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