Providing technical assistance and capacity building in the Dominican Republic

Primary Contact

Marizol Ruiz, Public Affairs Specialist

Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, February 26, 2020 - “We work in the Caribbean and Central American countries,” said Jerry Bauer, Scientific Biologist and Program Manager for the International Cooperation (IC) of the USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry (the Institute).

“We are in the Dominican Republic right now, developing partnerships with local communities and non-government conservation organizations,” he stated. “We teach volunteers how to do scientific research and technology transfer to help them become citizen scientists within their own communities.”

Map showing the terrestrial and marine protected areas of Puerto Rico in 2018.

Image CaptionThe International Institute of Tropical Forestry’s International Cooperation Unit extends its expertise in ornithological studies; helping local biologist to document and monitor migratory birds in the mangrove ecosystems of Bajo Yuna National Park, Samaná Bay Dominican Republic. (USDA Forest Service photo by Jerry Bauer).

The Institute's scientific research has continuously contributed to the groundwork that has helped to develop technical assistance programs in foreign countries.

Their training has inspired individuals to be the land stewards of their homelands around the world.

“I started to fall in love with what I was doing,” said María Paulino when she began her journey into the natural world 17 years ago.

After admiring nature’s beauty, she was motivated to volunteer and join the local bird-watching group in her native land of San Francisco de Macorís, a city located in the northeast portion of the Duarte Province, Dominican Republic; also known as the Land of Cacao ("Tierra del Cacao").

Afterwards, she was hired to do a field study in the discovery of bird nests in the southwestern region.

“We searched for the nests and monitored them every 3 days,” highlighted María.

Being the first and only bird-nest monitoring project done in the country, it officially launched María into the world of avian research; where she spent the next three years on the project.

Map showing the terrestrial and marine protected areas of Puerto Rico in 2018.

Image CaptionDuring a field study process with the International Cooperation Unit, Field Technician María Paulino collects data of resident and migratory birds, which she later submits the scientific findings to a database in the U.S. (USDA Forest Service photo by Jerry Bauer)

After the project, she went back to San Francisco de Macorís to work on a project that was targeting the Louisiana Waterthrush, a woodland fresh water migratory bird found near flowing streams in mature forests.

This project was ongoing in the United States and in the Dominican Republic for 12 years.

Guided by Maria years later, Luis Paulino, María’s husband, also joined as a volunteer with the Louisiana Waterthrush study.

Today actively engaged, Luis is a product of the ongoing training that is led by experienced scientists and apt birdwatchers.

Together with María they are educating promising youth to be the modern generation of biologists and scientists skilled to be the future land stewards of the Dominican Republic.

In 2016, María and Luis joined Ornithologist Dr. Wayne Arendt, a USDA Forest Service Wildlife Biologist from the Institute in a research project relating to three distinctive zones in the Dominican Republic.

Map showing the terrestrial and marine protected areas of Puerto Rico in 2018.

Image CaptionInternational Cooperation Unit Wildlife Biologist Dr. Wayne Arendt brings into scope a bird’s feather, while training a resident (citizen scientist) the meticulous methodologies of documenting specific bird species. (USDA Forest Service photo by Jerry Bauer).

Under Wayne’s mentorship and guidance, they study resident and migratory birds in the metropolitan areas of Santo Domingo and mangrove ecosystems in the Bajo Yuna National Park in the Samaná Bay and estuary.

The study includes the residents (citizen scientists) as part of their research, training and outreach.

The citizen scientists serve as volunteers, while learning the value to become finely honed naturalists who appreciate the unique plants and animals inhabiting the island.

In the Samaná Bay communities, the fishermen are becoming more interested in knowing what the scientist are doing, so after much instruction, they are acting as field guides who can identify birds and vegetation associations in the area.

The exchange of knowledge and technology transfer is paramount to what they are trying to accomplish at the study sites.

Map showing the terrestrial and marine protected areas of Puerto Rico in 2018.

Image CaptionAs part of the Dominican monitoring team for the International Cooperation Unit, Field Technician Luis Paulino untangles a captured migratory bird from a netting in the mangrove ecosystems of Bajo Yuna National Park, Dominican Republic. (USDA Forest Service photo by Jerry Bauer)

“When we go to the field, we employ different instruments and techniques that Dr. Arendt personally taught us to use,” says Luis, who has become a crucial part of the team after starting as a volunteer.

Jerry Bauer continues to coach, support, and document the field work that María and Luis have been doing for over two years. He’s been nonstop in teaching them about conservation, wildlife, and scientific photography.

“I have learned how to take notes, collect data, use a GPS device in all aspects of the field study work,” indicated Luis. “And I’ve also learned to photograph birds and nature from a scientific perspective.”

“All this was new to me at first, but now I feel super comfortable and happy with I am doing,” he added.

As they learned, Dr. Arendt taught María and Luis the methodologies and techniques of wildlife and ornithological studies. Together they are going to the field on their own; collecting data and then submitting it to a database in the U.S.

Not only have they succeeded, but María and Luis have excelled in doing this fieldwork, owing principally to the support they have received from the International Cooperation program of the USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry.

“If you don’t have research and you don’t have facts,” emphasized Jerry. “Then you can’t develop a program on how to conserve the tropical forest, its endangered species, and all of its natural resources.”

Luis and María are extremely motivated to continue the expansion of the research studies and related activities to other provinces and municipalities around the Dominican Republic.

“We love this project and we are happy that we got the opportunity to be part of it,” said María. “We’re very pleased with the success of the IC and we hope that as the years go by, we can reach out to other communities and still continue to do this scientific work.”

The Institute‘s shared stewardship approach extends its expertise to international partners that are vigilantly developing local biologists within their communities and who are contributing scientific data for the expansion of avian research.

The Institute's mission is to develop and disseminate scientifically-based knowledge that contributes to the conservation of forests, wildlife, and watersheds of the American tropics in the context of environmental change.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains world-renowned forestry research and wildland fire management organizations. National forests and grasslands contribute more than $30 billion to the American economy annually and support nearly 360,000 jobs. These lands also provide 30 percent of the nation's surface drinking water to cities and rural communities; approximately 60 million Americans rely on drinking water that originated from the National Forest System.

USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).

Page last modified: 02/26/2020