Earthwatch Team: December 2014 -January 2015

Back L-R: Stan Rullman Cindy Stieger, Margaret Baisley, PI Norman Greenhawk
Front L-R: PI 3t Vakil, Charlotte Field, Colleen Casey, Andrés Rúa
All pix on this page thanks to all above.

See Stan’s Blog about this trip! 2015

Hilda Soltero – 30 years later “a dream made into reality”, December 2014

Hilda Soltero was the Secretary of The Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources in the early 1980s, and it was she that flew John Allen over the island when he was looking for a place to start a sustainable forestry project. Dr. Mark Nelson and John Rubio Druitt met with Dr. Frank Wadsworth in 1983 to discuss the possibilities. In 1983, Las Casas de la Selva was born. Today in December 2014, we shared with Hilda great discussions, stories, visions and plans, and enjoyed the company of her two sons and four grand kids. Thank you Hilda for your continuing support of tropical forestry, along with this project here in Patillas, and look forward to working with you on the mission of sustainable forestry in Puerto Rico.

Herpetological Survey 2014 led by Norman Greenhawk


The steep and remote areas of Icaco and Hormiga Valleys of Las Casas de la Selva have never been surveyed for amphibians. Herpetologist Norman Greenhawk led a team of volunteers into the forest to search for target species of frogs in this vast area, to identify and gather information about amphibians to better assist with the future management of this area. The expedition started on 16th July, and continued to 8th August 2014. The team set up camp in the forest, prepared their own food, and faced some days of extremely challenging windy and rainy weather, including an interruption of the study by Tropical Storm Bertha! The team included college students from the continental US, Puerto Rico, an Earthwatch Teen Team, and Dr. Gabriela Agostini from Argentina. They and came back with a lot of data.

The target species that were confirmed to exist in the valleys were: IUCN Endangered Eleutherodactylus wightmanae (the Coqui Melodioso), IUCN Vulnerable Eleutherodactylus cooki (Coqui Guajon), and IUCN Critically endangered Eleutherodactylus richmondi (Coqui Caoba).

During the surveys, the team sampled for Chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease of amphibians, caused by the chytrid Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, a non-hyphal zoosporic fungus, that is currently killing off amphibians around the world. GPS co-ordinates of appropriate information were taken to allow for mapping of the range of target species within the valley, and high quality photos of the frogs were taken to help show the myriad variation of colors and patterns within a single species.

The initial survey is over and the data is being compiled. Norman has met with personnel of the US Fish and Wildlife Service to help determine future monitoring and research. Once the results of the Chytrid sampling are delivered from the San Diego Zoo, a report will be written up and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal for publication. This survey will continue with a smaller team, as the mountain ridge that separates the two valleys needs to be accessed and sampled.

Norman expresses deep gratitude to team members Sarah Bryan, Jessica Rosado, Marla Gonzalez, Sara Gabel, Sara Zlotnik, Alessandra Belmonte, Sam Boas, Kaitlin Panzer, Lauren Billy, and co-team leader Gabi Agostini. Huge thanks also to Earthwatch Team members: Alana Salas-Yoshii, Josie Icaza, Samantha Riesberg, and their facilitator, Sushmita Sridhar.

Big, big thanks to the Mohammad bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, CREOi, Roland Pesch and Kathy Rosskoph, without whom this survey would not have been able to be carried through.

Lastly, a special thanks to Thrity Vakil & Andrés Rúa for help with logistics, Leah Chevrier-Rappaport for extra volunteer help, and to Jan Zegarra of the US Fish & Wildlife Service for his encouragement, help with analyzing the results, and for consultation concerning future research possibilities.

Meet the team:
L-R Back: Sam Boas, Norman Greenhawk, Marla M. Barrios González, Lauren Billy, Alessandra Belmonte, Sara Gabel.
L-R Front: Leah Chevrier-Rappaport, Sarah Bryan, Jessica Rosado, Gabriela Agostini, Sara Zlotnik

For several days of the survey, the team also comprised of three teenage Earthwatchers, Alana Salas-Yoshii, Josie Icaza, Samantha Riesberg, and their facilitator, Sushmita Sridhar.

Photo credits: Norman Greenhawk, 3t Vakil, Andrés Rúa, and Dr. Gabi Agostini (frog pix below).

Earthwatch Expeditions – We salute you all! July 2014

Thank you to all the Earthwatchers who fielded in our summer season. Through rain, mud, and slippery slopes, everyone made it over established comfort levels and discovered themselves anew at the end of each expedition. We are happy to have had Marta Edgar here as PI on the ongoing Bird Survey, and she worked with the first team. 3t continued on with tree data collection on the Liberation thinning study and also gathered, with team 2g, a complete monitoring of the endangered endemic tree species planted last year in a collaborative project with US Fish & Wildlife. Norman is carrying out a one month Herpetological survey in Icaco and Hormiga Valley and the teenagers on Team 3 along with their Earthwatch Facilitator, got to camp for 6 days and work on this study.

We really appreciate the level of enthusiasm brought to our project by volunteers, because without you, data would be hard to collect. We salute you all.

Consejo Asesor para el Desarrollo Agro-forestal, May 6th, 2014

Another historic meeting for CADA, this time at Las Casas de la Selva, sustainable forestry project in the steep mountains of Patillas.

CADA, comprises of individuals brought together by a strong commitment to stimulate and create the sustainable management of all forest resources on the island of Puerto Rico. Founded in 2013 by Andrés and 3t.


Participants NameAgency or group
Andrés Rúa GonzálezTropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry
Thrity VakilTropic Ventures Sustainable Forestry
Magaly Figueroa (Vía teléfono)USDA US Forest Service
Arnaldo AstacioDepartamento de Agricultura de Puerto Rico
Alexis Laurent Dragoni CebolleroConsultor Fundación Aireko
Christina CabreraDepartamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales de PR
Enrique SantiagoDepartamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales de PR
Jess ZimmermanUPR Rio Piedras
Franklin RománServicio de Extensión Agrícola
Jimena ForeroUPR Rio Piedras
Rosamaría QuilesDepartamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales de PR
Tomas TorresFundación Aireko
Orlando GómezPaddle Sur
Francisco AliceaMunicipio de Arroyo
Elizabeth RodriguezVoluntaria
Milagros Solís OcasioPridco
Hector RodriguezPridco
Evelyn MeloPridco
Omar GarciaPaddle Sur
Enrique C. Colon BurgosAutoridad de Energía Eléctrica


See images from the CADA meeting at Cyber Café, Caguas, 4th March 2014
See images from the CADA meeting at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry, 30th August 2013.
See images from the meeting of The Forest Products Assessment group, at Cayey University, the day the group formally became CADA, 6th May 2013
See images from the meeting of The Forest Products Assessment group at International Institute of Tropical Forestry, March 18th 2013.
See images from the FPA Field meeting at Las Casas de a Selva, 8th August, 2012
See images from the FPA Symposium at the Department of Natural Resources, Rio Piedras, 11th April, 2012

Educación, Interpretación e Investigación en Bosques y Áreas Naturales

4to. Simposio de Educación, Interpretación e Investigación en Bosques y Áreas Naturales,

Viernes, 21 de marzo de 2014, Edificio de Agencias Ambientales, Rio Piedras.

Introduction and closing by Frank H. Wadsworth
Carmen Guerrero Pérez, Secretaria – DRNA
Dayamaris Candelario, Directora – Centro Ambiental Santa Ana (CASA)
Astrid Maldonado, Asistente de Proyecto – Para la Naturaleza
Pedro Rios, Forest Staff Officer – US Forest Service
Glorienell Pérez Vélez, INTER (Receinto de Bayamon)
Edgardo González González – DRNA
Eliezer Nieves, Ayudant Especial de la Oficina de la Secretaria -DRNA
Christian Torres, Director – Parque Doña Inés (FLMM)
Waldemar Feliciano Estudiante Subgraduado – INTER (Bayamon)
Julio Vallejo González, Coordinador de Alcance Comunitario – San Juan ULTRA

Gracias Yaritza Bobonis y Dayamaris Candelario y voluntaries por une dia muy interesante.

Appalachian State University March 9-15, 2014

Appalachian State University students worked really hard on a diversity of projects at Las Casas de la Selva; plastering the bunkhouse, making a ramp for access to the dining room, pruning, gardening, nursery work, moving soil, making a new compost, emptying the humanure compost ready for use, and many other tasks. Wow! We thank you all for being such wonderful company this last week. We’ll see you again!

Vanderbilt University March 1-8, 2014

Vanderbilt University students have just spent several days with us at Las Casas de la Selva, and we have had a super time, working hard! Students learnt the art of plastering on the bunkhouse, led by Andres, and also helped with heavy labor and soil renewal on the Papaya Terraces with 3t. In their time here, they also got to do a leaf litter study with Norman and hiked into the forest. Thank you for your remarkable teamwork, and thanks Zach and Julia, team leaders who did a great job. We salute you all! Come back and see us again soon.

Vella Lovell, a student at The Julliard School of Dance, Drama and Music, NY, volunteered at Las Casas de la Selva for the days that Vanderbilt University students were here. Thanks for all your hard work and enthusiasm lovely lady!

Pepperdine University Feb 22-28, 2014

This was our third year hosting a team from Pepperdine University at Las Casas de la Selva. Norman Greenhawk, as crew leader worked with the students on the main hill-trail and everyone worked super hard to build steps, and to make the walk up and down the hill much safer and more comfortable. Hauling rocks and gravel from the river and carrying then up hill was hard work, and it was extremely satisfying to us to see a group getting on so well with the task at hand. The materials used were recycled from all over the homestead and the wood was from the old drying shed that Pepperdine students helped us to deconstruct in 2013. The work was muddy, and in rainy conditions for a few days, but sunshine prevailed and we all had a superb time with this great bunch! Pepperdiners, we salute you all. Please stay in touch.

Pix below by: 3t, Katrina Kirsch, Evelyn Aleman, Anushree Mahajan.

Fryeburg Academy February 12-20, 2014

3t, Andrés, Norman and Magha appreciate the work and great company of Fryeburg students, February 2014

This wonderful team from Fryeburg Academy, worked with Andres and 3t to build the new nursery for the endangered endemic tree planting program. We have had a super time and we thank you all for help in clearing, pruning, tidying, and generally being a great clean-up crew on the homestead too! And in rainy conditions! The team also spent time with Norman on trail work, and carried out a frog study on a night-hike.

Thanks to Chris and Emily for bringing such a great team our way this year. We look forward to seeing Daniel at age three next year!

This program has been formulated to protect endangered flora and fauna by planting endangered endemic tree species, and working on habitat enhancement in subtropical wet forest. The location and the quality of the habitat of the 930-acre forest property of Las Casas de la Selva is ideal for the establishment of projects toward the recovery of various endangered endemic tree species. The property’s north-eastern border adjoins the Carite State Forest which contains another 6,660 acres of subtropical wet mountain forest land.

Tropic Ventures Research & Education Foundation are collaborating with US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to develop habitat enhancement and restoration projects that benefit endangered endemic species of Puerto Rico

See images of this area being cleared by the last team from Vanderbilt University in December 2013.

Herpetology in Puerto Rico

Norman has been invited to give a presentation of his work at The University of Puerto Rico in February 2014.

Norman Greenhawk was away from Las Casas de la Selva for the majority of 2013, from April through Mid-November, on travel and training on the Earthwatch Neville Shulman Award for Emerging Environmental Leaders. Norman won the award based on his proposal to study not only various species of reptiles and amphibians, but also to conduct ethno-herpetological interviews with local people through Central and South America to record attitudes, uses (medicinal, ritual, economic, etc), and beliefs about frogs, snakes, lizards, and crocodiles.

Norman’s travels took him to Panama, where he studied with the brilliant Dr. Julie Ray of La MICA and with the Smithsonian’s Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation project. Norman learned to catch and relocate endangered crocodiles with the American Crocodile Education Sanctuary in Belize. In Honduras, Norman learned the finer points of monitoring the endemic Utila Island Iguana, a species of lizard that is adapted to inhabit only the mangrove swamps of Utila Island. Norman ended his trip with a month in Bolivia, studying critically endangered frogs and interviewing the indigenous people who ran the “Mercado de las Brujas”.

Upon his return to Las Casas, Norman led an expedition into Icaco Valley with Jan Zegarra of the US FWS, and Maria Cristina of Universidad Metropolitana. The purpose of the trip was to monitor the population of Eleutherodactylus cooki, the “Coqui Guajon” that Norman discovered in December 2012, but there was a pleasant surprise. This expedition confirmed the presence of Eleutherodactylus richmondi, the “Coqui Caoba”, an IUCN critically-endangerd frog. According to Jan, whose Master’s thesis was on E. richmondi, there is only one other area in all of Puerto Rico where E. cooki and E. richmondi share habitat; Jan said this makes Icaco is a very special and unique location.

Ready, willing, and able.

Erin Dahl, (who first came here two years ago with a team from University of Miami), Christopher Sanchez, and Danielle Ungermann all participated in the January harvest of mahoe trees from around the homestead. Andres, chainsawyer, and 3t, felling buddy, were happy to have the help of these three ready, willing, and able apprentices, and together, everyone trained and learned something in the essential art of directional felling, using cuts, wedges, ropes, and a come-along (a small portable winch usually consisting of a cable attached to a hand-operated ratchet).Gentle gasps of astonishment were heard as 65 feet tall trees fell, and fortunately, they all fell exactly where Andres designated. The team have been busy clearing the slash (the small twigs and branches), and depositing it back into the forest for nutrients and erosion control. Thank you Erin, Chris, and Danielle, we have really appreciated your stay with us.

Earthwatchers at Las Casas

Planting endangered endemicsWe have an enthusiastic team of Earthwatchers here till the 6th January 2014. Continuing our collaborative project with Fish & Wildlife, we planted critically endangered endemic tree saplings, Styrax portoricensis and Cornutia obovata. To date 116 Styrax and 21 Cornutia have been planted in our spectacular secondary forest here in the Mira Flores mountain, better known as Las Casas de la Selva.

Creating a new space

Vanderbilt Alternative Winter Break.

These students worked with Andrés and 3t on the reparation of a broken fence and gate and also completely pruned back an overgrown area that will house the new tree nursery. The weather was rainy for most of the time, so kudos to the team for staying on task and getting the work done. Norman Greenhawk and Magha Garcia Medina provided delicious food for the group, and they also got a night hike led by Norman. Thanks everyone for a week of super work. Now a few days of a Christmas break before we get ready for our next Earthwatch team arriving on the 28th December.

Thank You Vanderbilt Winter Breakers! We appreciate your time and effort in helping us with our goals.

Why volunteer here?

Why volunteer at Las Casas de la Selva? See this 3 minute video by Ben Zenner.

This 3 min video was produced by Ben Zenner, a volunteer of Las Casas de la Selva in April of 2013. Ben is a videographer and graphic designer, and is in the process of developing a non profit design firm to help organizations with their online media presence and funding efforts, and to connect students and individuals with potential volunteer opportunities. For more information about Ben and his project called Volunteer Dream, check out his website:

Thank you Ben!

Pines and orchids -14th September 2013

L-R: Tania Hernandez Caraballo,  3t,  Jim Ackerman, Escarlin Reyes Genao, Carmen-Iris Rodriguez, and Joel Salcedo Mejias (Pic by Andrés R♪a)

Prof. Jim Ackerman brought his students to Las Casas de la Selva to make observations on exotic orchids and pines. Our friend Carmen Iris, (second from right), studied with Jim 26 years ago. Always a pleasure to spend time with Jim and get the downloads on his current studies and forest insights.

Oh, and the puppy is the new addition to Carmen Iris and Alberto Rodriguez’ household.  An adorable pedigree German Shepherd, 2 months old, called Ninja,