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!
Here is an album of images to share together as we remember dear Sierra.
In January 2018, Camille Collazo and her team at Visit Rico organized donations to projects in Puerto Rico and a spectacular event help to several farms in Puerto Rico. Teams of 30 people from City Winery descended on these places for a day and helped with debris removal from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Las Casas was chosen as a site to build a stage to have a gourmet dining and music experience. We milled our own fallen pine, and in one day a stage was built. The day was an energetic movement that words cannot describe, bringing much needed help to devastated areas at the Las Casas homestead.
The Visit Rico initiative received support from the Foundation for Puerto Rico, the Segarra Boerman Foundation, the non-profit organization Slow Food, PRxPR and private entities such as Para La Naturaleza and Microjuris. There were fundraisers with Cape Cod Farm, Gramercy Tavern with Chef Juan José, El Boricuá Fund in Minnesota and Crazy Legs from Rock Steady for Life. In addition, Farmer’s Markets outside of Puerto Rico expressed their solidarity with the cause.
Institute of Ecotechnics directors, Marie Harding & Freddy Dempster visited and were a huge help in all areas. Freddy set-up an LED light-system in all the communal areas of the homestead, and life has been upgraded immensely. Las Casas de la Selva, in the mountains will not get electricity for many more months.
Thank you to all the volunteers who really worked hard, in the pouring rain, to set-up the stage area and footings, including: 3t, Andrés, Andrés Rúa Senior, Ramon Rúa, Axel Rúa, Kai Griebenow, Vanessa Acevedo, and Juanita Gonzalez.
On Wednesday 20th September Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the island of Puerto Rico on the southeast shore. As a nearly Category 5 storm, with winds of 155 miles per hour, and 45 inches of rain, Maria lashed the island for longer than 30 hours. Thrity and Andrés were hunkered down in the library bunker at the project for the ten hour duration of this very violent hurricane.
Above: The Hurricane’s Path across Puerto Rico. The eye was 10 miles wide.
Las Casas de la Selva, Sustainable Forestry and Rainforest Enrichment project suffered devastating damage to trees and property within the eye of this extremely violent hurricane.
The project was still in recovery from the damage and results of Hurricane Irma which skirted the north coast of Puerto Rico on 6th September 2017.
Thrity Vakil, Project Director, has left the island two weeks after the hurricane, to raise funds for rebuilding the project.
Technical director Andrés Rúa remains on the ground at the project, and is keeping us updated on everything when he can find cell signal in the metropolitan areas of San Juan.
With the entire infrastructure of the island devastated, as of 7th October, 90% of the island’s people are without electricity or cell signal, and there are gas and diesel shortages, along with food, water, and health issues, facing the entire population of the island.
We will prevail in this very difficult time, and faced with the difficult task of asking for help. If any of you are able to donate any funds towards getting us back on our feet, it will be very much appreciated.
The Institute of Ecotechnics, (a US 501 c 3), has set up a Las Casas Disaster Relief Fund and we are grateful for any help you can give. Go to this page to click the donate button.
Or please send a check payable to Institute of Ecotechnics with a note for Las Casas Disaster Fund. Send to: 26, Synergia Road, Santa Fe, NM, 87508.
Andrés and 3t, along with the founders of Las Casas de la Selva, the Directors of The Institute of Ecotechnics, thank you, and are eternally grateful for your support in this exceptionally difficult time.
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.
Johnny Dolphin, founder of Las Casas de la Selva, visited in early April and we also celebrated the 30th Anniversary of the project. Here is a link to an album of images from Johnny’s stay. L-R: Norman Greenhawk, 3t Vakil, Johnny Dolphin, Magha Garcia, Andrés Rúa
4to. Simposio de Educación, Interpretación e Investigación en Bosques y Áreas Naturales,
Viernes, 21 de marzo de 2014, Edificio de Agencias Ambientales, Rio Piedras.
Speakers: 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.
Norman has been invited to give a presentation of his work at The University of Puerto Rico in February 2014.
NormanGreenhawk 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.
Welcome to our new website! This year, we are celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Las Casas de la Selva, and hope that near and far, folks will be in touch and revisit to celebrate with us. We are planning a BIG Party, so stay in touch! Get comfy, get a cup of tea or coffee and settle in to catch up with the latest news at Las Casas de la Selva!…
To make it even easier to stay in touch there is a comments section down below.
MOST OF THE PICTURES YOU WILL SEE IN THE NEWSLETTER ARE OF PEOPLE. PEOPLE STANDING AROUND TOGETHER AND MOSTLY SMILING.TO FIND OUT WHAT GOES ON BETWEEN STANDINGS AROUND AND SMILING, YOU SHOULD COME, VOLUNTEER AND EXPERIENCE WHATEVER IT IS! GROUPS AT LAS CASAS DE LA SELVA
Always a busy time at Las Casas de la Selva, this February and March 2013, we received five Alternative Spring Break groups from all over the USA. Each group stayed between 7-10 days and we were rewarded with the presence of many wonderful university students all looking to provide service as well as have a life-changing experience. Most groups experienced the heavy rains of this region, but none-the-less, hard labor was the order of the day with never a dull moment. Thank you all for helping us to continue to upgrade this project.
For 23 years Globalworks has been providing exceptional Community Service, Cultural Exchange, Adventure Travel, and Language Immersion programs for teenagers all over the world. One of their stops whilst on a Puerto Rico adventure is to stay at Las Casas de la Selva for a few days, immerse themselves in an alternative lifestyle, carry out intensive hard labor, whilst bonding with each other and getting to know the crew at Las Casas. This year the team worked on making a cement path to the bunkhouses, which will be really appreciated by everyone in the rainy season! Thank you to Meghan Sullivan and Jesse Woodworth for their superb facilitation of this great bunch of teens.
FALL IN LOVE WITH THE FOREST!
Headstart groups from Cacao Alto and Esmeralda Ambar, Patillas joined us for our trips designed for 4-8 year olds. After a fun digital presentation in El Teatro, and a show-and-tell of some frogs and lizards caught and released around the homestead, we take to the forest, and tell stories of the land, stories about trees and forests, tree-planting and cutting, and a detailed look at all kinds of flora and fauna. Then arriving back at the homestead we peek into the woodshop where we show our wood stock and some products. A packed lunch eaten outside, if no rain, finishes up the morning; a morning of fun, and, we hope, the start of a lifelong love of the green!
THE FOREST PRODUCTS ASSESSMENT PROJECT
This project initiated by Tropic Ventures Research & Education Foundation, led by Andrés Rua, and the Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA), has made great progress with several key events in 2012 to highlight the current situation of forest product use and potential in Puerto Rico. 18th April 2013, saw a well-attended conference at the International Institute of Tropical Forestry attended by key players in the DRNA , the USDA, University of PR, and IITF. The group formally became CADA (Consejo Asesor para el Desarrollo Agro-Forestal) at the meeting at Cayey University on 6th May 2013. See more about this project at www.nuestramadera.org
Back row: Andrés Rua (TVREF), Enrique Santiago Irrizary (DRNA), Augusto Carvajal (UPR Cayey), Mark Schofield (former editor of Fine Woodworking Magazine), Gerardo Hernandez (Management Official for Toro Negro State Forest), Franklin Roman (UPR Agriculture Extension Officer and Agronomist), 3t Vakil (TVREF) Front: Jimena Forero Montanez (UPR Phd student), Christina Cabrera (Special Assistant to the Secretary, DRNA), Rosamaria Quiles (DRNA)
Designed and built by 3t and Andrés in February 2013, just in time to catch all the resources of the groups mentioned above.
“The world is divided into two categories of people: those who defecate in drinking water and those who don’t. We in the western world are in the former class. We defecate in water, usually purified drinking water. After polluting the water with our body’s excrements, we flush the once pure but now polluted water “away,” meaning we probably don’t know where it goes, nor do we care. This ritual of defecating in water may be useful for maintaining a good standing within western culture. If you don’t deposit your feces into a bowl of drinking water on a regular basis, you may be considered a miscreant of sorts, perhaps uncivilized or dirty or poverty stricken. You may be seen as a non-conformist or a radical. Some would argue that a simple system of humanure composting can also be the most advanced system known to humanity. It may be considered the most advanced because it works very well while consuming little, if any, non-renewable resources, producing no pollution, and actually creating a resource vital to life”. SOIL.
Thank you everyone who made the effort to overcome fecaphobic tendencies, to see that this is a really wise and sustainable way to collect and use all our resources, especially in the rainforest where we need soil for food production. 3t has been very successfully composting humanure for nearly nine years. Thanks to Reka Komaromi and Klaus Eiberle and great salutes for inspiration to Mark Nelson, and Joseph Jenkins for the quote above. (See his book)
NEW WOOD-DRYING SHED
NORMAN ON SABBATICAL
Norman Greenhawk was honored by Earthwatch with a Neville Schulman Award. The award is given for the training of emerging environmental leaders. For the award, Norman submitted a proposal: “Herpetological Conservation in the Neo-Tropics: An Interdisciplinary Approach”, and he is currently two and a half months into his seven month sabbatical. He has spent a month at La MICA Biological Field Station in El Cope, Panama. He has worked with Dr. Julie Ray, a specialist of Panamanian snakes and has also interviewed citizens of the rural barrio of Barrigon about their attitudes and beliefs about snakes. His time in Panama will end with a stint at the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (PARC), which partners with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. PARC is a captive breeding program dedicated to preserving genetically diverse populations of Atelopus frogs, a genus of frogs that are highly susceptible to the Chytrid fungus, a disease currently wiping out populations of amphibians all over the world. While working at PARC, he is continuing his interviews of local and indigenous peoples, focusing on beliefs about reptiles and amphibians in general, as well as perceptions about conservation organizations. We wish the best for Norman on his intrepid explorations! More…
PEOPLE AT LAS CASAS DE LA SELVA, FEBRUARY – JUNE 2013
Above left: Marta Edgar started a Bird Survey with Earthwatch volunteers this June. Alyssa Solis, who first landed at Las Casas on an Earthwatch teen expedition in 2008, has been back several times since and was an invaluable help on the Bird study, as well as helping 3t with Las Casas logistics and team management of the two Earthwatch groups in June 2013. Thank you Ladies!
PRESS AND MEDIA
EARTHWATCH TEAM 1 JUNE 8-16TH 2013
This wonderful all-ladies team above started our Earthwatch season in June 2013, and we really appreciated their enthusiasm especially in such a rainy time, and with early pre-sunrise starts. We are happy to announce the launch of a bird survey at Las Casas de la Selva with ornithologist, Marta Edgar. The ladies also partook in the planting and monitoring of critically endangered endemic trees with 3t. Below, our most exceptional teen team of Earthwatch volunteers, who completed several days out in the forest in very wet conditions and not a complaint! We really appreciated the work carried out on bird and tree studies and also the fun back at the homestead. Special thanks to Jackie Pomposelli and Amy Reggio, Earthwatch facilitators who did a superb job of holding it all together!
THANKS FOR SHARING IN OUR NEWS AND THE NEW WEBSITE. THANKS FOR BEING PART OF THE NEWS!
BIG TREE HUGS TO ALL OUR FRIENDS AROUND THE PLANET. LEAVE A COMMENT, SHARE, COME VISIT!
Magaly Figueroa has been a key ally of ours for the last decade in the Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources and the USDA. We are very honored for her to mention us in an interview on ‘Faces of The Forest Service’, on the US Forest website. This is the first time Tropic Ventures and our portal to the wood world Nuestra Madera has had a public mention. Thanks Magaly!
Headstart kids from Ciudad Esmeralda Ambar, Patillas. After a great presentation by Andres Rua, they walked in the forest, looking at trees, flowers, frogs, lizards, plants, epiphytes, and bamboo, and to finish up they planted two very rare trees, Palo de Jazmin (Styrax portoricensis).
Kids Day in Patillas!! Thank you to everyone in Patillas who organized, led projects, made costumes, worked with kids rehearsing, set up tents, cleaned, and helped make Kids Day a wonderful fundraiser for Escuela Elemental de Marin Bajo. To Ruty Reyes and Tito Lebron, and the best team ever, muchas gracias! Love from The Bosquer@s, Las Casas de la Selva!
In 2012 Norman Greenhawk was honored by Earthwatch with a Neville Schulman Award. The award is given for the training of emerging environmental leaders. For the award, Norman submitted a proposal: “Herpetological Conservation in the Neo-Tropics: An Interdisciplinary Approach”, and he is currently two and a half months into his seven month sabbatical.
June 2013: Above: Norman Greenhawk with Nahir Tejada in the PARC (Panama Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project) quarantine room, located at Summit Zoological and Botanical Park in Panama. The frogs are being stored here in temporary housing as the project finalizes it’s relocation to the new facility in the nearby community of Gamboa. Every day, over 150 plastic tanks of frogs have to be cleaned and the frogs have to be provided with fresh water and food. Norman is holding an Atelopus limosus and Nahir holds an Atelopus glyphus. Collectively, members of the genus Atelopus are known as “Harlequin frogs”, and are highly susceptible to the Chytrid fungus that is decimating frog populations worldwide. The goal of PARC is to preserve a genetically diverse breeding population in captivity in the event that these species go extinct in the wild, as the Panamanian Golden Frog (Atelopus zeteki) is currently.
He has spent a month at La MICA Biological Field Station in El Cope, Panama. He has worked with Dr. Julie Ray, a specialist of Panamanian snakes and has also interviewed citizens of the rural barrio of Barrigon about their attitudes and beliefs about snakes. His time in Panama will end with a stint at the Panamanian Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (PARC), which partners with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. PARC is a captive breeding program dedicated to preserving genetically diverse populations of Atelopus frogs, a genus of frogs that are highly susceptible to the Chytrid fungus, a disease currently wiping out populations of amphibians all over the world. While working at PARC, he is continuing his interviews of local and indigenous peoples, focusing on beliefs about reptiles and amphibians in general, as well as perceptions about conservation organizations.
Norman also has had an opportunity to conduct a very sobering interview that helps showcase why he is so focused on community outreach and partnership. On May 30th, Jairo Mora Sandoval, a Costa Rican sea turtle conservationist, was murdered by poachers who were angered at his efforts to attract the attention of police to a huge illegal turtle harvest. By chance, a former Las Casas volunteer was working with Jairo’s group when the murder occurred. He met with Norman and shared his story of what happened; Jairo was a young man, 26 years old. The night before his murder, he spoke of wanting to propose to his girlfriend. He was well liked by the community, and even by many of the local poachers. Such examples of violence are extreme, but not unheard of. Norman hopes that his continued outreach to communities around each of the conservation projects he is working at will help in some small way to prevent future tragedies such as this- on July 3rd, Norman flies to Belize to work with a crocodile sanctuary that was burned to the ground two years ago by Maya Indians who erroneously thought that two village children had been eaten by the crocodiles. We wish the best for Norman on his intrepid explorations!