Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria - Part 2: Island-wide efforts

PUERTO RICO – In September 2017, the Caribbean was battered by the combined force of two massive hurricanes; first came Irma followed two weeks later by Maria. The International Institute of Tropical Forestry began post-hurricane work within days of Hurricane Irma, which occurred on September 6, 2017. Hurricane Maria occurred on September 20th and the Institute began post-Maria work on September 23, 2017.

Immediately after the passage of the Hurricane Maria, the Institute’s priorities were focused on communicating with employees, establishing their location, and ensuring their safety and well-being. Since then, follow-up efforts have been focused on assessing and rebuilding damaged infrastructure, assessing and reestablishing long-term monitoring activities, developing proposals for research activities, initiating research and outreach activities to aid in the recovery efforts and documenting all lessons learned as a result of the storm, its effect on the island and recovery events over the last six months.

Hydrological technician Carlos Estrada downloading data on soil moisture and temperature to determine the effects of ground covers in a field of plantains after the passage of hurricane Maria through Puerto Rico. UPR Gurabo Agricultural Experimental Station, PR. Forest Service photo by Maria M. Rivera.

To date, specific research and development projects and efforts across the island include:

Decision-makers, practitioners, researchers, students, and civic actors from various parts of Puerto Rico came together for a two-day workshop in February, titled "From Disaster to Transformation: Lessons from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane María", to share lessons learned from the social, ecological, and technological failures they experienced and observed during and after the passing of Hurricane María. Forest Service photo.

Urban lands (San Juan Metropolitan Area): IITF is working in collaboration with the Urban Resilience to Extreme Events Sustainability Research Network and the University of Puerto Rico in multiple initiatives to support hurricane recovery and resilience-building efforts in urban communities. From disaster to transformation: Lessons from Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricane María is a program designed to offer workshop spaces for governmental and community leaders, practitioners and academics, to reflect on lessons learned from the disaster and identify immediate challenges and solutions to promote resilience to extreme events in San Juan and Puerto Rico in general.

IITF also published various information materials on resilience-related topics such as fact sheets and articles. With funding from the Smart and Connected Communities program of the National Science Foundation, the Institute is working with residents, the Municipality of San Juan, and other civic actors to design and implement community resilience hubs that use data and visualization technologies to support and connect communities in addressing local issues and improve resilience.

Assessing forest structure (Puerto Rico): Airborne Remote Sensing Campaign: Back in March 2017, the Department of Energy Next Generation Ecosystem Experiments Tropics project supported airborne remote sensing of approximately 12% of Puerto Rico focusing on forests. This mission was carried out by the NASA Goddard Lidar, Thermal, and Hyperspectral image system. Data acquired at approximately 1 m resolution will be used to understand forest structure, canopy chemistry and plant traits across Puerto Rican forests. 

Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria, IITF solicited support to repeat the flights to estimate hurricane structural damage and changes in canopy chemistry and traits. USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Interior recovery efforts (with support from FEMA) and NASA internal funding will support repeat flights on the original flightlines.

Funds have been transferred and new data acquisition flights began on April 20, 2018.  Data will be freely available following initial processing and quality control.

October 19, 2017 - Forest Service technicians Maria M. Rivera and Humberto Robles re-establishing a long term research plot in a mangrove forest site inside the Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Ceiba, PR. Measurements of tree growth and litterfall production have been taken in this site since 2000. Forest Service photo by Grizelle González.

October 25, 2017 - Forest Service technicians and incident team members chain sawing trail access to research sites to a Pterocarpus forests in Sabana Seca, Puerto Rico. Forest Service photo by María M. Rivera.