For Immediate Release
June 15, 1998

Contact: Diana M. Hawkins
404-679-7293

LOW-ALTITUDE FLIGHTS OVER CARIBBEAN NATIONAL FOREST
CRITICALLY ENDANGERS RARE PUERTO RICAN PARROT

Airplanes aren’t the only wings in flight over the island of Puerto Rico. The Commonwealth’s cherished Puerto Rican parrot shares this airspace but it could have harmful consequences for the bird.

To help protect the endangered parrot, officials of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the

U.S. Forest Service are urging pilots to adhere to the flight restrictions regarding the Caribbean National Forest flight avoidance area. The avoidance area is located on the Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands sectional charts and can be found between the Roosevelt Roads Naval Air Station and the San Juan International Airport. The restrictions require pilots to fly at or above 2,000 feet when passing over the Carribean National Forest.

The survival of the Puerto Rican parrot is tenuous. According to the Service’s Southeast Regional Director, Sam D. Hamilton, only about 42 adult birds and seven active nests with young still remain in the forest.

"The Service’s parrot recovery coordinator, Agustin Valido, says that noise from

low-flying aircraft has been known to cause females to abandon their nests, eggs, and young. According to Valido, the Service believes that the abandonment of important traditional nesting areas may have been caused by the 1995 activity of a film crew flying at low altitude over the area during the parrot’s critical nest selection period, that year. Since the beginning of the Puerto Rican parrot recovery program, Valido said, those sites had been occupied by nesting parrots. Birds were observed a week before that particular overflight incident, but only a single bird was observed a week later. No breeding activity has taken place in the area since, he added.

He said that more recently, during the 1998 breeding season, other low-altitude overflight incidents have occurred in spite of the current flight restrictions. On some occasions, he noted, the incidents happened after the parrots were already nesting and technicians observed resulting changes in behavior and nesting attendance. These overflights by military aircraft conducting exercises at Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, occur over the only known Puerto Rican parrot nesting area in the Caribbean National Forest.

These incidents have taken place despite efforts to alert and advise both commercial and military pilots of the unfortunate repercussions of such overflights. Advisory notes to pilots have been published on the VFR Terminal Area Chart for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and there are certain FAA flight restrictions applicable to the area.

Valido said that the protection of each individual parrot and, most importantly, every breeding pair is essential for the Puerto Rican parrot’s survival. If parrots are driven out of their remaining breeding habitat by low overflights, the species — an important piece of Puerto Rico’s natural heritage — will become extinct," he said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is responsible for enforcing the Endangered Species Act that provides for possible fines and penalties of up to $100,000 for individuals and/or imprisonment for one year, for individuals convicted. Corporations could be fined up to $200,000. With the support of the approach control radar from San Juan and Roosevelt Roads, violators of the Caribbean National Forest Flight Avoidance Area can be identified and will be subject to prosecution in Federal Court.

The Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service's 94 million acres include 514 national wildlife refuges, 78 ecological services field stations, 65 national fish hatcheries, 50 wildlife coordination areas, and 38 wetland management districts with waterfowl production areas.

The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, administers the Endangered Species Act, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes Federal excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies. This program is a cornerstone of the Nation's wildlife management efforts, funding fish and wildlife restoration, boating access, hunter education, shooting ranges, and related projects across America.

X X X

Release #: R98-048


1998 News Releases

Go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region Home Page