PUERTO RICO—Accomplishments this year at the State and Private Forestry Unit from the International Institute of Tropical Forestry wouldn’t have been possible without the joint efforts and extended collaboration of our partners. From helping landowners on conservation practices after two major hurricanes to working on forest resilience and health efforts, this past year we are grateful for our collaborators and achievements completed.
Under the disaster supplemental funds, technical and forest management assistance to private landowners in targeted areas were provided throughout the year. Priority areas included the coffee zone, the southern region of the island, the municipalities of Vieques and Culebra, and the surrounding community and adjacent land of El Yunque National Forest. Our partners and collaborators worked on management plans throughout these areas. Among our main collaborators for these regions were Cafiesencia, Protectores de Cuencas and Centro de Conservacion del Paisaje.
This year, our unit was also able to assist the Caribbean Climate Hub on a series of workshops targeted for capacity building in the wood market on the island. The workshops delivered a series of demonstration projects that communicated the best adaptative practices to local producers. These efforts were aimed at promoting the rescue and reuse of fallen tree wood after Hurricanes Irma and Maria in order to highlight the potential that exists in Puerto Rico to establish sustainable forestry projects, and identify opportunities for future hurricane seasons.
Under the Forest Stewardship Program, we assisted or educated 328 landowners, covering a total of 300 acres within the priority acres identified in our current Forest Action Plans for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Through our assistance, our collaborators were able to develop and work on five new Forest Stewardship Management Plans for fiscal year 2019.
We also acquired a community forest by a nonprofit community organization. In March this year, the Rio Hondo Community in the municipality of Mayaguez celebrated the conservation in perpetuity of 67.9 acres of land. The Rio Hondo Community Forest is the first of its kind in Puerto Rico and was made possible with funds from the Community Forests and Open Spaces program. The property is 90% forested and consists of secondary forest, as a result of the abandonment of previous agricultural uses.
The Joint Chief Landscape Restoration Initiative in collaboration with Natural Resources Conservation Service is another project we have worked extensively with our collaborators on the island this year. The initiative to “Establish Biological Corridors and Restore Ecosystem Functionality after the Impact of a Major Hurricane in the Caribbean” entered its second year in 2019. The project is focused on a specific area within the central mountain range of western Puerto Rico, which is comprised of six important watersheds. This selection was done based on the ecological benefits these watersheds provide in the area. Joint efforts have been directed toward reducing soil erosion, improving water quality and soil health, mitigating fire threats to communities and landowners, and improving habitat quality for at-risk species. One of the key tasks has been the propagation of native species for agroforestry practices and forest enhancement, habitat restoration for targeted species, and debris and obstruction removal, among others. A total of 4,392 trees have been distributed to date.
In 2020, we expect to increase stewardship and collaboration among our different partners and continue serving the communities and landowners we have provided assistance to. We are currently organizing a series of trainings to provide landowners and communities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with the knowledge and tools to develop and integrate sustainable practices into their management plans and future efforts.