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Green mountain surrounded in fog viewed across a pool of water. Mountain reflected on water surface
Information icon View of Sierra Bermeja from Laguna Cartagena National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Mike Morell.

Rare plants protected, propagated via Partners program in Puerto Rico

The Sierra Bermeja, a mountain range in southwest Puerto Rico rich in threatened and endangered species, has a long history of unsustainable agricultural practices that have caused deforestation and decreased the quality of the soil and habitat.

Since 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s staff have been implementing a Cooperative Recovery Initiative (CRI) to restore the region’s biodiverse luster.

The work is paying off.

The Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office, and the Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex, joined forces with nonprofit, territorial and university groups, as well as private landowners, to help recover six federally listed plants.

They focused initially on two evergreens. One, Stahlia monosperma, or the Cobana negra, is medium-sized with red, fleshy fruit that smells like ripe apples. The other, Eugenia woodburyana (no common name), is smallish and also bears red fruit. The trees were propagated at the nursery in the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge. Other native trees were also planted to improve the habitat. The Laguna Cartagena National Wildlife Refuge is also situated in the Sierra Bermeja.

The Service and partners also planted trees across the mountain range, including on five privately owned properties. The Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program ensures that landowners will conserve and protect these species and their habitat for years to come.

The agreements are significant given the history of the newly conserved lands: deforested for timber and agriculture; cleared by manmade fires; under siege from invasive vegetation and hurricanes. In addition, most of the plants have limited distribution which makes them more vulnerable.

Red berries of Eugenia woodburyana
Eugenia woodburyana. Credit: Alexandra Galindo, USFWS.

Under the CRI, more than 3,300 trees have been planted on protected and private lands. More than 171 acres has been restored. Trees have already flowered and produced fruit. Recovery of E. woodburyana and S. monosperma has ancillary benefits as well: habitat for other species, including the Yellow-shouldered blackbird and the Puerto Rican nightjar, both endangered, has been improved.

Para La Naturaleza, an NGO, also received funding through the Partners program to build fire breaks and plant 1,000 native tree species at El Conuco Natural Protected Area. All six federally listed species benefited from the forest buffer project.

Other CRI partners include: Envirosurvey, Inc.; Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden; Protectores de Cuenca, Inc.; the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources; the University of Puerto Rico; and the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Volunteers and interns from the Student Conservation Association and Youth Conservation Corps also helped plant and learn about conservation efforts.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information on our work and the people who can make it happen, visit fws.gov. Connect with the Service on Facebook, follow our tweets, watch the YouTube Channel and download photos from Flickr.

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