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History

View our new presentation providing an overview of 76 Years of Conservation History in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands (PDF, 5.7 MB).

BACKGROUND

The Caribbean Area is located 1000 miles southeast of Miami stretching eastward between the Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean, and then curving toward the coast of South America. Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on his second voyage to the Antilles in 1493. He found that Taino and Carib Indians populated the Islands.

Puerto RicoReservoir in Rio Loco, Puerto Rico.

Christopher Columbus named the island San Juan Bautista in honor of St. John the Baptist. Later, the early settlers changed the Taino name of the Island "Boriken" to "Puerto Rico" or rich-port. In 1555, the Spanish conqueror Juan Ponce de León was appointed the first governor designated by the Spanish Crown. Puerto Rico became Spain’s most important military outpost in the Caribbean. In 1809, Puerto Rico was recognized as an overseas province of Spain with the right to send representatives to the Spanish Court. The Spanish Crown granted Puerto Rico its first constitution, allowing it o embark on free commerce and giving the island its own identify in aspects such as culture, music and arts. In 1898, after the Spanish-American War, Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States under the Treaty of Paris. In 1917, the U.S. Congress granted Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship. In 1952 by Congressional decree, under a Commonwealth formula, Puerto Rico adopted its own constitution and elected their first civilian Governor. Puerto Rico is 500 older than San Augustine, Florida, which is the oldest city in the United States.

Climate Tropical temperatures averaging 82 degrees F with constant mild, easterly trade winds.
Language Spanish and English
Mail Service U.S. Postal Service rates and services are the same as on the U.S. mainland.
Population Approximately 4.8 Million (1998 Census)
Size Approximately 110 miles long by 35 miles wide, roughly the size of Connecticut.
U.S. Virgin IslandsThe south shore of St. Croix, USVI.

The U.S. Virgin Islands are an unincorporated territory, comprised of four main islands, St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island, and fifty smaller islands and cays. During his second voyage, Christopher Columbus dropped anchor on the north side of St. Croix at Salt River Bay. Columbus named his discovery "Santa Cruz," or Holy Cross, and sent a landing party ashore to replenish the ships' dwindling water supply. Columbus was so impressed with the islands' pristine beauty that he christened them "Las Vírgenes," the virgins, in honor of St. Ursula and her 11,000 martyred virgins.

Columbus’s men were repulsed by fierce Carib Indians who had previously driven out the more peaceful Arawaks. No further attempts were made to land and colonize the Island until 1555, when the soldiers of King Charles V of Spain drove the hostile Caribs from St. Croix.

The Danish entered the area in 1671 when the queen chartered the West India Company and began serious colonization of St. Thomas and St. John. St. Croix, previously colonized by the Dutch, French and English, was purchased by the Danes from France in 1733. Except for a brief period of British occupation during the Napoleonic Wards, the Danes ruled the Virgin Islands, or the Danish West Indies as they were called, until 1917. As a strategic move, the United States purchased the Virgin Islands from the Danish West Indies for $25 million. On March 31, 1917, the U.S. Navy assumed the responsibility of administering the Islands under territorial status. On February 27, 1921, jurisdiction of the Virgin Islands was transferred to the Department of the Interior. At that time, the President appointed the first civilian Governor of the Islands. On November 1970, by act of Congress, the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands were allowed to elect their own Governor and Lieutenant Governor.

Climate Tropical temperatures averaging 82 degrees F with constant mild, easterly trade winds.
Language English
Mail Service U.S. Postal Service rates and services are the same as on the U.S. mainland.
Population Approximately 109,000 (2000 Census)
Size St. Croix, 85 sq. mi.; St. Thomas, 32 sq. mi.; St. John, 19 sq. miles.

BRIEF CARIBBEAN CONSERVATION HISTORY

The Natural Resources Conservation Service has many traditions, and it has experienced many drastic changes in its mission, and especially in its name. The United States Soil Conservation Districts were created through the Soil Conservation Law No.46-74, approved by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on April 27, 1935. Under that Law, the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), predecessor of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), became a permanent agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Puerto Rico began to receive some technical assistance.

In Puerto Rico, the Soil Conservation Districts were created thorough the approval of local Law #211, on March 26, 1946. It was then that SCS services were officially extended to include the whole island of Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean Area. Among Puerto Rico's conservation pioneers, was Don Zacarías Rivera, who became the first Soil and Water Conservation District president. In 1947, Puerto Rico established 17 local conservation districts throughout the island.

The U.S. Virgin Islands Conservation District (VICD) was organized though the provisions contained in Sections 41-49 of Title VII, Chapter 3, of the Virgin Islands Code. The Certificate of Organization was signed by the USVI Senate, Bill No. 2591 on February 19, 1969.