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Caribbean Area NRCS Works with Partners to Restore Habitats from Ridge to Reef

NRCS & partners restore habitats from ridge to reef: sharp-shinned hawk, Maricao forest, Guanica BayThroughout the Caribbean Area, NRCS works with landowners to protect our unique habitats and endemic species. The Guánica-Río Loco Watershed Project and the Shade Coffee Initiative are examples of two multi-agency efforts to preserve and protect coral reef and forest eco- systems. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works with producers and partners in these watersheds to conserve soil, reduce nutrient runoff and re- forest buffer areas while improving agricultural productivity. Better land management protects water quality, improves wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species, and enhances near shore coastal and coral reef health.

Through the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program, NRCS Mayagüez field office staff partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to restore wildlife habitat in steep buffer areas around Maricao State Forest through the Shade Coffee Initiative, and in the Upper Río Loco watershed through the Coral Reef Initiative. Re-forestation provides food and shelter for endangered species such as the Puerto Rican Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus venator), four species of Coquí frogs (Eleutherodactylus wightmanae, E. gryllus, E. karlschmidti and E. richmondi), and the endemic Puerto Rican boa (Epicrates inornatus) and Puerto Rican Woodpecker (Melanerpes portoricencis).

NRCS and FWS staff have helped over 40 farms to convert their coffee plantations from sun-grown coffee to shade-grown coffee. They have propagated and planted native trees to improve over 500 acres of land around the Maricao State Forest. In the Upper Río Loco watershed, partners planted 16,865 native trees, including Moca (Andira inermis), Capa Prieto (Cordia alliodora), Guamá (Inga laurina) and Guaba (Inga vera). Conversion from sun-grown to shade-grown coffee reduces soil erosion, improves soil and water quality, and conserves soil and water. Most importantly for farmers, it also increases coffee quality, quantity and yield, resulting in increased income.

Over 4,000 acres in the Upper & Lower Río Loco watersheds have been enrolled in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to benefit over 250 square miles of marine ecosystems, including federally endangered Elkhorn and Staghorn corals (Acropora sp.) and Green and Hawksbill sea turtles (Chelonia mydas and Eretmochelys imbricata). NRCS has contracted with 17 producers to conserve resources on 1,194 acres of farmland and stabilize 600 meters of the Río Loco’s banks with structural and bioengineering practices.

Other soil and water conservation practices installed include:

  • Four 3-acre reservoirs and three 3-acre sediment basins;
  • 8,500 feet of open channels and 8,000 feet of pipeline;
  • 8,500 feet of grassed waterways;
  • 28,500 feet of fencing and 14 livestock watering facilities;
  • 195 acres of pasture hay planting and 190 acres of access control;
  • 197 acres of critical area planting and 10 acres of trees,
  • 581 acres of multi-story cropping; and
  • Pump houses with irrigation system upgrades to serve over 1,500 acres.