Buchanan preserves two local species, serves broader biodiversity needs

By Thomas Milligan (USAEC)June 17, 2024

Graduate student measuring relocated boa prior to release into habitat.
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Previous Garrison Commander and EPA Caribbean Director planting a Palo de Rosa at Las Casas Lake during Earth Day Celebration, April 2021.
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Graduate student working on wetland survey.
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Garrison Commander and Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources Secretary with Fort Buchanan Environmental Chief, planting trees at middle school reforestation initiative.
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By focusing on multi-year preservation efforts for two native species as part of a comprehensive environmental plan, Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico has built successful environmental outcomes leading to both recognition and improved biodiversity on its island home.

The installation’s commitment to creating the habitat and preservation boundaries to conserve the federally endangered Puerto Rican Boa (Chilabothrus inornatus) and the threatened Palo de Rosa tree (Ottoschulzia rhodoxylon) have been lauded as vital to the overall biodiversity efforts in Puerto Rico.

“These conservation efforts have played an important role in the recovery of the Puerto Rican Boa and the Palo de Rosa. In doing so, Fort Buchanan has become a type of ecological corridor for biodiversity in the (San Juan) metropolitan area and has been recognized by the Puerto Rican Department of Natural and Environmental Resources as a critical wildlife area.” said Mr. Victor Rodriguez, environmental protection specialist. “Not only have we made strides in preserving these endangered species, but we’ve played an important role in the overall biodiversity in Puerto Rico.”

Part of managing this critical wildlife area effectively is taking the unique geology of the site into account. Fort Buchanan contains a rare geological feature locally known as a mogotes, or limestone hills. The carbonate rock hill formation is one of only a limited number of mogotes within the San Juan metro area. The mogotes have many microhabitat conditions, which host a diverse species composition, making it of special ecological interest.

The efforts to preserve the Palo de Rosa -- indigenous to the mogotes of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola that was declared an endangered species in 1990 – really “took off” with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Fort Buchanan and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Dr. David Santiago, Environmental Division chief.

“With the collaboration of the Puerto Rican Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, we have reintroduced and propagated Palo de Rosa into public lands including several experimental populations within the installation,” Rodriguez said. “Recent studies suggest there’s a growing population of Palo Rosa on Fort Buchanan.”

Rodriguez said Fort Buchanan staff have conducted several surveys to document population growth and found one additional population of three new trees and hundreds of saplings; results were shared with USFWS to continue to track efforts to preserve the Palo de Rosa. USFWS has reclassified the Palo de Rosa from endangered to threatened, due in part to the installation’s work.

In addition, Santiago said an MOU between Fort Buchanan and USFWS to protect and conserve the Puerto Rican Boa have led to implementation of several important actions at the installation to protect the indigenous snake. Fort Buchanan staff developed a standard procedure for capturing and relocating the boas; collection of information on any dead boas found and reporting requirements on sightings of live boas; created training and guidelines for handling and relocating the boas; and controlled predator populations that may threaten the boas as part of the  installation’s pest management efforts.

“Working with our colleagues at USFWS and taking advantage of the expertise and information they provide has been a key component of our success to date and our ongoing work for years to come,” said Mr. Francisco Mendez, environmental specialist. “This is important work that serves our community well and promotes the critical biodiversity so necessary for a healthy environment.”