2013 Wildlife Conservation in the Caribbean
Edwin Muñiz Esq., CESFO Field Supervisor. Credit: Carlos Pacheco, USFWS
I’m pleased to share some thoughts about USFWS Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office (CESFO) key accomplishments in the Caribbean during 2012 and to give you a glimpse at what is coming in 2013.
The USFWS has a long tradition of endangered species recovery. One of the highlights of 2012 was listing the coquí llanero as an endangered species and the designation of critical habitat. With this action we now have four amphibians that are federally protected in Puerto Rico and a total of 25 animals and 49 plants protected by the Endangered Species Act in the Caribbean.
Through the years, significant changes have been gradually made to go beyond recovery of individual species to address conservation needs across the landscape. In order to restore and conserve ecosystems with a landscape approach, we established two geographic areas for Strategic Habitat Conservation (SHC) in Puerto Rico and will establish in the future one for the U.S. Virgin Islands. These areas will allow us to make efficient, transparent decisions about where and how to best invest Service resources. In 2012, we allocated more than half million dollars to habitat restoration and projects that will benefit endangered species. These funds go directly to external partners that carry out research, restoration and education. In this publication you will read a handful of examples of how we are integrating our resources with a landscape focus to support research, outreach and delivery of conservation actions on the ground.
One of the initiatives with the landscape approach that has demonstrated consistent success is the Shade Coffee Initiative. This initiative was designed to restore the coffee regions in the mountains to protect Coral Reefs in the Southern Puerto Rico SHC. This Habitat Restoration Initiative encompasses the Guánica Bay/Rio Loco Restoration Initiative, the Maricao Commonwealth Forest Buffer Zone, and the Northern Watershed Initiative. We will continue to implement the shade coffee initiative in partnership with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Envirosurvey, Inc. Since 2007, several Interagency and Agreements have been signed formalizing this partnership and expanding efforts. As part of this agreement, we provided technical assistance to landowners currently participating in Farm Bill Programs and identify new landowners potentially interested for future years. As a result of our efforts, in 2012 we implemented conservation practices on 44 private farms: 25 farms in Rio Loco / Guánica, 10 in Maricao, and 9 in Utuado. Rio Loco / Guánica and Maricao are within the Southern SHC and Utuado is located within the Northern SHC area.
CESFO staff provided technical assistance to the ongoing NRCS contracts on these farms, including contacting landowners to follow up with the conservation practices to be implemented, providing detailed information such as tree/shrub species and developing onsite layout of practices to be implemented on the selected parcels, delivering vegetative material, verifying that the wildlife conservation practices are properly implemented, and certifying conservation practices. CESFO provided NRCS necessary information such as tree delivery forms, photo evidence, GPS points, maps, practice certification forms and reports.
During fiscal year 2012, we delivered 16,865 native trees to private landowners in the Rio Loco Watershed, the Maricao Buffer Area and Northern Watershed. We also helped NRCS establish agreements with private landowners for 505.8 acres entered into voluntary conservation through the Wildlife Conservation Incentives Program and the Habitat Quality Incentives Program managed by NRCS.
In addition to providing funding and technical assistance support, CESFO plays a key role in reviewing development projects and providing input to federal, state and municipal entities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. During FY 2012, CESFO participated in interagency meetings, and conferences about renewable energy as part of our efforts to reach the renewable energy community. We reviewed about 15 energy projects and provided technical assistance in 38 instances to energy related projects, including 3 natural gas projects, 3 wind farm projects, 8 solar projects and 1waste to energy project.
In 2013, we are improving how we provide customer service in this area by streamlining the consultation process so that we focus on projects with high potential for conservation gain. To help our partners find the information they need and help them comply with Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, we have created a site that will help us expedite consultations and minimize response time. To learn more please visit www.fws.gov/caribbean/estools.html .
For the last three years, in partnership with the University of Puerto Rico- COHEMIS, we conducted “Roadshows” to increase the awareness for the species we protect and our programs. These workshops are designed to reach developers, planners, environmental consultants, private organizations and private landowners. We seek to build relationships with those that shape and impact land use decisions and practices so that we can work collaboratively to ensure conservation. In 2013, we will offer more of these workshops and will incorporate new information to build the community’s understanding for new ways to get information about endangered species online. We invite everyone to stay tuned for further information about the “Roadshows”.
I have always been passionate about education and its ability to make a difference in people’s lives. I am also a firm believer that we cannot accomplish conservation by ourselves; we need the help from all. Every new relationship built through this initiative will be geared to engage in dialogue and to help people develop skills to effectively participate and contribute to conservation, and society as a whole. I am incredibly fortunate to serve alongside with the men and women of the Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office who have devoted their time and talents to conservation. Together we have set the stage to achieve our goal of promoting conservation and bringing positive change to our ecosystems today and for generations to come.
We are excited about our mission, because it is part of our values, our culture, and our character. Being good stewards of the earth is everyone’s responsibility. By integrating our work with the power and passion of the greater conservation community in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, we believe we can, and will, make a bigger impact.
Edwin E. Muñiz, Esq.
Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service