Author page: thrity

Vamonos Tours Group: July 2021

15-18th July 2021

Vamonos Tours have been collaborating with us for several years now and bringing groups of people from all over the world to stay for a while in the rainforest, volunteering on many fun tasks.

This team from Massachusetts stayed for three nights and helped with trails, compost management, nursery cleaning and re-organizing, putting in new weedcloth and spreading gravel on the ground. An incredible time was had by all, and thanks to Magha Garcia for the delicious, nutritious food!

If you are looking to bring a group to Puerto Rico, don’t hesistate to get in touch with Bernardo or Jorge at Vamonos.
https://www.vamonostours.com/about-us/

Global Works Team 3: July 2021

26-29th July 2021: Thanks to this intrepid team of teens who worked with 3t clearing the overgrowth on our main drive from the gate, and also work in the nursery. This team spent three nights with us. Thanks to Magha Garcia and Milly Santiago for the cuisine that kept the team well fed.

Big thanks also to Global Works Trip Leader, Eric Uslander, and to the staff who stayed with us: Lindsey Storm, Talia Santos, and James Palma Harrera.

Global Works provides service trips for teens and school travel programs with community service, cultural exchange, language immersion, and adventure. They make sure that teens have an unforgettable experience abroad, make friends for a lifetime, have lessons in leadership, and make impactful change!
For more on their programs: https://www.globalworkstravel.com/

We have been collaborating with Global Works since 2003, and we really value the long-term relationship with staff and the teens who return as young aduts to continue a relationship with our project.

Global Works Team 2: July 2021

25th July 2021: This team of 25 teenagers and three staff spent a day at Las Casas de la Selva helping with cement-work on our library roof, led by Andrés Rúa, and clearing the homestead of overgrowth with 3t, particularly behind the workshop, where the vines and bamboo had really become wild. Many hands make light work, and this team worked hard all day in rainy weather. Thank you!!! Thanks to Magha for the delicious cuisine.

Big thanks also to Global Works Trip Leader, Eric Uslander, and to the awesome staff: Jorge Flores, Fabricio Ochoa Serrano, Katie Kelly, and Penelope Benscome.

Global Works provides service trips for teens and school travel programs with community service, cultural exchange, language immersion, and adventure. They make sure that teens have an unforgettable experience abroad, make friends for a lifetime, have lessons in leadership, and make impactful change!
For more on their programs: https://www.globalworkstravel.com/

We have been collaborating with Global Works since 2003, and we really value the long-term relationship with staff and the teens who return as young aduts to continue a relationship with our project.

Global Works Team 1: July 2021

13th July 2021: Thank you to this wonderful team of teenagers, who helped with clearing and digging drainage ditches on our main drive and trail this July for one day.

Big thanks also to Global Works Trip Leader, Eric Uslander, and to the awesome staff: Victor Pachas, Jasmine Van Maldren, Fabricio Ochoa Serrano, and Penelope Benscome.

Global Works provides service trips for teens and school travel programs with community service, cultural exchange, language immersion, and adventure. They make sure that teens have an unforgettable experience abroad, make friends for a lifetime, have lessons in leadership, and make impactful change!
For more on their programs: https://www.globalworkstravel.com/

We have been collaborating with Global Works since 2003, and we really value the long-term relationship with staff and the teens who return as young aduts to continue a relationship with our project.

Nursery Build 2021

In early 2021 Tropic Ventures Research & Education Foundation partnered with Naples Botanical Garden in Naples, Florida, to prioritize efforts to conserve on-site species most at risk from extinction through seed banking, multiple off-site backup collections, development of propagation protocols, assessment of extinction risk for the IUCN Red List, and out-planting on the site. The Association of Zoological Horticulture provided a grant towards this endeavor. AZH is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the advancement of horticulture in zoos, zoological parks, botanic gardens, and aquariums.

Architect David Henebry, who has been volunteering his time and building skills at Las Casas since 2018, designed the nursery, and in March 2021 arrived on a 10 day trip, and with a team effort including 3t, Axel Rúa, & Diego Marvel, a strong, hurricane-resistant shade-tree nursery, and a small soils shed came into being, along with a 10’ x 10’ seed nursery, which is still in progress.

As a result of this partnership, the Botanic Gardens Conservation International via the Franklinia Foundation, & the Global Tree Campaign have started a new collaboration with us to survey for endangered endemic trees of Puerto Rico. We are over the moon about this.

BGCI is a registered charity and company in England and Wales, and in the U.S. as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. www.bgci.org

Chad Washburn, Director of the Naples Botanical Garden, will join us in the field later in 2021.

3t Vakil & David Henebry, March 2021

EARTHDAY BOTANICAL EXPEDITION

EARTHDAY BOTANICAL EXPEDITION
at Las Casas de la Selva, 22nd April 2021

On Earthday 2021, a team of intrepid plant experts will spend the day in the Las Casas forest on a major survey, to scout for rare and endangered endemic species, and to identify everything along the journey. The team will identify trees, shrubs, lianas, grasses, bryophytes, fungi, fauna, and whatever else they find!!

Las Casas de la Selva is collaborating with Botanic Gardens Conservation International via the Franklinia Foundation, a private foundation established in Switzerland. BGCI is a registered charity and company in England and Wales, and in the U.S. as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. www.bgci.org

Chad Washburn, Director of the Naples Botanical Garden in Florida, USA. NBG is working with the team at Las Casas de la Selva throughout the process, and will join them in the field later in 2021.

In January 2021, Las Casas de la Selva successfully applied for a grant through Naples Botanical Garden to build a shade tree nursery at the project. The Association of Zoo Horticulture, (AZH), provided this grant.

Botanical Team Bios

Thrity (3t) Vakil serves as President of Tropic Ventures Research & Education Foundation at Las Casas de la Selva, a 1,000 acre Sustainable Forestry & Rainforest Enrichment Project in SE Puerto Rico, established in 1983, as a demonstration project to encourage similar practice in the Caribbean and globally, and as a contribution to economic development, that encourages local protection and sustainable management of secondary tropical forests. 3t has worked on tree planting, tree-id, selective harvesting, milling, and wood-drying operations for two decades, and has led sixty Earthwatch research teams into the forest, observing, measuring, monitoring, and planting, hundreds of trees. 3t directs endangered species conservation & recovery within the Tropic Ventures forest, propagates trees, and is currently surveying the land with a team of world-class botanists to locate critically endangered species in a collaboration with Botanical Gardens Conservation International. From a background in theater design and scenic art, and an Associate of the Institute of Ecotechnics since 1990, 3t has hands-on experience in a range of fields: ecology, expeditions, event management, arts, performance, and theater. On a major coral reef research expedition in the mid 90’s, 3t served three years as Assistant to the Expedition Chief, diving on remote coral reefs in the Red Sea & Indian Ocean, on the Institute’s Research Vessel Heraclitus, also crossing the Atlantic and Mediterranean Oceans. In 2015, 3t co-founded Puerto Rico Hardwoods, Inc. with Andrés Rúa, and from 2017 pioneered efforts in Puerto Rico to save hundreds of downed valuable hardwood trees after Hurricane Maria, that were destined for landfill.  3t is a Fellow of the Linnean Institute, a Fellow of the World Academy of Art & Science, and an accomplished artist. In 2021, 3t won an Innovation award from Yale University’s International Society of Tropical Foresters.
Steve Maldonado Silvestrini studied Architecture at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus. Currently, he is an independent researcher on Neotropical Botany, Ecology and Taxonomy focused on the insular Caribbean, at the UPRRPR Herbarium. His studies aim to develop data on coastal plant communities, coastal habitats, and exotic species being introduced to the Caribbean. He is mixing both professions on what he proposes as non-anthropocentric or post-anthropocentric architecture, architecture for non-humans or not centered on human needs, but on an ecologically inclusive approach.
Roberto Enrique Bello alias Roqui, was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He double majored in Zoology and Anthropology at Michigan State University, and completed a Master’s in Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Passionate about natural history and exploration, he worked or interned at various institutions such as the Museum of Zoology at MSU, the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at UC Berkeley, the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian, the Marine Biology Laboratory in Woods Hole MA, and the Organization for Tropical Studies in Costa Rica. Before settling back in PR he embarked on a personal sabbatical through 13 Latin American countries visiting nature reserves, archaeological sites, research stations, animal rescue facilities, etc. Upon his return to Puerto Rico, relevant job opportunities were scarce but he saw an opportunity in ecotourism. With the help of friends, he designed and developed an ecotourist enterprise in 40 acres of leased land in the Mameyes River drainage of Luquillo and adjacent to El Yunque National Forest. He managed this land and enterprise for almost a decade, until the hurricanes of 2017 turned the page and finished that chapter. Today Roqui is 46 years young and works as an independent environmental consultant on various projects concerned with natural resource management and biodiversity conservation.
Eugenio Santiago Valentín formally trained in botany at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in Mayagüez and at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is a Full Professor in the Department of Biology at the UPR in Río Piedras and is the director of the Herbarium of the UPR Botanical Garden. He has taught courses in biology, botany, plant taxonomy, ethnobotany, island biogeography and evolution. His areas of study include plant systematics and taxonomy, biogeography, plant conservation, history of science, and ethnobotany. His work focuses on the island of Puerto Rico and the insular Caribbean, where he has developed local and international collaborations. He has also participated with government agencies and non-for-profit organizations in initiatives for the recovery of threatened plants, for the public dissemination of scientific knowledge, and for the launching of activities to link science, nature, and the humanities.
Alejandro Cubiñá, President and owner of Reforesta, Inc. in San Juan Puerto Rico.  UPR-RP graduate from the Masters in Science program under T. Mitchell Aide.  Obtained a BA from Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida.  Conducted extensive research in tropical forest restoration in Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Puerto Rico.  Has led the biggest wetland restoration projects in challenging environments such as freshwater-forested wetlands on the island of Puerto Rico.  Currently, Reforesta has the biggest privately owned native tree nursery in Puerto Rico and continues to add new species into its stock of over 8,000 trees.  In addition to the ecological restoration work, Alejandro has conducted numerous flora and fauna surveys, wetland delineations, and prepared restoration plans.  These surveys have led to the discovery of new populations of plant species such as Goetzea elegans, Ottoschulzia rhodoxylon, Myrcia paganii, and Libidibia monosperma.
Dr. Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez (Ph.D., City University of New York, 1989) is a researcher and curator in the United States National herbarium at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC. He specializes in phylogenetic studies of the neotropical members of family Sapindaceae (Maples), especially of tribes Paullinieae (with ca. 500 species of climbing plants) and Melicocceae (ca. 75 species of trees and treelets); floristics of the neotropical lowlands, especially of the West Indies; diversity and floristic studies of neotropical climbing plants (lianas and vines, with about 700 genera); and botanical history in Puerto Rico. He has over 30 years of experience collecting and recording plants in the field, and numerous publications in his areas of expertise, as well as a website on West Indian botany and Lianas and climbing plants of the Neotropics.
Octavio Rivera Hernández is an agronomist graduated from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus (UPRM), where he completed the Agronomy and Soil Sciences programs respectively. Octavio has worked as a researcher at the UPRM and the Pennsylvania State University. There he contributed and collaborated on topics such as nutritional value of crops, post-harvest management and mycotoxin-producing phytopathogenic fungi. In 2018, he was the recepient of the Luis de Celis Prize, an award given by the Agro-environmental Sciences Department at the UPRM. Currently, he gives farmers recommendations and orientation regarding conservation practices, fertilization and pest control. Octavio also participates in the documentation and identification of native and introduced plant species in Puerto Rico.
Magha Garcia Medina is an eco-farmer and environmental activist in Puerto Rico. She is a member of Organización Boricuá, a grassroots group of farmers, environmentalists and other allies who advocate for agroecology, agroforestry, and the protection of natural resources. She is a collaborator at Las Casas de la Selva, the project that inspired her to find land and contribute with the restoration and the protection of local forests. In the last ten years, Magha had dedicated herself to the development of Pachamama Forest Garden on the west side of Puerto Rico. Her main activities involve research, rescue, and propagation of native and novel crops, as well exotic plants of the humid tropic region. Magha’s interests focus on agroecology/agroforestry/food sovereignty/human rights/seed saving/botany.
Amelia Merced is a plant biologist working with bryophytes, (plants that includes mosses, liverworts and hornworts). She is interested in diversity and distribution of bryophytes, the role of bryophytes in Puerto Rican forests, and how these plants respond to anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic disturbances. She works for the USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry, and collaborates with the Herbarium of the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras, where she works with the bryophyte collection. She is currently surveying the bryophyte flora of the island, and preparing guides to common bryophytes of PR, including El Yunque National Forest, and community and urban forests. Other projects are to assess the distribution and current status of the peatmoss Sphagnum in Puerto Rico, and habitat preferences of bryophytes in the Luquillo Experimental Forest. Amelia Merced-has a BA in science and MS in biology from the University of Puerto Rico, Mayaguez and a PhD in Plant Biology from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, IL. She was a NSF GK-12 fellow in PR and IL working with schoolteachers to integrate inquiry activities in science classes of schools rural areas. She was a mentor and role model for the PBS Kids show ‘SciGirls’ filmed in PR and was featured in the Nat Geo web series ‘I Can Science’. Dr. Merced has 14 peer-reviewed publications, research awards recognitions, and has trained and mentored undergraduate students in various bryophyte identification and ecological projects.
Kurt Miller is a Washington native with a background in agriculture and tropical fungal taxonomy. He has collaborated with several prominent mycologists, including recent Distinguished Mycologist Award recipient, Dr. Jean Lodge at USDA’s Northern Research Station in El Yunque, and his work with Harvard mycologist Lawrence Millman can be seen in Fungi Magazine. Kurt received a BFA from Western Washington University and studied agriculture at the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez. He served in the US Coast Guard for 5 years as a Marine Science Technician fulfilling the Marine Environmental Response mission in Puerto Rico, eventually certifying as a translator.  During and subsequent to his service, he has documented over 200 macrofungi in the Caribbean region, many of which are unreported in previous surveys. Several of these new taxa are currently being cultured and assessed for their culinary and commercial viability in Huerto Rico’s laboratory. Kurt has also led several educational and outreach events to teach school groups and the community about the importance of fungi in the environment.
Carlos Laboy holds an Associate Degree in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao. His best attribute is a keen and instinctive knowledge of the natural world. He has the honor of having a fungus named after him. Laboy has worked for both state and federal conservation agencies in Puerto Rico (DNER and U.S. Forest Service). With DNER he collected data on the behavior and reproduction of wild parrots to assist in the development of techniques to increase parrot productivity, fertility, and survival.  He also participated in the Rio Abajo parrot suitability study.  In addition, duties included collection of samples on the lagoons, sanctuaries, and estuaries throughout the Island. At El Yunque, with the Forest Service, he continued management work of the wild and captive parrot populations.  During his time in the rainforest, he rediscovered unaccounted populations of listed plants such as Palo de Jazmín (Styrax portoricensis), chupacallos (Pleodendron macranthum), and numerous other rare species.  Since 2007, Carlos has worked with Reforesta, Inc. in the implementation of wetland restoration projects across Puerto Rico, and conducting flora and fauna surveys as well.
Christian Torres Santana is the Forestry Partnerships Leader for Latin America for Terraformation and consulting botanist and arborist. With an MS in Botany from the University of Hawaii, a BSA in Horticulture from UPR Mayagüez, a Nonprofit Management Executive Certificate from Georgetown University, he is currently completing an Executive MBA from the Inter American University, PR. Christian has worked extensively with rare and threatened plants in Hawai‘i and the Caribbean. In 2014, after nearly a decade as a botanist with the US FWS and the US Forest Service’s International Institute of Tropical Forestry, he became the director of the Doña Inés Park Arboretum in San Juan, PR. He led research, education, and conservation efforts for the native plant collection. Over the past 15 years, Christian’s work has specialized in pollination biology, forest health, biodiversity conservation, particularly on rare plant conservation, conservation horticulture, and environmental education. He recently received the Marsh Award for International Plant Conservation from Botanic Gardens Conservation International and the Kittleman Scholar for Aspiring Public Garden Leaders from the American Public Garden Association. He is a certified international Arborist, a Professional Horticulturist, and a Licensed Agronomist in Puerto Rico.

Volunteer at Las Casas de la Selva, 2021

Voluntariado en Las Casas de la Selva, 2021

En el corazón de la Sierra de Cayey, en el municipio de Patillas, Puerto Rico, se encuentra nuestro proyecto y centro de investigación. Hemos abierto nuevamente el programa de voluntariado y estaremos aceptando solicitudes. Se escogerán voluntarios que deseen quedarse hasta tres meses para participar en nuestros proyectos. El programa incluye comidas y acomodo. Envíe una breve biografía, foto y CV, junto con un párrafo sobre lo que esperaría obtener de una experiencia como esta. Navegue por nuestro sitio web para comprender mejor este proyecto único de enriquecimiento de bosques y silvicultura sostenible, con 37 años de antigüedad y que ha sobrevivido a huracanes, terremotos y pandemias desde 1983. Contacto

Durante casi 40 años, nuestro proyecto ha dado la bienvenida a los huéspedes a la pintoresca granja de montaña boscosa de Las Casas de la Selva, en el sureste de la isla de Puerto Rico. Las medidas de seguridad de COVID-19 requieren que adaptemos nuestra hospitalidad, pero si bien nuestras operaciones serán diferentes, nuestra dedicación a los objetivos del proyecto y la exploración de nuestro potencial humano sigue siendo la misma. La seguridad de nuestros voluntarios, huéspedes y personal es de gran preocupación. Se requieren cubrimientos faciales en interiores. Todos debemos practicar el distanciamiento social parándonos al menos a seis pies de distancia entre nosotros y mientras nos movemos por la propiedad.

Este será un tiempo de tareas al aire libre, tranquilidad, menos gente, baños en el bosque, caminatas privadas, inmersiones en ríos, en este magnífico bosque de tabunuco, con espectaculares vistas del mar Caribe desde la montaña.

Volunteer at Las Casas de la Selva, 2021

In the heart of the Sierra de Cayey, in the municipality of Patillas, Puerto Rico, sits our research center homestead. We are re-opening our volunteer program, and accepting applications for volunteers who would like to stay for up to three months and partake in all our projects. Learning by Doing. The program includes food and accommodation. Please send a short bio, pic, and CV, along with a paragraph about what you would hope to get out of an experience like this. Please browse our website to gain some understanding of this unique 37-year-old sustainable forestry and rainforest enrichment project that has survived hurricanes, earthquakes, and pandemics, since 1983.  Contact

For nearly 40 years, our project has welcomed volunteers & guests to the scenic forested mountain homestead of Las Casas de la Selva, on the south east of the island of Puerto Rico. COVID-19 safety measures require us to adapt our hospitality but while our operations will be different, our dedication to the project’s aims and exploring our human potential remains the same. The safety of our volunteers, guests, and staff is of greatest concern. Face coverings are required while indoors. We all should practice social distancing by standing at least six feet away from each other, and while moving around the property.

This will be a time of out-door tasks, tranquility, fewer people, forest-bathing, private hikes, river-dips, in this magnificent tabunuco forest, with spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea from the mountain.

2021 Innovation Award: Yale (ISTF) 2nd Prize

Since 2014, the Yale University Chapter of the International Society of Tropical Foresters (ISTF) has awarded an Innovation Prize at its annual conference to honor outstanding initiatives and ideas related to tropical forest use and conservation.  

Three ISTF Innovation Award finalists were selected to present their exceptional approaches, experiences or efforts relating to the 2021 ISTF Conference theme: “Timelines and Critical Junctures: Re-examining Crises as Opportunities for Change.” The finalists participated in a live pitch event over Zoom on Friday, February 19th at 13:00, and on Saturday 20th February, votes were counted.

Thrity was selected as one of three finalists to tell the story of Las Casas de la Selva, Puerto Rico Hardwoods, and the Institute of Ecotechnics. She represented all her colleagues and friends, people that have been involved for decades with these long-term environmental projects.

Video link: https://youtu.be/hDwgZEA_zkg

3t’s presentation: “Re-examining Crises as Opportunities for Change: Sustainable Forestry, Log salvage, & Hardwood production  after extreme social, ecological & technological disturbances in Puerto Rico” won second prize.

Established in 1983, Las Casas de la Selva (LCS) Sustainable Forestry Project planted 40,000 hardwood trees on 300 acres to explore viable alternatives to clear-cutting and short-term exploitation of tropical rainforest. We are demonstrating planting valuable hardwoods within secondary forests can reduce pressures on primary forests. Silvicultural techniques developed and applied at LCS over the last three decades show that enrichment planting of secondary forests maintains ecological diversity and health, while providing economic returns from sustainable timber production.

The Homestead, Las Casas de la Selva, sustainable forestry in Patillas, PR
The PRH Team: Tom Marvel, 3t Vakil, Andres Rua

Puerto Rico, currently facing incredible economic distress, is awakening to the potential of sustainable use of its forest resources. Forest cover, just 6% in the 1900s, has grown to 60+% through tree planting and natural regeneration of abandoned short-term farmland.

 Since 2015, Puerto Rico Hardwoods had been salvaging tropical hardwood trees destined for chipping/dumping at huge cost to Puerto Rican municipalities. Thousands of valuable mature trees fell during Hurricane Maria.  The PRH team quickly started reclaiming logs, reducing the amount of waste going into overburdened landfills, transformed salvaged timber into value-added products, creating jobs, stimulating the economy, and demonstrating the value of wood!  


Hurricane Maria was a devastating social, ecological, and technological crisis, providing a moment of huge learning. Novel approaches are necessary to build resilience and adaptability to large-scale disturbances. We have an opportunity to create new potentialities for PR’s mass debris removal after extreme events potentially powering the rebirth of the island’s lost wood industry. This is crucial since extreme weather catastrophes will be more frequent and of greater intensity in these unstable Anthropocene conditions.

Dig deeper:

Enriched secondary subtropical forest through line-planting for sustainable timber production in Puerto Rico, paper in Bois et Forets des Tropiques. Dr. Mark Nelson, Sally Silverstone, Dr. Kelly Chinners Reiss, Thrity Vakil, & Molly Robertson http://bft.cirad.fr/cd/BFT_309_51-61.pdf

Journal of Sustainable Forestry, Volume 29, 2010 – Issue 5.
Dr. Mark Nelson, Sally Silverstone, Dr. Kelly C. Reiss, Dr. Patricia Burrowes, Dr. Rafael Joglar, Molly Robertson & Thrity Vakil https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10549810903479045

Institute of Ecotechnics IE: www.ecotechnics.edu

Puerto Rico Hardwoods Instagram: https://instagram.com/prhardwoods?igshid=gm00lyfqyzzi 

Photos by: Thrity Vakil, Andres Rua, Raymesh Cintron (Drone Image), Ariza Torres.

VisitRico

In July 2020, Thrity and Andrés collaborated with Visit Rico to create the first public event at the project since the Covid-19 Lockdown that started in March 2020 at Las Casas de la Selva. The event was a Farm-to-Table dining experience that engaged with local producers, and chef Natalia Lucia delighted everyone with her cuisine.

VisitRico is a non-profit organization, directed by Camille Collazo, dedicated to the development of agriculture in Puerto Rico through education, health, and food security through the organic, community, and urban agriculture. They offer educational services through seminars and workshops for farmers in management, administrative, and technical matters. They advocate for the protection and conservation of the natural resources of Puerto Rico, and their vision is to be the engine of the agricultural economy.

Thanks to Raymesh Cintron (filmmaker), Camille Collazo, and VisitRico.

Fare forward traveler.

We are so sad to share the news of the passing of Sally Eva Silverstone, also known as Sierra, who was the director of Las Casas de la Selva from 1997 to 2007.
On 24th September 2020, she passed away in Bali, where she has lived for the last decade working with the Biosphere Foundation.

I met Sierra in 1999, having arrived at Synergia Ranch full of the excitement of a three-year voyage on the RV Heraclitus. I was ready for anything. For four years we were co-chefs on the annual 2 weeks African Drum & Dance Bantu Festival. I remember the day Sierra asked me if I wanted to go to Las Casas de la Selva to help her run Earthwatch Teams. I knew very little about the project, but suddenly I was planning a whole new life adventure. Christmas in Puerto Rico. I jumped in whole-heartedly and arrived in a rainforest, culture, and country I knew nothing about. Soon I was working with Sierra on regular trips from Santa Fe to PR at least four times a year.
Sierra and Mark had made a successful proposal to The Earthwatch Institute to survey the hardwood plantations of the project. Sierra had been involved in the early 80s when the tree planting started, and 40,000 valuable hardwood trees were planted at that time. We spent many happy hours in the forest leading teams of citizen scientists from all over the world, measuring hundreds of trees over several years, and I always admired Sierra’s forthright way of dealt with everyone, and we had a few nutters who signed onto Earthwatch Teams along the way! I learned so much about the forest at that time.

Sierra always encouraged me in everything at Las Casas, and in 2003, we headed up our first harvesting of Blue Mahoe, with a small crew. In 2004 Sierra gave me the reins to take on the wood production side of the project, and we carried out another successful harvest, milling, and drying. I give thanks today that Sierra had confidence in me and gave me the freedom to manifest. That manifestation continues today, and I know that Sierra, wherever she is now, is beaming and nodding her head at the project’s blossoming.
Fareforward traveler.
Thrity

Elegy to Sierra

What is the measure of a life well-lived,
How to say what gave her pleasure
Or to the watching world gave meaning?
Was it trees and plants that grew
Remembering the gardener that was you
Or laughter tinkling in the air,
Echoes of you who once was there?
Or drums and bells the living made
To honor you once you were gone,
The chants and songs the community sang
To carry you on your way, to tend the flames,
To transform our body into diamond dust,
Then launch your swan upon the Silver Sea
Such tenderness and love,
I couldn`t wish more for me!


Richards Druitt

Here is an album of images to share together as we remember dear Sierra.

Chainsaw Training Workshop at Las Casas de la Selva

Hurricane Maria in 2017 killed many of the Pine trees (Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis, known as Caribbean Pitch Pine or Honduras Pine) on the 600m elevation ridge-tops of Las Casas, and they are dead but standing.

In March 2020, the team from Puerto Rico Hardwoods closed the wood-yard in Caguas and spent the day bringing down standing dead Caribbean pine trees. This wood was milled into 2x4s for a special project. This was a great opportunity for training the crew in directional felling, using ropes, and learning about harvesting trees, and all the safety procedures. The crew were trained by, led by Andrés Rúa, and Rafael Pérez.

Pinus caribaea was planted at Las Casas de la Selva in the early 80s, favored by the PR Department of Natural Resources, and chosen for its fast growth, and ability to grow on virtually all soil types. The soil on the ridges are clay and the land was heavily grazed for many years. Now 35 years later, in 2020, we can see that the trees did grow fast and well, but unfortunately there would never be a market for the wood in Puerto Rico. 3t and Andrés have been trying for many years to create a market for the pine, have used it on several projects, but its sale has been limited.

About this pine: Pinus caribaea var. hondurensis was introduced into Puerto Rico in 1959, and was introduced intentionally to be used for erosion control, and as windbreaks. The heartwood is a golden yellow to brown, with highly defined straight grain, and a light yellow sapwood. Straight resinous canals streak the wood. The wood exudes a large amount of resin, making it less suitable for joinery and flooring, and limiting its value as a timber. Nevertheless, it is used for a wide range of purposes, including construction, light flooring, joinery, inexpensive furniture, boxes, pallets, turnery, toys and, has in other countries been used after treatment with preservatives, for poles, posts, and railway sleepers.

Group pic on logs: Back, L-R: Ariza Torres, Omar Garcia, Abraham A. Sanchez Cuprill,
Front, L-R: Rafael Pérez Antonetti, 3t Vakil, and Xavier Arroyo.

Pepperdine University at Las Casas de la Selva

Pepperdine University students spent 8 days with us in February, and for several days we cleared the homestead of vines, worked on trails, and created new nursery areas. Alex Johnson was the team leader, and Alex has already volunteered twice before at the project. Thank you team, we really value our collaboration with Pepperdine. Maria Cristina, from Cayey, cooked wholesome and hearty meals, and Ana Pagan from Patillas, held a wonderful salsa dance class.

We were joined for the final days of this team by Professor of Architecture, Seth Wachtel, who was planning a trip for students from the University of San Francisco in May 2020.

As February drew to a close, there were whispers of a virus spreading rapidly over the globe. On March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. On March 15 a severe lockdown was ordered by the Governor of Puerto Rico, as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), became a household name! The January 2020 earthquakes had already caused the cancellation of several of our regular university teams for 2020, but with the lockdowns, all our teams cancelled; our brief time with the Pepperdine students was so valuable.

Dog Training Team at Las Casas de la Selva

Debbie Jacobs has been organizing travel adventures for nearly three decades, including leading group adventures to Puerto Rico. She has been bringing various groups to Las Casas de la Selva since the 90s.

She has always been foremost a dog trainer, and finally about four years ago realized her dream of organizing dog-training groups to visit Puerto Rico. She is excited to be combining her passion for traveling and sharing unique environments with people, along with her enthusiasm for helping pet owners discover the most effective and humane ways to communicate with their dogs. The team also travels to animal sanctuaries and shelters, where they train the staff and animals, helping with the stray dog situation that is ongoing.

Part of Debbie’s ten-day Puerto Rico trips includes several days at Las Casas. During the day, she offers the latest animal training techniques and shares them with her team. Getting people to visit Las Casas is always a good thing, and gives us the chance to spread the word about the work we do in sustainable forestry. We also invite our friends who have dogs that need training. It is actually the case that the humans need as much training as the animals! By showing people how to have a positive and trusting relationship with their pets, they support dogs in doing what they can do so well – become our best friends and treasured members of our families. Having our own dogs makes Las Casas a favorite place for Debbie’s team, and Negralora, Nogal, and Yagrumo get to learn best behaviors as a result of this positive reinforcement training. Kailash, our 15 year old cat is also trained in various ways, (yes, you can teach an old cat new tricks!), as well as some of the chickens!

Debbie’s trip is a perfect combination of community service, dog training skills, education and practice, and flat-out fun. Delicious meals were cooked by 3t and a up-lifting salsa dance class by Yari Soler.

Professionals in the industry she has trained with include Jean Donaldson (https://www.academyfordogtrainers.com/), and Bob Bailey. Debbie is also currently studying to become a Registered Behavior Technician, an international certification that indicates she is qualified to work with Board Certified Behavior Analysts in implementing behavior modification plans with people.

Debbie Jacobs, CPDT-KA, CAP2, is the author of ‘A Guide To Living With & Training A Fearful Dog’ and ‘Does My Dog Need Prozac?’

Video on Dog Trainers’ Collaborative Las Casas de la Selva Puerto Rico https://youtu.be/RbsuZrLxIBQ

More info on the dog training: https://fearfuldogs.com/

Jovany Sculable, volunteer

Since 1985, Greenheart International has been a catalyst for global transformation through the facilitation of cultural exchange programs, eco-fair trade purchasing, personal development opportunities, volunteer service initiatives, and environmental advocacy projects. Greenheart International is endorsed by the City of Chicago for the promotion of international education, environmental awareness, and citizen diplomacy, with an ardent commitment to sustainable practices, a steadfast dedication to expanding worldviews, and an abiding passion for planetary change. Greenheart International sends teenagers abroad to learn new things and immerse themselves into different cultures.

Jovany, 19, from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, won a scholarship from Greenheart,and volunteered at Las Casas de la Selva in January 2020 for 10 days. He was a great volunteer and jumped enthusiastically into all tasks that he was given, including pruning in the gardens, and helping to host a visiting team.

In his own words: https://greenhearttravel.org/blog/volunteer-puerto-rico/jovany-puerto-rico-first-time-traveler

Video of a Greenheart team at Las Casas de la Selva: https://youtu.be/qvNn4xE09AM

2019 Work on new Tree Nursery

Hurricane Maria devastated the Las Casas de la Selva homestead including two tree nurseries. 3t lost nearly 2,000 tree seedlings and saplings in the hurricane, a soul-destroying loss of many years work. The creation of a new nursery was the great healing of 2019. Many collaborations with volunteer groups, and a collaborative plant project were terminated as the project struggled to survive 9 months without electricity, and a compromised homestead and road. In the hours before the hurricane, as she watched internet images of Maria heading to the island, 3t saved a few dozen critically endangered endemic trees, and dug out some that had been freshly planted out, and secured them in the workshop, along with everything else necessary to save. The workshop had survived Hugo and Georges. It survived the eye of Category 4/5 Maria. Sadly much else was lost. See short movie below.

Images from 2019 volunteer work on the new Tree Nursery. Thank you everyone who has helped us with this project. Special thanks to architect David Henebry, who directed volunteers, designed and built the hurricane-proof roof, Chris D. Miller for all his labor, Greenheart Travel who helped weed-cloth the ground, and gravel it, & Globalworks, who helped mix and pour the concrete floor. As well, to the individual volunteers who helped, we salute you all.

We are still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, and we need help. Please let us know if you can help by making a donation towards our work in the rainforest. Thank you!

2019 Americorps Groups at Las Casas de la Selva

Thank you to Americorps for sending volunteer groups to help us with tasks. Mostly we were working on the forest roads and trails, but also on some construction and a workshop clear-out. We really appreciate these teams and thank each of you who were part of the 2019 teams!

2019 Volunteer Groups

A huge thank you to all our 2019 volunteer groups! We could not have done it without you!

Thank you everyone! Have a great start to 2020!

Thank you to all our 2019 volunteers!!

To all our 2019 volunteers. It takes a lot to keep a project alive. We salute you for all your help. Thank you!!
All volunteers worked on a variety of tasks including grass-cutting, ditch digging and erosion control all over the homestead, main-drive roadwork, forest roads & trails; pruning back the overgrowth; maintenance of the wastewater garden; compost piles; clearing out the workshop; homestead maintenance; nursery establishment, concretework, & tree-planting.

David Henebry, architect working in PR for a year, came to Las Casas de la Selva, for a day, volunteering on a garden digging project with an AmeriCorps youth team. From there, David went on to completely fund, and re-build several critical areas of the homestead facility, coming in on Sundays. In between digging holes, carrying tree saplings, planting, and digging, David also completely rebuilt the roof of El Teatro, and installed half of a new floor. He repaired a broken roof on a casita, made a new cement floor for outside the Casablanca bathroom, and built a hurricane-proof lean-to next to the workshop, for the new, improved tree nursery. We are very, very grateful. 3t lost nearly 1,500 tree seedlings and saplings in the hurricane, a devastating loss of many years’ work, so the energy into a new nursery this year was a great healing of 2019.

Chris Miller, spent three months living at Las Casas de la Selva, and he worked closely with David on all the tasks, as well has putting in heroic efforts to keep the grass cut on the homestead, which had become a huge task after the hurricane with the homestead becoming a sunny location after being a shady grove for many years as the trees grew. We are so grateful to everyone who has helped us here this year: Chris Miller, David Henebry, Sarah Dean, Alex Johnson, Dayne Taylor, George Locascio & Miho Connelly, Anna & Fred, Anna & Joy Brown, Bill Davidowski, Bruce Mobley, David Anderson, Daniel Mobley, Tial Neal, Yogani Govender and friends, Gordon Weber, Noel Moore, Clara King, Katie Tsui, Robert Lane, Harry Zubik, Jess Tabac, Shari Dee, Sönke Scheel (Muller), and Elizabeth Whitehouse.

We could not have done it without you all. We appreciate your love and support very much! Thanks also to James Beezley for a generous donation in 2019. Blessings to all as we move into the New Year 2020. Please keep in touch and drop us a note!

Happy Birthday to Frank H Wadsworth 104 years old today! Nov 2019

To our favorite forester, Frank, who turns 104 today. Thank you for all the inspiration you have given to us over many years now. Happy Birthday!!

No Escape: The Reality of Climate Change Here & Now, Oct 2019

Landmark meeting on the impacts of climate change, and the urgent need for action

On October 30, 2019, at the Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation (FLMM), a symposium brought together prominent scientists, environmental managers, educators and citizens concerned about the best way to adapt to the reality of climate change. The symposium entitled “No Escape: The reality of climate change here and now” featured 20 presentations, one 1-hour expert panel discussion, and 13 exhibitors of various topics focused on climate change, including environmental health, agriculture, forestry, management of urban areas, the built environment, socio-economic impacts, resilience, coastal erosion, research in areas such as El Yunque National Forest, climate change awareness education, and risk mitigation processes, among others. The event included international participants, such as Sir Ghillean Prance, former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in the United Kingdom, as well as a large number of prominent speakers from Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and the United States. Response to this free public event was remarkable, and seats were fully booked out a week before the event. Over 300 people attended the event throughout the day that lasted from 8am to 6pm. For a full list of presenters, presentation abstracts, and symposium schedule, please consult the conference program, shown below.

Introductions were provided by the symposium’s three organizers: Ms. Thrity J. Vakil, FLS, director of the Institute of Ecotechnics, US, director of Tropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry and Rainforest Enrichment Project, Patillas, PR, and President of Puerto Rico Hardwoods, Mr. Christian Torres Santana, Director of the Parque Doña Inés, and Ms. Cristina Cabrera, an environmental consultant and project manager.

See 3t’s photos of the day!

Morning Session: https://photos.app.goo.gl/dVg2LqeopuqPwbmw9

Lunch: https://photos.app.goo.gl/snMQ8ySQYN26Mpjp7

Panel: https://photos.app.goo.gl/3ogMFWeyvRzzkYNcA

Afternoon Session: https://photos.app.goo.gl/wKtA4amuwqzhKkNU6

FACEBOOK LIVESTREAM Links:

  1. “No Escape: The Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Intros by Christian Tores Santana, Cristina Cabrera, & Thrity Vakil.
    Speakers 8.40am to 10.40am : Mr. Ernesto Luis Diaz, Dr. Grizelle Gonzalez, Minuette Rodriguez Harrison, Hon. John Clendenin, Ms. Nancy Woodfield Pascoe, Dr. Frank Wadsworth
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/794825720965381/
  1. “No Escape: the Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Speakers 11am to 12.30pm: Dr. Chris Nytch, Dr. William Gould, Sir Ghillean Prance.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/532064507617292/
  2. “No Escape: The Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Panel Discussion 1.30 to 2.30pm: Sir Ghillean Prance, Dr. Elvira Cuevas, Mr. Ernesto Diaz,
    Hon. Larry Seilhamer, Fernando Lloveras.
    Speakers 2.30 to 5.30pm: Dr Ariel Lugo, Dr. Katia Avilés-Vázquez, Dr. Pablo Méndez Lázaro, Agro. Christian Torres Santana, Brenda Torres, Dr. Jess K. Zimmerman, Katherine González, Edgardo González, Dr. Fernando Abruña.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/779423005825855/
  3. “No Escape: the Reality Of Climate Change Here & Now”
    Speaker 5.30 to 6.00pm: John Englander.
    6.00pm Wrap-ups and Thanks.
    https://www.facebook.com/parquedonaines/videos/1134579966751986/

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to the following individuals that greatly contributed to the development, organization and contributed to the success of this symposium: Karen Babis (Logo design); Zoraida Enid Silva, Carmen Rodríguez, Ernesto Díaz of the DNER (graphic design and printing); Roland Pesch; Sandy Dean; Ashley Cameron Epting; John Allen, Dr. Mark Nelson, Deborah Parrish Snyder, Marie Harding, William Dempster (Institute of Ecothecnics); Amanda Morales; Steve Maldonado, Juan Orengo, Linda Hernández, Ricardo Zeno, Elizabeth Coriano, Julio Quirós, Ana Rocío Díaz, Zuleika Vallenilla, and Lolita López (Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation); Magha García; Pedro Fabeerllé; María Cristina Nieves; Lucilla Fuller Marvel; Tom Marvel; Andrés Rúa; Isabel Colorado and Dr. Frank Wadsworth; Dr. Lilliam Rodríguez Laboy and Aniel Bio (Puerto Rico Department of Education); Dr. Sheila Ward; Melissa Vega Zayas, Yazmin Solla, and the Habitat Program staff (Para La Naturaleza); Eve Holupchinski (USDA Caribbean Climate Hub); María Concepción (Oxfam America); Alberto Mercado (TNC Puerto Rico); Pam Allenstein (American Public Garden Association); Jafet Vélez (USFWS), Dr. Gilberto Guevara, Lupe Vázquez, and Dr. Frances Zenón (PR Science, Technology & Research Trust); Cecilia Cordero Muñoz (FEMA); Dr. Jess Zimmerman (UPR Río Piedras); Karen Marrero (Office of the VP of Senate of PR); and to the Youth Climate Strike Group for their inspiration towards addressing climate change.

Sponsors

Para La Naturaleza, The Nature Conservancy – Puerto Rico, Oxfam America, Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust, El Verde Field Station, Institute of Tropical Ecosystem Studies, University of Puerto Rico at Río Piedras, Puerto Rico Hardwoods, and various private donors mentioned above.

Event Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/events/645263795881749/