May - June 2019 NRCS Caribbean Conservation Update newsletter

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Conservation Update

May - June 2019

In This Issue...

NRCS Caribbean Acting Director Juan Carlos Hernandez

Director's Corner



During the past two months, we have encountered challenges that have been an eye-opening experience for me as Director for the Caribbean Area. Our goal is to continue to provide the excellent quality of assistance that our staff delivers to our Caribbean Area farmers to meet the obligations of our agency. There is so much work ahead – both our normal workload and emergency recovery implementation.


While NRCS Caribbean Area is transitioning to new Leadership, our main priority continues to be the implementation and delivery of all our Farm Bill conservation contracts. Our primary challenge is the tremendous volume of work post-2017-hurricanes; this is my number one priority. We have conducted a workload analysis to quantify the need to support decision-making tools with real data to ensure we have sufficient resources and tools available to address our needs. 


Because of our huge workload and high number of applications, I have modified our Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) application service cycle to allow field offices to manage their applications and contracting workload in a more linear fashion. We have moved our EQIP Fiscal Year 2020 sign-up cut-off date to September 20, 2019, to increase program efficiencies and predictability.


We also want to understand and improve customer satisfaction, be more proactive in addressing local resource issues, and streamline our processes and delivery of services throughout the Caribbean Area. To this end, we are reactivating our vital Local Working Groups. LWG meetings are scheduled for each field office across the Caribbean Area over the next 6 weeks (see below).  


I look forward to working with the NRCS Caribbean Area team to continue our efforts to help our producers recover, rebuild and strengthen resiliency.



Juan Carlos Hernández, Acting Director

USDA-NRCS Announces 2020 Sign up for Environmental Quality Incentives Program

NRCS Caribbean Area Acting Director, Juan C. Hernández, announces sign-up for fiscal year 2020 Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding to address producers’ natural resource concerns. EQIP is a voluntary conservation program that provides financial and technical assistance to farmers and ranchers to help them install and implement conservation practices on eligible agricultural land. Through EQIP, NRCS helps farmers in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to improve their agricultural production and environmental quality. EQIP applications are accepted year-round, however, NRCS sets application “cut-off” or submission deadlines to evaluate, rank and approve eligible applications. The fiscal year 2020 application cut-off date is September 20, 2019. For more information, contact your local NRCS office or visit

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Local Working Group Meetings

NRCS Caribbean Area is reactivating our vital Local Working Groups (LWGs). LWG members include agricultural producers, private forest land owners and operators, agricultural and natural resources professionals, and local community members. LWGs provide recommendations to the District Conservationist and the State Conservationist on local natural resource priorities and criteria for conservation activities and programs. LWG meetings are scheduled for each field office across the Caribbean Area over the next 6 weeks:

  • August 2, 2019. Caguas Local Working Group Meeting, NRCS Caguas Field Office.
  • August 16, 2019. San Sebastián Local Working Group Meeting, Plaza del Mercado Lión Nieves, San José St., Aguada, PR.
  • August 22, 2019. Corozal Local Working Group Meeting, NRCS Corozal Field Office, 9:30 a.m.
  • August 23, 2019. Mayagüez Local Working Group Meeting, NRCS Mayagüez Field Office.

  • August 30, 2019. Utuado Local Working Group Meeting, NRCS Utuado Field Office.

  • September 4, 2019. USVI Local Working Group Meeting, UVI Videoconference Center, St. Croix and St. Thomas.

  • September 17, 2019. Juana Díaz Local Working Group Meeting, Juana Díaz Field  Office, Plaza Juana Díaz Mall B-19, Carr PR 149 Int PR 584, 1:00 p.m.
  • September 18, 2019. Arecibo Local Working Group Meeting, PRDA Arecibo Regional Office.

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USDA NRCS, FSA to Register Farms in Culebra in August

Resource Conservationist, Anibal Velazquez, works with PR farmer to identify conservation needs.

Through the Caribbean Agricultural Education and Outreach Program cooperative agreement with Nolo Consulting, LLC, every Wednesday throughout the month of August, FSA, NRCS and Nolo Consulting, LLC staff will be visiting Culebra to provide information to the island’s farmers about the USDA farm registration process and conservation programs sponsored by USDA. To qualify, farmers must own or lease the land they farm, their farm must be at least 32.95 square meters, and they must have agricultural production. FSA and NRCS will be providing information about their grants and services at the SEVA school, at 109 Salisburry, in Culebra. For more information, contact Pedro Ayala at 787-692-6794 or Dulce De Rio, SEVA, at 787-413-3436.

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Farm Service Agency Announces Sign-up for 2019 Reimbursement Transportation Cost Payment Program

The USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) announces sign-up for the 2019 Reimbursement Transportation Cost Payment Program (RTCP). RTCP reimburses farmers for a portion of the shipping costs they incur when purchasing products (fertilizer, pesticides, equipment, seeds, fuel, etc.) for their farms. FSA will accept farmer applications from July 15th to September 6th. When applying for RTCP, please bring in receipts for expenses incurred between October 1, 2018 and the present. For more information, contact your local FSA Office.

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NRCS Releases Acid Sulfate Soils Technical Note

Potential Acid Sulfate Soils Maps for Puerto Rico and the USVI_June2019

Acid sulfate soils are soils in which sulfuric acid either will be produced, is being produced, or has been produced in amounts that have a lasting effect on main soil characteristics. Acid sulfate soils form when sulfide minerals, such as pyrite, and/or elemental sulfur in reduced sulfidic sediments oxidize upon exposure to air. If sulfide-bearing subaqueous soils are dredged and placed in a subaerial environment, sulfides will oxidize, creating sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid will drastically lower soil pH (to less than 4) and result in acid sulfate soil formation. Soils with the potential to become acid sulfate soils pose no threat unless exposed to atmospheric oxygen. This technical note provides information on the potential of coastal and subaqueous soils to form acid sulfate soils. Read more…

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NACD Forestry RPG learns about island forestry and post-storm recovery

NACD Forestry Resource Policy Group visits Cafe Roig on 19 June 2019_photo by USDA Forest Service-IITF_YSM

The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) Forestry Resource Policy Group (RPG) held its annual summer meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, June 17-20. The group was joined by federal partners representing the U.S. Forest Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), National Association of State Foresters, National Agroforestry Center and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with territorial agency partners from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. RPG members learned about federal and local forestry efforts in the Caribbean Area and specifically about hurricane recovery progress and challenges. Meeting participants also networked and shared ideas with one another.


On Wednesday, June 19, the Forestry RPG group, NRCS, Distrito Suroeste and USFS-IITF toured several locations in southwestern Puerto Rico. Their first visit was Café Roig coffee plantation in Guayanilla (above) to learn about recovery progress post hurricane María. The Roig family has rebuilt its crop with help from NRCS and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The operation had begun a study on the effects of shade trees prior to the storm, which it plans to resume at some point in the near future. Read more…

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NRCS Encourages Caribbean Residents to BEE Friendly to Pollinators!

Did you know 75% of the world’s flowering plants & more than 30% of the world’s food crops depend on pollinators to reproduce? NRCS celebrated the benefits and variety of our Caribbean pollinators during National Pollinator Week from June 17-23. To learn how YOU can help our Caribbean pollinators, visit our pollinator webpage.

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USVI Added to National Drought Monitor Map

First USVI Drought Monitor map published June 4 2019 showing abnormally dry conditions across the territory.

The U.S. Virgin Islands was officially added to the US Drought Monitor on June 6. 2019. USDA meteorologist Brad Rippey helped to organize drought monitoring efforts in the USVI. It has been a process that began with a multi-agency forum facilitated by NRCS Caribbean Area at the University of the Virgin Islands St. Croix campus in August 2016, following the historic drought of 2015. USVI drought monitoring would have begun sooner but implementation was delayed by the 2017 hurricanes, Rippey said. The islands of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix will each be mapped separately. It takes 60 days without rainfall for a region to be declared in a drought, and USVI year-to-date rainfall totals are currently 58.8% below normal. St. Croix and St. Thomas are currently listed at D2-S status (severe drought) and St. John is listed at D0 status (abnormally dry). Current Drought Maps for the USVI and Puerto Rico are updated on a weekly basis on the US Drought Monitor website.

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Farmers.Gov Blog takes Road Trip to Puerto Rico

Day 6 of the #OurFarmers Roadtrip took to the water to visit Aibonito, Puerto Rico, and Larry Bonilla’s poultry operations. His farm and facilities were severely damaged by Hurricane María, but with USDA’s help, Larry was able to recover his losses and get back to production.


It was a rough time - the first four weeks, but because of NRCS’ incredible help I was able to get back to work quickly,” said Larry Bonilla. “I couldn’t have rebuilt as fast and to as good of a quality without the emergency assistance NRCS provided to me.” Read the rest of Larry's hurricane recovery story on

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NRCS Delivers Shade Trees to Utuado Coffee Producers

Utuado farmers and partners during June 13 2019 shade tree distribution.

The NRCS Utuado Field Office is partnering with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Envirosurvey Inc. to help coffee producers establish native shade trees or shrubs on their farms. NRCS and partners are delivering shade trees to Utuado coffee farmers to establish multi-story cropping on their farms to address natural resource concerns like soil erosion, degraded plant condition, excessive plant pest pressure (invasive species), and wildlife habitat degradation. The trees will enhance producers’ multi-story agroforests or improve overstory conditions on existing cropland or agroforests. (Above, left to right: farmers Neftali Vélez Vélez, Omar Pagán Vélez, Juan J. Montalvo, Josefina Santiago, and William Pérez Toledo; student Cristhian Casanova; and conservationists Nidia A. Trejo (EnviroSurvey, Inc.), Evelyn Rivera (NRCS), Jennifer Valentín (USFWS), Jennifer Pérez (Envirosurvey, Inc.) and Artemio Otero (Envirosurvey, Inc.)) Read more...

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Puerto Rico Community Garden Initiative


The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) is partnering with sister agencies through OneUSDA to create community gardens in rural areas of Puerto Rico and to share expertise on food assistance programs and local agriculture. In FY 2019, the UPR Cooperative Extension Service established a memorandum of understanding with seven nonprofit organizations to plan and develop 39 community gardens in 12 rural communities with assistance from USDA and state and local governments.


Community gardens will be established in multi-family housing projects, underutilized or idle community areas, and schools. The gardens will provide an opportunity for rural residents to make their first contact with USDA agencies and to explore and develop a vision for self-management using the community garden as a framework to promote nutrition and agricultural education, improve community health, and conserve natural resources. Since 2015, USDA has used community gardens as a vehicle to organize community resources and facilitate the OneUSDA approach to offer assistance, programs, and services to rural communities throughout the Caribbean Area. For more information, contact Aracelis Lopez at 787-766-5618.

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OneUSDA Outreach in Puerto Rico

RD Executive Director Josue Rivera delivers presentation during OneUSDA outreach event in Las Piedras.

Throughout May and June 2019, USDA sister agencies NRCS, Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Rural Development (RD) participated in a variety of outreach events across Puerto Rico. On May 23rd, NRCS, FSA and RD held a townhall meeting targeting female farmer entrepreneurs at the Las Piedras City Hall (left) and provided information on USDA programs available to the over 80 predominately female participants. RD participated in the Cabo Rojo Housing Fair on June 26th, providing information on all USDA programs available in Puerto Rico to over 150 visitors. RD staff provided details to participants on their Value-Added Producer Grants and Rural Energy for American Program. And on June 27th RD, NRCS and FSA delivered presentations to over 50 farmers in Trujillo Alto about available technical and financial assistance.

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NRCS Hosts Emergency Watershed Protection Workshops

EWP Coordinator Coral Santiago leads the EWP Workshop in San Juan on 9 May 2019.

On May 9th and 16th, NRCS hosted Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP) workshops in Puerto Rico and the USVI, respectively. EWPP Coordinator Coral Santiago (standing at right) introduced EWPP to attendees and provided information on how local government agencies and NGOs can participate in the program in preparation for the 2019 hurricane season. The Puerto Rico workshop was held May 9th at the DRNA office in Rio Piedras, where over 20 DRNA staff and conservation district members participated. Agency reps also spoke about their experience with EWPP post hurricanes Irma and Maria. The USVI workshop was held at the SBDC Training Room in St. Thomas on May 16th, with teleconference access for St. Croix and St. John participants. Six USVI government contractors and interested agency reps participated.

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Caribe Soil Conservation District reinstates Youth Board and inaugurates irrigation system

Caribe SCD youth board student projects

In 1992, Caribe SCD became the first district in Puerto Rico to ever have a Youth Board. The Youth Board consisted of eight members (five Board Supervisors and three Vocals) and was a self-sufficient and complete team with its own regulations and bylaws. The Caribe SCD Youth Board operated from 1992-2000 and achieved many goals. After the Youth Board program disbanded, one of its former members became an agronomist, farmer and Board chairman and supervisor for Caribe SCD. In order to continue promoting the love for conservation and agriculture in youth, Caribe SCD decided to reinstate the Youth Board and begin its search for interested schools and students. Read more…

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Caribe SCD Teaches Juana Díaz Children the Importance of Plants

Agro. Figueroa and Agro. Reyes teach Juana Diaz youth about plants.

On May 3rd, Caribe SCD soil conservation technicians Gelyan Reyes and Lorimar Figueroa gave a playful and interactive presentation about plants to children at “Huellitas” Care Center in Juana Díaz. They led an interactive presentation about plants, their importance and the parts of the plant. The kids had fun screaming out answers and playing the game “How do plants protect us?”, where children were houses, wind and trees; they learned how trees protect the houses from strong winds! They also got to plant pumpkin and bean seeds and get their hands and pots full of dirt. After watering their newly-planted seeds and coloring their flower handouts, the kids received “Frescurita” the Water Droplet coloring books and crayons, and even got “Bee a Conservationist” bee tattoos. The children had a blast learning about conservation and nature and are excited to plant fruits and vegetables at home.

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Get the Dirt on Soil with SoilWeb 2.0

SoilWeb 2.0

The SoilWeb 2.0 app combines multiple soil data sources to give you a detailed report of what’s underfoot across the country, including Puerto Rico & the USVI! SoilWeb brings valuable Soil Survey information to the 21st century and makes it available at your fingertips on your mobile device for any location you chose in the United States. SoilWeb is available as a free app download from GooglePlay (Android) and the Apple app store (iOS). With its embedded GPS system, SoilWeb provides convenient, instantaneous soil information from the exact soil the user is standing on. Read more…

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IITF Supports New Urban Forestry Manual for Puerto Rico and U.S Virgin Islands

Sally Gonzalez, primary author of the new PR & USVI Urban Forestry Manual, addresses participants at the IITF event. USDA Forest Service photo.

On May 7, the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez (UPRM) and its Agricultural Sciences College unveiled a new Urban Forestry Manual for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The manual addresses important forestry topics in an understandable language, suitable for all audiences, and is an update of the 1998 version. The manual was presented at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF) in San Juan conference facility and is the result of several years of work by members of the Puerto Rico Agricultural Extension Service, funded by the IITF State and Private Forestry Program. The manual includes information on benefits of urban forests, biology of different trees and plants, applicable regulations and permits, how to evaluate species for their selection in specific urban areas, establishment and stewardship of urban forests, description of species, concepts on design and urbanism, prevention and management before and after natural disasters, and a glossary of terms related to biology, forestry and urbanism. Read more…

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Building Capacity for Wood Product Development in Puerto Rico

René Delgado (right) leads hands-on woodworking workshops. USDA Forest Service photo.

In June, the USDA Caribbean Climate Hub hosted two workshops to demonstrate the capacity to develop high-quality wood products in Puerto Rico, and the possibilities for economic, educational, and cultural advancement in this area. Workshop participants learned about the wood product development talent and capacity that exists in Puerto Rico, and the potential for a sustainable wood industry that supports ecological forestry practices and builds capacity for climate change resilience. The Wood Product Development workshops were made possible thanks to support from the US Forest Service State and Private Forestry and Research and Development Programs, and were facilitated by René Delgado, woodworking expert and director of wood workshop "Taller Escuela." Workshop participants received information on the wood resources that are available in Puerto Rico, what steps and capacity are needed to create value added wood products from local wood - including hurricane salvage logs, and what can we do to build capacity and generate economic and cultural benefit by this activity. Read more…

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USDA Helps Farmers, Businesses and Ag Producers Cut Energy Costs

USDA is awarding $53K in grants for four projects in Puerto Rico to reduce energy costs for farmers, ag producers and rural-based businesses and institutions. USDA is providing the grants through the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). Congress appropriated $50 million for REAP grants and loan guarantees in fiscal year 2019. Recipients can use REAP funding for energy audits and renewable energy systems such as biomass, geothermal, hydropower and solar. They also can be used to make energy efficiency improvements to heating, ventilation and cooling systems; insulation; and lighting and refrigeration. The following are the grantees:

  • Javier Segarra Oyola: awarded $18,138 to purchase and install a 30.69 PV solar system to save $11,879 per year and replace 49,497 kWh of electricity per year (96%), enough electricity to power four homes.
  • Agropek LLC: awarded $4,558 to purchase and install a 5.6 kW photovoltaic solar system to save $1,743 per year and replace 8,720 kW of electricity per year (80%).
  • Hacienda Agrícola De Comerío Inc.: awarded $11,061 to purchase and install a 27 kW PV Solar System to save $6,699 per year and replace 27,000 kWh of electricity per year (70%).
  • Covery Mas Cover Inc.: awarded $19,875 to purchase and install a 31.6 kW PV solar system to save $48,387 per year in energy costs and replace 46,062 kWh of electricity per year (46%).

USDA still has REAP funding available, visit your local RD office for details. Read more…

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USDA Invests $5.4 Million in PR Community Facilities

USDA is investing $68 million to build or improve community facilities and essential services for nearly 715,000 rural residents in 13 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. On the island, four proposals were selected for a total investment of $5.4 million.


We’re very hopeful that these capital invesments will beneft entities and local governments in the municipalities of Arroyo, Añasco, Barceloneta and Las Marías, which result in better access to education, services to citizens, art & culture, as well as new tools and infrastructure to continue transforming the quality of life in our rural communities,” said USDA Rural Development State Director for Puerto Rico, Josué E. Rivera. Read more…


The four projects in PR are:

  • Plenitud Iniciativas Ecoeducativas Inc.: awarded a $25,100 loan and $50,000 grant to acquire two vehicles to help Plenitud to expand and sustain educational outreach projects throughout Puerto Rico and will be used to transport material and personnel.
  • Barceloneta Municipality: awarded a $564,450 loan to improve and rehabilitate an existing two-story, 40,000 ft2 municipal government center building, including roof repairs, interior and exterior painting, restroom rehabilitation and electrical work. The building houses the PR Department of Family, the PR District Court and the PR Treasury Collection.
  • Arroyo Municipality: awarded a $371,860 loan to acquire solid waste disposal vehicles and equipment to provide quality services to Arroyo’s 19,607 residents. 
  • MAS Integrated School Masis: awarded a $4,049,098 loan to build a bilingual school in Añasco to provide the space required to expand the NGO’s educational services. The increased capacity will accommodate up to 650 children ages 3 to 17 and create 63 jobs. 

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Personnel Actions

Director, Edwin Almodóvar, was reassigned to NRCS National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. on May 24th and Maine State Conservationist, Juan Carlos Hernández, joined NRCS Caribbean Area as Acting Director on May 28th. Juan Carlos will be with us until September 30th. Please join us in wishing Edwin every success on his new assignment and welcoming Juan Carlos to our NRCS Caribbean Area team!


NRCS appreciates the support of Inara Montalvo from West Virginia, who will be EWP Coordinator until Sept. 30; Leslie Diaz from Montana, who is serving as EWP Administrative Support; Kiara Flores from Tennessee who is assisting us with engineering field support on the EWP team; and Gabriel Roman from the Mayagüez Field Office who is also providing field support to the EWP team.


We thank detailee Arthur Ramthum from Connecticut, who ended his detail as Acting State Conservation Engineer on June 30.

Upcoming Activities & Events

August 2, 2019. Caguas Local Working Group Meeting, NRCS Caguas Field Office.


August 6, 2019. Species at Risk, Portalito HUB: Palmer, El Yunque National Forest, PR, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. 


August 7, 2019. USDA-FSA & NRCS St. John Town Hall Meeting, Legislature Conference Room, Cruz Bay, St. John, USVI 1:00 - 2:00 p.m.


August 7, 2019. USDA-FSA & NRCS St. Thomas Town Hall Meeting, UVI Administration & Conference Center Room 142, St. Thomas, USVI 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.


August 9, 2019. USDA-FSA & NRCS St. Croix Town Hall Meeting, UVI Research & Extension Center Room 133, St. Croix, USVI 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.


August 13, 2019. El Yunque Unique Life Forms, Portalito HUB: Palmer, El Yunque National Forest, PR, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m.


August 16, 2019. San Sebastián Local Working Group Meeting, Plaza del Mercado Lión Nieves, San José St., Aguada, PR.


August 17, 2019. Online Marketing 101, Portalito HUB: Palmer, El Yunque National Forest, PR, 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.


August 19-20, 2019. NOAA in the Caribbean Partners Meeting, San Juan, PR.


August 20, 2019. The Importance of Birds, Portalito HUB: Palmer, El Yunque National Forest, PR, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m.


August 22, 2019. Corozal Local Working Group Meeting, NRCS Corozal Field Office, 9:30 a.m.


August 22-23, 2019. NOAA in the Caribbean Partners Meeting, University of the Virgin Islands Great Hall, St. Croix, USVI.


August 23, 2019. Mayagüez Local Working Group Meeting, NRCS Mayagüez Field Office.


August 27, 2019. What is the Significance of El Yunque's Names?, Portalito HUB: Palmer, El Yunque National Forest, PR, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m.


August 30, 2019. Utuado Local Working Group Meeting, NRCS Utuado Field Office.


September 4, 2019. USVI Local Working Group Meeting, UVI Videoconference Center, St. Croix and St. Thomas.


September 13, 2019. Destructive Plant Diseases and Insects, Portalito HUB: Palmer, El Yunque National Forest, PR, 2:00 - 3:00 p.m.


September 17, 2019. Juana Díaz Local Working Group Meeting, Juana Díaz Field  Office, Plaza Juana Díaz Mall B-19, Carr PR 149 Int PR 584, 1:00 p.m.


September 18, 2019. Arecibo Local Working Group Meeting, PRDA Arecibo Regional Office.

Helping People Help the Land