June 2014 NRCS The Caribbean Newsletter

The Caribbean

Director's Corner

Summer is here, we are one quarter away from the end of the 2014 fiscal year, and we are on route to another successful year! Thank you guys – thank you for all that you do to help conserve our natural resources in the Caribbean.  As always, enjoy this wonderful edition of the newsletter and have a great summer.

Yours in conservation,

Edwin Almodóvar, NRCS Caribbean Area Director 

Soil, Water, Air, Plants, Animals, Humans, Energy

Upcoming Activities

Caribbean Climate Subhub Webinar #2: Issues and vulnerabilities associated with climate change, variability, and uncertainty affecting forestry and agriculture. English – July 22nd, 2014 @2:00-2:45pm / Español–July 24th, 2014 @2:00-2:45pm

Caribbean Climate Subhub Webinar #3: Partnerships, Networks, and Stakeholders in the USDA Caribbean Climate Sub Hub:     Cooperative responses to climate change – what are the current tools and resources?  English – July 29th, 2014 @2:00-2:45pm / Español – July 31st, 2014 @2:00-2:45pm

Caribbean Climate Subhub Webinar #4: Where do we go from here?  English – August 5th, 2014 @2:00-2: 45pm / Español – August 7th, 2014 @2:00‐2:45pm

September 7-13, 2014, US Coral Reef Task Force meeting, Maui, Hawaii

September 11-12, 2014, EPA / Caribbean Science Consortium Workshops: University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus, Architecture Amphitheater, Ave. Universidad, San Juan

September 17, 2014, State Technical Committee Meeting, TBA St. Croix, USVI

In This Issue

2014 Feds Feed Families Food Drive Now Underway!

Feds Feed Families logo

This summer, USDA is once again leading the Feds Feed Families (FFF) campaign – a nationwide food drive to help those struggling with hunger across the country. The campaign started on June 2 and runs through August 29, 2014. Since the campaign began in 2009, Federal workers have donated and collected 24.1 million pounds of food and other non-perishable items to support families across America. 

All Federal agencies, including field offices, are asked to participate in the campaign. Partners and clients are also invited to contribute.

In the Caribbean Area, the NRCS Arecibo, Mayagüez, Juana Díaz and Caguas Field Offices, and the State Office, have Feds Feed Families food collection bins. The USDA Rural Development office in St. Croix is also collecting food donations for the USVI. Please bring non-perishable food items and place them into a designated collection box nearest to you.

Last year, the NRCS Caribbean Area donated 1,200 pounds of food—a tremendous accomplishment that exemplifies our staffs’ commitment to those in need. This year, we hope we can do even better. For more information, contact Nilda González, FFF Coordinator, at 787-766-5206 x116 or Nilda.gonzalez@pr.usda.gov or Luis A. García, Alternate FFF Coordinator, at 787-766-5206 x132.

NRCS Caribbean Area staff host Regional Conservationist, James Tillman

NRCS Caribbean Area staff were proud to host the visit of NRCS Regional Conservationist (RC), James Tillman, last month! NRCS staff led RC Tillman on a whirlwind tour of project sites throughout Puerto Rico during the week of May 12-16, 2014.

RC Tillman had the opportunity to meet with partners and farmers, and to visit many conservation sites. But he was most pleased to visit with all of our Caribbean Area staff.

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NRCS Regional Conservationist, James Tillman, visits Coral Reef Initiative project sites in the Guánica Bay / Río Loco watersheds May 13, 2014.

NRCS Regional Conservationist, James Tillman, received an overview of the Coral Reef Initiative work conducted in the Guánica watershed from Assistant State Conservationist Fernando Arroyo (speaking), during his May 13, 2014 visit to Guánica / Río Loco project sites in southwest Puerto Rico.

Celebrating Legacy Forests in the USVI

Pristine section of newly-purchased land in Estate North Star, St. Croix

On Friday, June 20, the VI Department of Agriculture (VIDOA) hosted a celebration to announce its newest land acquisition under the USDA Forest Service (FS)-funded Forest Legacy Program – 102.03 acres of forestland in Estate North Star, on the northwestern coast of St. Croix.  VIDOA Commissioner, Dr. Louis E. Petersen, Jr., welcomed over 30 dignitaries and islanders to the event, and provided an overview of the Department’s work with the Forest Service and local agencies and community groups to acquire the newest parcels.

Since 2012, VIDOA has purchased 212 acres of land in St. Croix’s Northwestern corner as part of their Forest Legacy program. Their aim is to form the backbone of the VI’s Territorial Park system.  These lands have a lot of stories to tell,” explained Dr. Petersen.

Dr. Ariel Lugo describes the USDA-FS Forest Legacy Program to participants Friday morning, June 20th.

Dr. Ariel Lugo, Director of the USDA-FS International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF), which provided funding towards the land purchase, described the purpose of IITF’s Forest Legacy program. 

Through the Forest Legacy Program, FS provides funding, with a local match, to acquire lands that are “spectacular” – ecologically, historically and culturally significant. In this case, VIDOA identified the northwest corner of St. Croix as the priority area to purchase land. The area is important ecologically because of its high concentration of undisturbed forest and native species, and culturally because of its significance as the historic home of the Maroons – a community of escaped slaves.  VIDOA drafted their proposal with help from local researchers, ecologists and IITF, and entered it into the National competition for Forest Legacy funding. “Team VI was above the line,” said Dr. Lugo. “The two heroes responsible for the deal today are Dr. Petersen and Marilyn Chakroff (VIDOA Forest Program Director and sole staff member).”

It took 10 years, but incredible things can happen,” said Dr. Lugo. Once the land is purchased, the title is transferred to the local government. The land can only be used for conservation, if the local government tries to change the land use, the federal government can take back the land.

Marilyn Chakroff, displays a map showing locations of Forest Legacy purchases (yellow).

Ms. Chakroff presented a map highlighting the areas purchased by VIDOA, lands already owned by the VI Government, and land that VIDOA would like to purchase through the Forest Legacy Program.  Her goal is to acquire adjacent properties in order to form a wildlife corridor, and also to encompass the Maroon Ridge historic area.  VIDOA is seeking willing, conservation-minded sellers, or property owners willing to grant a conservation easement on their lands. She acknowledged the help of the Trust for Virgin Islands Lands and Attorney Gerry Groner, for their assistance in program planning and land purchases. She is pleased because property owners are now approaching her to include their land in the Program.  The next step for the North Star parcel is to draft a management plan for the land, with the goal of installing hiking trails, interpretive signs, and maybe even a Visitor’s Center. Said St. Croix Administrator, Dodson James, “It was 10 years in the making, but it was well worth the wait. If you listen very carefully, even the birds are happy!

For more information on the Virgin Islands Forestry Program, contact Marilyn Chakroff at 340-778-0997 x. 233. For more information about the Forest Legacy Program, contact Magaly Figueroa, USDA-FS/IITF, at 787-766-5335 x. 230.

Lending Our Neighbors a Helping Hand: NRCS Trains Haitians in the Science & Art of Soil Surveys

NRCS Soil Scientists and Haitian trainees sampling one of the sites.

Caribbean Area NRCS MLRA Soil Survey Leader, Manuel Matos had the unique opportunity to work with a group of NRCS Soil Scientists leading a Pilot Soil Survey Project of 3,000 hectares in the Cul-de-Sac Area of Haiti. The project was part of a joint program between the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), NRCS, Direction Rurale Forestière et du Sol (DRFS) of the Ministry of Agriculture (MARNDR), Faculty of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine (FAMV), and the USAID-funded WINNER soils laboratory and training facility at Bas Boen.

Haitian trainees learn about clod making and labeling for bulk density.

The goal of the project is to build capacity within MARNDR to enable Haitian soil scientists to conduct a detailed soil survey of the entire country. Other project objectives are to (i) develop skills to plan, conduct, and disseminate soils information; (ii) demonstrate the usefulness of soil surveys in resource planning and management; and (iii) publish online soil survey maps and a hard-copy soil survey that will include interpretations for such uses as crops, urban development, erosion, and soil degradation; land use capability and limitations; and recommended management practices. The participation of NRCS soil scientists was a continuation of training activities that began in the summer of 2013 during the visit of a Haitian delegation to the USDA–NRCS National Soil Survey Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Manuel Matos (left) teaches a trainee how to describe color and clay films for the pedon descriptions.

From March 23 to April 1, the group of scientists worked with 15 Haitian soil scientist trainees to select, describe, classify and sample soils. As part of the project, 13 soil characterization samples were collected for detailed analysis. This two-week assignment was the final phase of field work in the pilot soil survey project. The team used the most current soil survey procedures in order to provide Haitian scientists with soil survey information needed for agricultural, conservation, engineering and land use planning applications. For more information, contact MLRA Soil Survey Leader, Manuel Matos, at 787-831-3416 x. 108.

Reaching Out to Maricao Farmers

Activ Maricao FWS-Envirosurvey-DRNA-NRCS

Public meeting participants: farmers and NRCS, FWS, DNER and EnviroSurvey Inc. employees. (Photo by Zulma García; not all participants shown).

NRCS in partnership with FWS, Envirosurvey Inc., and DRNA held a public meeting for NRCS and FWS program farmers on April 11, 2014 in the heart of the Maricao shade-coffee agroforestry program area.

The meeting was held to gather input about FWS and NRCS program performance directly from the farmers. Partners delivered presentations on NRCS and FWS programs, tree selection to provide best shade, and pruning procedures to manage tree shade on the coffee plantation. To capture farmer feedback, the partners distributed a questionnaire to discuss NRCS and FWS technical and programmatic aspects in a round table session. The discussion was facilitated by DRNA, FWS and NRCS personnel assigned to each table. “It was exciting to hear program participant feedback that will help us to improve in many program implementation areas from contracting procedures to tree planting,” said Mayagüez DC, Zulma García. “I hope we can extend this kind of activity throughout the Caribbean Area to improve conservation assistance and program implementation.” 

This activity resulted in new farmers visiting the Mayagüez Field Office the very next day to apply for EQIP. NRCS staff members Fernando Arroyo (Assistant State Conservationist for Operations), José A. Castro (Assistant State Conservationist for Programs), Marisol Morales (Biologist) and Zulma García (District Conservationist) provided information to 10 potential new program participants, all of whom are limited resource and underserved farmers. For details on the Shade Coffee Initiative, contact Jaime Valentín, State Resource Conservationist, at 787-766-5206 x.121.

USDA Releases 2012 Puerto Rico Census of Agriculture.

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the 2012 Census of Agriculture for Puerto Rico on June 27. This release marks more than a century of agriculture census data collection in Puerto Rico, where the first agriculture census was conducted in 1910.

The Census is the leading source of statistics about Puerto Rico’s agricultural production and the only source of consistent, comparable data at the municipio level,” said NASS Administrator Joseph T. Reilly. “Conducted in cooperation with the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture and the University of Puerto Rico Extension Service, the 2012 Census of Agriculture provides information on the area’s unique agriculture industry that is gathered at the local level.”

You can download a pdf version of the 2012 Puerto Rico Census of Agriculture from: www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Full_Report/Outlying_Areas/prv1.pdf.

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Tropical Nursery Manual Now Available

Tropical Nursery Manual cover

The USDA Forest Service has released their much anticipated Tropical Nursery Manual: A Guide to Starting and Operating a Nursery for Native and Traditional Plants.

The Tropical Nursery Manual directly addresses unique issues that tropical nursery managers frequently face and is a resource they can refer to for practical and technical information. Examples in the manual come from the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, Marshall Islands, American Samoa, Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of Palau.

The project was completed through the Reforestation, Nurseries and Genetic Resources (RNGR) group of the USDA Forest Service and can be downloaded from their website. Printed copies may also be ordered from RNGR. The manual can also be downloaded in its entirety or by chapter from Geographic Consulting LLC’s publications page.

Puerto Rico Serpentine Soils Tour

Dr. Earl Alexander and Manuel Matos with red clayey soils on their hands. Serpentine rocks on the background.

The Mayaguez Major Land Resource Area (MLRA) soil survey office hosted Dr. Earl Alexander from California during his visit March 10-14, 2014. Dr. Alexander is the author of several books focused on the soil landscape and geoecology. He has visited numerous places in North, South and Central America, studying and conducting research on serpentine soils. The purpose of his visit to Puerto Rico was to observe, evaluate and gather information about the soil and plant communities associated with the serpentine zone in Puerto Rico. This area is located in the southwest region of the island in the towns of Yauco, Sabana Grande, San Germán, Maricao, Mayagüez and Cabo Rojo.

The information collected by Dr. Alexander, including information provided by MLRA staff, will be used in chapter 10 of his new book “Serpentine Geoecology of North America.” The NRCS Caribbean Area MLRA staff members were pleased to assist Dr. Alexander with his tour, inspecting Oxixols, Mollisols and Alfisols developed from serpentine parental material on Puerto Rico (right: Dr. Earl Alexander and Manuel Matos with red clayey soils on their hands. Serpentine rocks on the background.) For more information, contact MLRA Soil Survey Leader, Manuel Matos, at 787-831-3416 x. 108.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Economic Development Funding To Create Jobs and Economic Opportunities in Rural Communities

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the selection of 48 community-based organizations in 26 states, the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for grants to promote economic growth, support rural business development and create jobs.

"These grants will bring increased economic opportunities to rural residents and communities by strengthening the capacity of regional organizations to help small and emerging businesses," Vilsack said. "They also will help organizations experienced in economic development create more job opportunities for rural residents across the country."

USDA is making the investments through the Rural Community Development Initiative Program (RCDI). It helps community-based development organizations, federally recognized Indian tribes and other groups promote economic growth in low-income, rural communities. Recipients are required to obtain matching funds, which increase the value of the grants. USDA does not provide the grants directly to businesses or individuals. Instead, the Agency awards the money to public or non-profit intermediaries. Much of the RCDI funding is regional in nature and underscores USDA's support of locally-based development strategies.

Locally, $152,492 was awarded to the Puerto Rico Community Foundation to help three non-profit organizations improve community and economic development. For details, visit www.rurdev.usda.gov/HAD-RCDI_Grants.html.

EPA Honors Work of Exceptional USVI & PR Environmental Leaders

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency honored individuals and organizations from across Puerto Rico & the U.S. Virgin Islands with Environmental Quality Awards for their achievements in protecting public health and the environment. EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck presented the awards at a ceremony at EPA’s offices in Manhattan. Michelle DePass, former Assistant Administrator of the EPA Office of International and Tribal Affairs and currently Dean of the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at the New School for Public Engagement in New York City, delivered the keynote address.

"Today we celebrate the exemplary work of people who work tirelessly to protect the environment and give their time and energy to create a cleaner and healthier future for us all,” said Administrator Enck. “Their extraordinary contributions serve as an inspiration to all who strive for a more sustainable environmental future.”

EPA presents their Environmental Quality Awards annually during Earth Week to individuals, businesses, government agencies, environmental and community-based organizations and members of the media in EPA Region 2, which covers New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight federally-recognized Indian Nations. The awards recognize significant contributions to improving the environment and public health in the previous calendar year. For information visit www.epa.gov/region02/eqa/.

Puerto Rico Award Winners (in alphabetical order):

  • Melba Ayala-Nieves, Excursiones ECO Inc.
  • Pedro Carrión Huertas
  • The Center for Environmental Education, Conservation and Interpretation, Inter-American University of Puerto Rico, Metropolitan Campus
  • The Coalition for the Northeast Ecological Corridor
  • Estudiantes Dispuestos a la Restauración Ambiental del Caño Martín Peña (EDRA)
  • Organización Pro Ambiente Sustentable (OPAS)
  • Municipality of Rincón
  • Sociedad Eco-Ambiental, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto de Río Piedras

USVI Award Winners:

  • Carib Sun Energy
  • Ivanna Eudora Kean High School
  • Virgin Islands Hotel & Tourism Association, Virgin Islands Conservation Society, Valerie Peters: Blue Flag USVI

EPA Provides $388,000 to Assess Contaminated Properties in the Caño Martín Peña Communities in San Juan, Puerto Rico

U.S. EPA awarded $388,000 to Corporacion Del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña in San Juan to assess abandoned and contaminated properties. The grants are from EPA’s Brownfields Program, which helps communities assess, clean up, redevelop and reuse contaminated properties. Brownfields are properties with moderate contamination which can threaten environmental quality and public health and can interfere with redevelopment.

People living in the communities along the Martín Peña Canal are getting sick from exposure to raw sewage and untreated wastewater in their frequently flooded neighborhoods,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “These brownfields grants will enable ENLACE to expand environmental assessments of properties along the Martín Peña Canal, making way for future cleanups that will protect people’s health and put these properties to productive use for the community.”

ENLACE will use a $200,000 hazardous substances assessment grant and an $188,000 petroleum assessment grant to determine public health and environmental impacts and to inventory sites in the Martín Peña Channel Special Planning District. Grant funds will also be used to conduct cleanup planning activities and develop a community engagement plan. For more information on EPA Brownfields activities, visit http://epa.gov/brownfields.