PUERTO RICO – Protectores de Cuencas, a community based nonprofit organization, an International Institute of Tropical Forestry-State and Private Forestry collaborator, is working on vital projects targeting diverse conservation goals concentrated along the southern side of Puerto Rico, to include the municipal islands of Vieques and Culebra.
PDC is concentrated in ecologically sensitive areas with the following goals: increase forest resilience, reduce land-based sources of pollution that are reaching local coastal ecosystems and protect key watersheds in the region. Watersheds are directly related to the health of Guanica Bay and are part of a multiagency conservation initiative.
Protectores is collaborating on the post-hurricane forest recovery efforts, working with private landowners to provide technical assistance to mitigate the effects of Hurricane Maria on local forest resources. The ultimate objective is to provide landowners with a forest stewardship management plan that will give them the opportunity to opt to participate in incentive programs that are available through other USDA agencies as well as the US Fish and Wildlife Service. This service is available to private landowners and farmers in southern Puerto Rico, Vieques and Culebra. PDC developed a landscape plan for the region that proposes the establishment of thirty conservation agreements.
The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, an initiative that targets critically impacted forest areas that were impacted by the Hurricane Maria in September 2017, is one among several priority projects in the area. Protectores de Cuencas is growing some 40,000 trees in their own tree nursery facilities. Trees being produced at this nursery include 33 native species and three introduced species. A multiagency team developed a production plan, identifying which species are more suitable to restoring the forest landscape for various species, such as the Puerto Rican Parrot and the Elfin Forest warbler. Trees are available to landowners participating in the Joint Chiefs’ Partnership.
The organization is also assisting in the educational phase of the project by offering specialized workshops to reduce wildland fire risks and provide landowners in the area with the latest techniques, increasing their response capacity, protect water quality and supply and improve wildlife habitats. The topics that are covered are wildland fire prevention, debris removal, fuel reduction, and composting of plant material.
PDC has agreements with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to manage the Guanica State Forest. This forest was recognized as a biosphere reserve in 1981 by the United Nations. They have been successful in implementing important coastal restoration efforts, which include sand dune restoration, dirt road stabilization and reforestation of degraded areas using native coastal vegetation. PDC has a growing network of collaborators which include municipal, state and federal agencies. Most importantly, they have the participation and support of the local communities. They are committed to protect and conserve the forest landscape for them and future generations.