An institute for tropical forestry with only seven
Yes, my budget is small, but we have an enormous
reputation. And every year I report a
long list of accomplishments to the chief.
How do we do that?
It’s through partnerships.
Partnership is the secret of success for our agency; it’s the secret of
success for our institute. When you have
a partner—a real partner—then you have the resources of the two organizations
working together on something in which both have an interest. When that happens
you have synergy, which is more than the sum of the parts. Synergy means that you multiply your
input. That’s how we approach partnerships,
and that’s why we treasure them, we value them, and they make our success
And you ask, What kinds of partners
do we have? We have about 50 U.S.
and Puerto Rican universities that we work with, then we have an equal number
of NGOs like Casa Pueblo, the Citizens for the Karst, Puerto Rico Conservation
Foundation, Puerto Rico Conservation Trust. There are many groups like that with which we
interact. The key is to have partners
with whom you share a vision, with whom you share a goal, with whom you share a
product. When you pool your resources you get synergy and from synergy you get success.
IITF is one of the sponsors of this (Casa Pueblo)
symposium. What lessons do you
anticipate emerging from it that can translate into land-care efforts?
Let me give you a little story about the importance of this
symposium to us. I know you’ve spoken
with Pablo Cruz, who is also working closely with the National Forest System.
And I know he must have told you about the problems he is having with
urbanization around the National Forest.
The El Yunque National Forest was the first
place in Puerto Rico to have special zoning and that was
because of Forest Service research. That
was done in the early ’80s and the research was done in the ’50s and ’60s. But that turned out to be a big failure
because, in spite of the special zoning of El Yunque,
there was still urbanization around the forest.
But you’d ask, Why did that happen? It happened because our agency worked with
the Government of Puerto Rico to develop protection scheme for the zoning but
they did not tell anybody about it.
There was no participation from citizens. It was top-down. And now 20 to 30 years later
we found that it failed.
What have you been seeing here in this symposium?
This is bottom-up. This symposium is celebrating a special
zoning for the tops of the mountain in Puerto Rico. I am so enthusiastic and I have high
expectations that this time it will work better because from the beginning we
have the landowners, the partners, involved and they know what’s going on and
they know what the regulations are and we have the government officials coming
down here answering questions from the public.
That never happened around the national forest. Around the national forest the government
would tell them what to do, but now they are asking this morning, “Hey, how
come you are using machines? Your
machines are hurting nature. We don’t
like that practice.” So, it’s a
completely different approach, a different model, a different way of
thinking. And we are so excited about
What’s the institute’s role in Criteria and Indicators?
There are two things you should know about this. Number 1 is that we are one of two tropical
jurisdictions in the United States
doing Criteria and Indicators (C&I).
Of course, Hawaii is
What makes us different from the
rest of the nation is the high diversity and the high population
pressures. This is a unique situation
between humans and nature. One of our
roles in the national effort is to bring the perspective of high-density
population areas in relation to high biodiversity, because our biodiversity is
10 times higher than the biodiversity in mainland United
So that’s a contribution that we have.
The other one is that C&I that were developed were
global. What we are doing is adapting
them to islands and we’re asking the question, How is
the application of Criteria and Indicators unique to the islands? And so that’s another
contribution that we are bringing to the table—the evaluation of the
methodology when it is applied to island conditions.
So those two things, I think, are two national contributions
that Puerto Rico and Hawaii
are making to Criteria and Indicators.
I see a lot of passion here—passion for the land, passion
for the environment, passion for water.
Why is that so?
It’s because we see the relationship. On the mainland you have a lot of land and
you get lost. And so people might not
see immediately how important nature is to the economy and to survival. On these islands, as you know, we are
surrounded by the ocean and we are very crowded as you’ve also have found
out. If you bulldoze the land,
immediately my yard gets sediments or my water becomes dirty. People see it; they see the relationship
almost immediately. So we have more
passion because we realize how important it is.
E. Lugo has, since 1996, been Director of the International Institute of
Tropical Forestry (IITF), Río Piedras,
Rico. Prior to assuming his current responsibilities,
he served in a variety of leadership positions, including those of Acting
Deputy Chief of International Forestry, in 1995; of Acting Director of IITF (1986-1992);
of Project Leader (1979-1992); of Division Head (1980-1988); of Assistant
Secretary for Science and Technology in the Puerto Rico Department of Natural
Resources (1974-1975); and of Assistant Secretary for Planning and Resource
Lugo serves on the editorial boards of scholarly
journals such as the Journal of the Litoral, Journal
of Sustainable Forestry, Forest
Ecology and Management, Conservation
Ecology, and Mitigation and
Adaptation Strategies for Global Change. He
is the editor of Acta Científica, a journal of the Puerto Rico Science Teachers Association. He has also mentored scores of graduate
students and research scientists.
Lugo has published
more than 400 refereed journal articles and has won research grants from
organizations such as the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of
Energy, the Florida Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Department of
Interior, the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Lugo holds bachelor’s and
master’s degrees in biology, both from the University of Puerto Rico, and a doctorate
in ecology from the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill.
Conversation with Pablo Cruz
Conversation with Edgardo González
Return to SDe-News Summer 2006