area and they present effects that can be positive or negative in the area.  We have just finished a management plan on one of our state forests, where, in Rio Abajo in November 2006, we shall begin the liberation of the Puerto Rican parrot in the wild in that forest. Our management plan defines that management region.  And it’s very important for wildlife because the parrots will not stay within the Rio Abajo boundaries. They will fly all over. It’s important to know who’s living there: What’s their land use?  What are their needs?  How can I integrate these communities and areas that border the Rio Abajo forests?

We as managers of an area have to see the landscape as a region.  What if the parrots establish a nest on my property, am I going to lose it?  In defining a region you have to integrate people and the resources you are managing and co-management, again, is an alternative for that type of vision of regional management.  It is very important to define a process for delineating that management region but as a manager you will need to recognize and change the working scales from a site in the protected area to a complete section of the management region, but always following your management objectives.


Edgardo González is Director of the Forest Bureau in the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, a position he has held since 2003.  In that role, he developed the first management agreement between DNER and a nongovernmental organization.  That agreement is the basis of the long-term relationships between DNER and Casa Pueblo, of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico.  The agreement has also been the foundation of and inspiration for similar initiatives, including a community in San Juan that established a management agreement with San Patricio Urban Forest.  Another group that has followed this example is the community of Palos Blancos in the town of Corozal, Puerto Rico, which developed a management agreement with “Bosque de Montechoca.”  The community of Piñones, in a coastal and mangrove forest, is also working with González to consider a management agreement with economic alternatives that include the potential management of recreational facilities of the forest by the community.

An ongoing community and natural resources project that González is directing is a training workshop for Puerto Rico forest managers.  The workshop, which is being organized by the University of Puerto Rico, will provide the managers with the tools to integrate defined management regions of protected areas and improve the mangers’ communication with them. 

Prior to assuming his current position, González served as Director of the Forest Management Division of DNER and as a 19-year forester in that department.

González is also a professor in the School of Environmental Affairs, Universidad Metropolitana.  From 1995 to 1998, he was a professor of geography at the University of Puerto RicoRío Piedras. 

He is a member of four professional associations: National Association of State Foresters, Society of American Foresters, International Society of Tropical Forestry, and the Society of Conservation Biology. 

In March 2006, González presented a paper titled “Program for Conservation of Private Lands and the Regional Management Strategy for Natural Protected Areas in Puerto Rico” at the Fourth World Water Forum in Mexico.

González has a bachelor of science degree in biology from the University of Puerto Rico—Río Piedras, and a master’s in forestry from Yale University, where he is also a doctoral candidate in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.


Conversation with Ariel Lugo
Conversation with Pablo Cruz
Return to SDe-News Summer 2006


 
         

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    Last Modified: Wednesday, July 19, 2006