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 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.
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?’
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
“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/
“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/
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.
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.