History & Culture

En espanol

In 1876, when the island was still a Spanish colony, King Alfonso XII proclaimed the forest a Crown Reserve to be regulated by the Inspeccin de Montes (Spanish Forest Service). It thus became one of the earliest forest reserves known to exist in the Western Hemisphere. Twenty two years later in 1898, as partial reparation for the Spanish-American War, the United States was ceded control of the island of Puerto Rico at the Treaty of Paris. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed the 5,116 acre (2,070 hectare) former Crown reserve to be the "Luquillo Forest Reserve"; named after its location in the Luquillo Mountains which rise behind the island's north-eastern coastal plain. Initially overseen by the US Bureau of Forestry, the reserve was re-named the Luquillo National Forest in 1907 and began to be supervised by the newly organized (1905) US Forest Service, an agency of the US Department of Agriculture. Through the years the Luquillo National Forest grew larger due to land grants, donations and purchases of privately owned parcels. In 1935 the forest was renamed the "Caribbean National Forest" and by that time it totaled more than 20.000 acres.

Two years previously, at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt, Congress enacted the Federal Emergency Conservation Program which spawned the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Under the supervision of the Forest Service, CCC recruits from the island began working on projects in the forest such as "Building a road through the cliffs and jungles of the Luquillo Mountains", reforestation, and construction of recreational facilities. Altogether, the CCC program in Puerto Rico employed 2,600 local laborers, many of whom performed work on the island's forests. Many of the forest's roads and facilities that were built during the CCC years (1935-1943) are still very much in use, a lasting tribute to the island's "tres C's" (CCC) workmen who labored under extremely difficult conditions, using only the tools and equipment they could carry on their backs, to construct trails and roads through the forest.

In the 1940's, during the World War II years, over a quarter of a million board feet of lumber from the forest was sold to local Carboneros to be made into charcoal and sold for use as cooking fuel on the island. Trees to be cut and removed for sale were pre-marked by Forest Service Officers, allowing more promising immature trees to survive for the future. Until the war's end, El Yunque, the second highest peak in the forest was used by the US Army Signal Corps as an early-warning radar site to protect against incursions by German aircraft and submarines.

In 1946 the El Yunque National Forest was designated an Insular Wildlife Refuge by the US Department of Agriculture. In 1948 a technical assessment determined that 4 million trees and 22 tons of seeds comprising 34 tree species had been planted in the forest over an 11 year period starting in 1934. At roughly the same time it is proven that over 8, 000 acres have reforested naturally due to the dedicated protection of the land by the Forest Service.

The El Yunque National Forest was additionally designated the "Luquillo Experimental Forest" in 1956 to recognize the growing importance of the scientific research that was being conducted here. In 1968 formal research efforts to save the endangered Puerto Rican Parrot, whose only remaining natural habitat at that time was the El Yunque National Forest, were begun by scientists from the USDA Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) and the World Wildlife Fund.

In 1971 the Elfin Woods Warbler (Dendroica angelae), a previously undiscovered bird species, endemic to Puerto Rico, was discovered to exist at high elevation in the forest. In 1976 the Luquillo Experimental Forest was designated as an important a part of the United Nations International Network of Biosphere Reserves. In 1981 the El Yunque National Forest's Field Office was moved from Sabana to the newly constructed Catalina Work Center located at the entrance to the main entrance to the forest.

In 1987 "The Parrots of Luquillo", a 20 year history of parrot research in the Luquillo Forest was published. In 1989 Hurricane Hugo caused major damage to the island of Puerto Rico, and El Yunque National Forest facilities, including the Catalina Work Center and the forest's recreational areas. As a result of the hurricane, the population of the Puerto Rican Parrot drops to a low of 23 individuals in the wild. Hurricane recovery efforts result in watershed restoration efforts by the USDA Forest Service involving over 296 acres of rivers and streams in the forest.

In 1992 the International Institute of Tropical Forestry was created by the US Secretary of Agriculture. The Institute is designed to "serve as a gateway for collaborative efforts emphasizing forest research, demonstration forests, technology transfer, training, education, and networking". International forestry is formally recognized as a vital part of the IITF mission.

In 1994 a drought emergency plan to supply nearly a million gallons of water per day from the El Yunque National Forest's rivers and streams to surrounding communities was prepared and implemented.

In 1995 the Rent-A-Ranger program was inaugurated in the forest's recreational area. This program provides School groups and other organizations the opportunity to receive prearranged forest trail tours guided by professional Forest Service Interpreters.

In 1996 The El Portal Tropical Forest Center was inaugurated. Located at the forest's entrance, it encompasses 9, 800 square feet of exhibit space highlighting public education and demonstrating the importance of forest conservation.

In 1997 the El Yunque National Forest/Luquillo Experimental Forest Land and Resource Management Plan was approved. Among other items, it contains the forest's first Interpretive Plan.

In 1998 A formal Environmental Education Teachers Training program was developed by the El Yunque National Forest's Customer Service Team in partnership with Commonwealth of Puerto Rico Education Department and island schools. It was designed to enhance the Conservation Education classroom experience for middle and high school students and provide curricular materials to students and teachers so that they would be better prepared to absorb lectures and guided tours given by the forest's Visitor Information Service interpreters when they visited the forest. The El Yunque National Forest has developed partnerships with local and US universities that allow teachers attending USDA Forest Service conservation education training sessions to qualify for continuing education credits.

Also in 1998 Hurricane Georges struck the island causing massive devastation, followed by extensive hurricane recovery efforts. During this year the devastating Pink Mealy Bug was first discovered in the forest. The Puerto Rican Department of Agriculture responds promptly with the introduction of a parasitic wasp that virtually destroyed this voracious insect.

In 1999 the Forest Adventure Tour program was inaugurated. Through this program guided tours by professional Forest Service interpreters were made available to visitors beginning every hour.

In 2000 ten Puerto Rican Parrots reared in captivity are released into the wild. This thrilling event is followed by the release of 16 more parrots in 2001, and nine in 2002 and is part of the program to save this highly endangered species.

In 2001 a Transportation Study of the El Yunque National Forest was finished. It recommended a mass-transit system for PR 191, the main access to the forest, to relieve traffic congestion and provide additional visitor access to the forest's recreational areas. A population of over 1500 of the spectacular (Lepanthes eltoroensis) orchid was recorded in the El Yunque National Forest's Elfin Woods area in the same year.

In 2003 the El Yunque National Forest celebrated its Centennial with year-long activities, and the installation of a 60 foot long Centennial timeline display in the El Portal Rain Forest Center.



https://www.fs.usda.gov/main/elyunque/learning/history-culture