July 2022 Caribbean Conservation Update

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USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

NRCS Caribbean Conservation  Update  -  July 2022


2022 NACD Summer Meeting - Chief Cosby, RC Tillman, Asst Chief Aspey, NRCS-CB Leadership, SCDs_18Jul2022

Left to right: NRCS Assistant Chief Louis Aspey, NRCS Caribbean State Resource Conservationist Mario Rodriguez, NRCS Caribbean State Engineer Yilia Baucage-Bou, NRCS Caribbean ASTC for Operations Frank Velazquez, NRCS Caribbean Director Luis Cruz-Arroyo, NRCS Chief Terry Cosby, NRCS Caribbean Outreach Coordinator Julie Wright, VI Agriculture Commissioner Positive T.A. Nelson, PR Association of Conservation Districts President Joel Vega, Grisela Moreno, Este SWCD President Peter Vivoni, and NRCS Regional Conservationist James Tillman gather during a break at the 2022 NACD Summer Meeting in San Juan.

From July 16-20, the National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) held their 2022 Summer Conservation Forum and Tours in conjunction with the Southeast Region Meeting in San Juan. Hosted in partnership with the Puerto Rico Association of Soil Conservation Districts, the summer meeting gathered conservation leaders from across the country to discuss natural resource concerns and innovative solutions.

Luis Cruz Arroyo, Cowboy, Michael Crowder, Kim LaFleur, Hans Lawaetz, Candice Abinati, Diana Collingwood at Annaly farms_14Jul2022

Prior to the Summer meeting, NACD President Michael Crowder, President-Elect Kim LaFleur, and Southeast NACD Representative Candice Abinati visited St. Croix, USVI, and met with NRCS Caribbean Area Director Luis Cruz-Arroyo and St. Croix staff; Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDA) Commissioner Positive T.A. Nelson, Assistant Commissioner Diana Collingwood and staff; and several prospective board members of the forming Virgin Islands Conservation District (VICD). All convened to discuss reviving the VICD, natural resource concerns in the Virgin Islands, and opportunities to address these concerns through partnerships. Staff members from the offices of Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett and Governor Albert Bryan also joined the conservation conversation.

Partners visited with Dale Browne and his wife, Yvette, at Sejah Farms, their 15-acre farm where they grow organic vegetables and livestock for local markets and lead community outreach activities like the annual Bush Cook: Chef Cook farm-to-table event. The group also visited Annaly Farms, the ranch of 2021 NACD Distinguished Service awardee Hans Lawaetz, to learn more about the Senepol cattle breed and conservation on his farm. Additionally they visited Island Fresh aquaponics and Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve.

The NACD Summer Meeting on Monday, July 18th featured a presentation from Fernando Lloveras San Miguel, Para La Naturaleza President and local FFA Students presenting the colors, the pledge of allegiance, the Anthem of Puerto Rico, and U.S. National Anthem. The Conservation Forum continued with speeches from Dr. Bradley Doorn from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and NRCS Chief Terry Cosby, followed by a panel of Caribbean Conservation Leaders. The panel included Puerto Rico Agriculture Secretary Ramon Gonzalez Beiro, VIDA Commissioner Nelson, Dr. Anibal II Ruiz Lugo with the University of Puerto Rico Agricultural College, and Mr. Stafford Crossman with the University of the Virgin Islands School of Agriculture. Learn more…

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Southeast NACD Hall of Famers Dale Browne (USVI) and Pedro J. Fuentes Ortiz (Puerto Rico) -July 2022

Left: NACD President Michael Crowder, presents Hall of Fame award to Dale Browne, with congratulations from VI Agriculture Commissioner Positive Nelson, and NRCS Caribbean Director Luis Cruz-Arroyo. Right: NACD Southeast Chair Steven Meeks presents Hall of Fame award to Pedro J. Fuentes Ortiz at the 2022 NACD Summer Meeting.

NACD inducted 11 conservationists into the 2022 NACD Southeast Region Conservation Hall of Fame during NACD’s Summer Conservation Forum and Tours and Southeast Regional Meeting held July 18th in San Juan. The NACD Southeast Region Conservation Hall of Fame annually recognizes and honors individuals from NACD’s Southeast Region who have had a significant impact or influence on conservation practice or partnerships at the local, state, territorial, regional or national levels. The Caribbean Area Hall of Fame Inductees are Pedro J. Fuentes Ortiz of Puerto Rico and Dale Browne of the Virgin Islands.

  • Pedro Fuentes was the Supervisor of the Torrecilla conservation district, renamed the Cibuco SWCD. Later Pedro was President of the Puerto Rico Association of Conservation Districts and a member of the Puerto Rico Conservation Committee. For over 50 years, Pedro has been an agricultural educator, teaching youth and adults about the importance of farming with conservation practices and respect for our land and other natural resources. Pedro was presented with his award at the NACD meeting awards luncheon (above right).
  • Dale Browne is co-owner of Sejah Farm established in 1998. Dale and Yvette Browne raise organic vegetables and livestock for local markets, founded the Virgin Islands Farmers’ Cooperative, Inc. and were awarded the Livestock Farmers of the Year Award by the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture (VIDA) in 2006. Dale was presented with his award by NACD President Michael Crowder on July 13th during a meeting with VIDA, NRCS and prospective VICD Board members to jump-start the revival of the Virgin Islands Conservation District (above left).

“Congratulations to our Caribbean Area 2022 Southeast Region Conservation Hall of Fame inductees,” said NRCS Caribbean Director Luis Cruz-Arroyo. “We thank you for your service and your commitment to conserving natural resources for future generations.” Read more...

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Cafiesencia hosts Joint Chiefs Initiative Shade Coffee workshop in Maricao, PR, on May 5, 2022

USDA is seeking proposals for the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Initiative to improve forest health on public and private lands. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Forest Service are seeking the proposals from partners by Aug. 5, 2022, for fiscal year 2023.

Since 2014, USDA has invested more than $349 million across 110 projects in nine years through Joint Chiefs’ projects, including two projects in Puerto Rico, that focus on areas where public forests and grasslands intersect with privately-owned lands. Joints Chiefs’ aligns with the Biden-Harris administration’s broader effort to reduce wildfire threats to communities and landowners, protect water quality and supply, and improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species. Fiscal year 2023 projects will build on the fiscal year 2022 investment of more than $48 million on projects that will mitigate wildfire risk, protect water quality, improve wildlife habitat, restore forest ecosystems and ultimately contribute to USDA’s efforts to combat climate change. Learn more...

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ASTC Frank Velazquez speaks to farmers and partners of the Eastern Puerto Rico watersheds Joint Chiefs Initiative project on July 7 2022.

On July 7, NRCS and partners held a workshop at Finca La Zafra in Gurabo for eastern Puerto Rico farmers and landowners to learn about the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Initiative project to increase the resilience of ecosystems in Eastern Puerto Rico through effective conservation management practices. Southwest Soil and Water Conservation District Director, Isela Ortiz described the technical & financial assistance available from NRCS under the initiative. NRCS Assistant State Conservationist Frank Velazquez (right) spoke about Conservation Plans, what they are and their benefits to farmers and forest landowners. Other partners presenting information included Edgardo Gonzalez, CCP; Lillian Ramírez, UPR Sea Grant; Darien López, Department of Natural and Environmental Resources; Jeniffer Valentín, US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Partners for Wildlife Program; Nancy Ortiz, Eastern Soil and Water Conservation District; Nidia Trejo, Envirosurvey; Yasiel Figueroa, Protectores de Cuencas; Gilmarie Rivera, Para La Naturaleza.

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State Soil Scientist Manuel Matos uses rainfall simulator to demonstrate the benefits of soil cover to Ponce summer camp students.

On June 27th, NRCS Caribbean State Soil Scientist Manuel Matos provided a soils presentation to a group of 95 high school students as part of their Ponce Urban Reforestation and Conservation Project. The students’ highlight was the rainfall simulator, which demonstrated how keeping the soil covered greatly reduced erosion and runoff. Learn more…

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Are you prepared for a #hurricane? NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center forecasts this year we’ll have an above-average hurricane season. Here are some steps you can take to help protect your family and farm operation.

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The Caribe Soil & Water Conservation District (SWCD) is now providing a new service for farmers and landowners! Caribe, in collaboration with NRCS, will be supplying various wildlife structures to any farmer or landowner interested in applying this conservation practice. These structures function as habitats for birds, insects or bats, helping to improve or maintain untamed wildlife populations or modify existing structures that pose a threat to the species. The practice entails installing a "house" that will serve as a shelter. There are three models available:

  • Structure for pollinator insects: This practice’s benefits include providing habitat for insects that help pollinate crops and control pests;
  • Bat Structure: This practice’s benefits include providing shelter for bats that control pests and help pollinate crops;
  • Bird Structure: These structures address bird habitat deficiencies where there is a lack of natural refuge. The practice’s benefits include improving habitats and attracting insectivores or carnivores to control pests on crops.

Caribe SWCD congratulates Carlos Hernandez, who was the first farmer to use this new service. If you are interested in implementing this practice in your land, please contact: caribescd@yahoo.com or 939-592-4439, 939-592-6928, or 787-567-0205 for prices and additional information.

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Yahaira Lugo - Juana Diaz engineer

In June, NRCS Caribbean hired Yahaira Lugo as Civil Engineer in the Juana Díaz Field Office. Yahaira has over 11 years of combined experience in infrastructure design and construction. Previously she served as Chief of Projects for the Department of Veteran Affairs Facilities and Engineering Service in Chicago, IL, and as Design Manager for the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command in China Lake, CA, where she directed a multidisciplinary staff performing a wide variety of Architectural and Engineering work to support highly complex renovation and infrastructure projects. Before joining the federal service, Yahaira spent 6 years in private industry as a design engineer and construction manager with a Civil Engineering firm in Durango, CO, where she designed and inspected municipal and federal projects including domestic water distribution, grading and drainage system, sewer main systems, and road improvements. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez with a focus in environmental engineering and water resources. Please join us in welcoming Yahaira to the team!


Nanette Torres - Pathways engineer trainee

NRCS also welcomed back Pathways civil engineering student trainees Nanette Torres and Giancarlo Medina Gonzalez. This summer, Nanette is assisting with the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, visiting sites around Eastern Puerto Rico and making reports. In addition to earning her Civil Engineering Bachelor’s degree, she is also pursuing an Environmental Engineering Certificate and a Project Management minor.

“It has been a very enriching, positively challenging, and super fun experience with the EWP Team,” said Nanette. “I also want to say that none of this would’ve been possible without my parents’ unconditional support. I’m happy that I will graduate in December with my twin sister who is also studying Civil Engineering, And I expect become a proud NRCS full-time team member in January. I’m very excited for what the future holds!”


Giancarlo Medina - Pathways engineer trainee

Giancarlo Medina-Gonzalez is working with the Caguas Field Office and has seen a different side of engineering with the vast engineering practices that the agency offers to help farmers around Puerto Rico. During the summer he visited many sites for training and field work where different practices applied. He has worked on reports, topographic surveying, practice design and calculations. This summer Giancarlo graduated with a Civil Engineering degree from the University of Puerto Rico. He is currently studying for his second bachelor’s degree in surveying, planning to graduate in the summer of 2023.

“It has been a great experience for me professionally. All my coworkers have given me great treatment,” said Giancarlo. “When I finish my second degree in May, I hope to join the team, to learn more about the agency, engineering and help all farmers protect the soil and our natural resources.”

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The USDA Farm Production and Conservation has just released a new guide for Historically Underserved Farmers and Ranchers to help farmers get started with USDA. From farm loans to crop insurance, and conservation programs to disaster assistance, we're here to support you and your operation. Check it out at: https://bit.ly/3BkvOc4.

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July 28, 2022. Bordeaux Farmer’s Meeting, Bordeaux Farmer’s Market, St. Thomas, USVI, 5:00-7:00 p.m.

August 4, 2022. Guidance for Farmers to Federal and State Agricultural Programs – ADJUNTAS, Coanilla Conservation District, ADEA Warehouse (Yahuecas), Adjuntas, PR, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Contact 787-216-2914 for details.

August 11, 2022. Guidance for Farmers to Federal and State Agricultural Programs – CIALES, Coanilla Conservation District, Centro de Servicios Múltiples de Acción Social, Ciales, PR, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Contact 787-216-2914 for details.

August 16, 2022. NRCS USVI State Technical Committee Meeting, 09:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

August 18, 2022. NRCS Puerto Rico State Technical Committee Meeting, 09:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

August 18, 2022. Guidance for Farmers to Federal and State Agricultural Programs – JAYUYA, Coanilla Conservation District, Teatro Municipal Homero Aulet Colon, Jayuya, PR, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Contact 787-216-2914 for details.

August 25, 2022. Guidance for Farmers to Federal and State Agricultural Programs – UTUADO, Coanilla Conservation District, UPR Utuado, PR, 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Contact 787-216-2914 for details.

NRCS Caribbean Area

654 Muñoz Rivera Ave. Suite 604
San Juan, PR 00918

Phone: 787-766-5206
Web: www.pr.nrcs.usda.gov