For Immediate Release
October 14, 1999

Contact: Ken Foote 787/ 851-7297 Ext. 29
Photos and B-Roll Available
Alternate Contact:
Tom MacKenzie
404/679-7291

CABO ROJO SALT FLATS BECOME PART OF NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

CONSERVATION OF CABO ROJO SALT
FLATS
BECOMES REALITY

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has purchased 1,249 acres of the Cabo Rojo Salt Flats to triple the size of the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge. Three million dollars from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and one and a half million dollars from the Wetland Reserve Program of the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) purchased the land located in southwestern Puerto Rico to become part of the National Wildlife Refuge System on March 10, 1999.

This purchase will allow the Service to conserve and protect the single most important point of convergence for migratory shorebirds in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Service officially designated the salt flats a Resource Category 1, which is the highest possible ranking that can be given to a wetland area and implies that the area is considered unique and irreplaceable on a national or ecoregional basis. The coastline, mangroves, seagrass beds, and offshore coral reefs next to the area are prime fish habitat, and are considered special aquatic sites. In addition, the seagrass beds provide feeding habitat for sea turtles and manatees.

The preservation of these wetlands is a positive step in preventing loss of habitat needed to help sustain migratory and wintering neotropical bird populations. The majority of the Cabo Rojo salt flats remain undeveloped and serve as an important stopover and wintering area for thousands of shorebirds. The salt flats are positioned in the Atlantic flyway and are a vital nesting ground for the snowy plover, least tern, Wilson's plover, black-necked stilt, and killdeer. The area and its adjacent waters also provide resting and feeding habitat for several threatened and endangered species such as the piping plover, peregrine falcon, yellow-shouldered blackbird, brown pelican, manatee and several species of sea turtles. Indeed, no fewer than 118 bird species have been recorded for the area.

Areas purchased by the Service and the NRCS Wetland Reserve Program include Fraternidad and Candelaria Lagoons and coastlines along Bahia Sucia and Bahia Salinas. In partnership with the Service, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) acquired additional portions of the salt flats for conservation. The DNER area includes Combate Beach, the southern coastline of Bahia Salinas and 75.7 acres of upland property. This purchase, utilizing Puerto Rico Highway Authority mitigation funds, in conjunction with existing DNER holdings along the coast will afford more protection to the resources and link vital habitat fragments.

Val Urban, manager of the Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, will oversee management of the new addition to the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge. "It is a significant achievement that this important wetland habitat has been preserved for future generations,"said Urban.

"Our agency will be working closely with the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to manage the area in a manner that will ensure the protection of plants, animals, and other coastal resources for years to come."

The purchase and subsequent protection of the Cabo Rojo salt flats marks 10 years of cooperation between Federal and Commonwealth agencies in conjunction with non-governmental groups favoring protection of the Cabo Rojo Salt Flats.

"I would like to acknowledge the Trust for Public Land as a partner in the acquisition of the Salt Flats," said Urban. "Chris Rogers of the Trust, who oversaw negotiations with the land owners and helped secure the necessary funding, played a key role."

Urban commended the Puerto Rico Conservation Foundation for it's support and endorsement of the project. The Foundation helped focus public interest by generating a letter writing campaign to Congress in support of the acquisition. In addition, the personal interest of Juan Martínez, State Conservationist for NRCS, was particularly significant in the acquisition effort, as was the cooperation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Regulatory Division in approving the use of mitigation funds for the DNER part of the acquisition. Other organizations, as well as many concerned citizens, supported the efforts to protect this area.

"This is a great day for everyone who values the environment for birdwatching, hiking, or just knowing there will always be something wild left for our children," said Martínez.

Commonwealth agencies involved in the acquisition included the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and the Puerto Rico Highway Authority. The support of the Governor of Puerto Rico, Dr. Pedro Roselló, the Resident Commissioner, Carlos Romero Barceló, and the Secretary of DNER, Daniel Pagán was particularly important in securing Land and Water Conservation Funds and Highway Authority mitigation funds.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 93-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 500 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands, and other special management areas. It also operates 66 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management assistance offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces Federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state wildlife agencies.

Release #: R99-82

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