CULEBRA PROTECTS SEA TURTLES
Congress addressed that issue in 1982 when it amended the Endangered Species Act to authorize Habitat Conservation Plans. When carefully implemented, these plans allow resource managers and property owners to carry out their lawful activities while becoming partners in maintaining wildlife habitat.
A 12-year incidental take permit for the Culebra Northshore Habitat Conservation Plan was issued. The proposed development calls for the sale of 45 residential lots over an 8-year period. Three of the lots border Tortola Beach, which is approximately 90 meters long and 15 meters wide. The permit authorizes the take of two leatherback or hawksbill sea turtle nests on Tortola Beach during the 12- year life of the permit. The Service has been monitoring sea turtle nesting activities on Culebra since 1984. Three hawksbill nesting activities have been reported on Tortola Beach, one in 1985 and two in 1995. Leatherback nesting has also been reported on Tortola Beach during 8 of the previous 14 years. During the 8 years when nesting occurred, an average of 2.5 nests per year were documented.
The Service works with private landowners and other non-federal entities to develop Habitat Conservation Plans that authorize incidental take of listed species. This historic agreement highlights the cooperative efforts between the Service and private sector to conserve and protect endangered species while not sacrificing landowners' rights to develop their property.
"Development and environmental protection are often considered to be mutually exclusive," said James Oland, the Service's Boquerón Field Office supervisor. "This project, however, demonstrates that the two can co-exist when efforts are made to address potential conflicts before they become a problem."
The Culebra Northshore, S.E. proposed 17 conservation measures to minimize and mitigate impacts from the proposed project to sea turtles and their nesting habitat. These measures include:
"This is a great step forward for recovery," said Sam D. Hamilton, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "While much work remains, this proves that if people work together we can help save endangered species, and in particular, the magnificent Puerto Rican parrot. The Service is committed to continuing cooperative management of the Puerto Rican Parrot recovery program, and has proposed to establish a National Wildlife Refuge in the karst zone of north-central Puerto Rico,which could serve as a site for establishment of a second wild population of parrots."
The Puerto Rican government is committed to increasing its efforts to release additional individuals of this species. During the next fiscal year, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources will begin a land acquisition program in the karst zone, specifically the area adjacent to the Rio Abajo Forest, which in the future will become the second release site of Amazona vittata - the Puerto Rican Parrot.
Largely emerald green with a red forehead, white rim around the eyes and blue feathers along the edges of the wings, the parrot is less than a foot tall, and is one of the smallest members of its genus. They mate for life, reproducing once a year, between January and July, and are cavity nesters, predominantly using Palo Colorado (Cyrilla racemiflora) trees. The availability of suitable nesting cavities may be one of the main factors currently limiting the species's recovery.
By the 1930s, the Puerto Rican Parrot population was estimated at 2,000 individuals. Between 1953 and 1956, when Don Antonio Rodríguez Vidal conducted the first scientific study of this endemic bird, the population had dropped to 200 birds. Habitat loss from deforestation, as well as hurricanes, hunting, nest robbing, and natural enemies, such as the red-tailed hawk and pearly-eyed thrasher, caused the drastic decline of the species.
In 1967, it was listed as an endangered species when only 24 individuals remained in the wild. The population of parrots reached an all-time alarming low in 1975 when only 13 birds were left in the Luquillo Mountains of Puerto Rico.
Without the intensive work carried out for the past 32 years by the Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program the parrot would, in all probability, be extinct today. There are 103 captive birds in two aviaries that provide a sustainable source of parrots for release into the wild to bolster the current wild population, as well as for the eventual reestablishment of a second population elsewhere in Puerto Rico. In addition to having lead responsibility for managing the species in the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages one aviary in El Yunque. Puerto Rico's Department of Natural and Environmental Resources manages the other, the José L. Vivaldi aviary, at the Río Abajo Commonwealth Forest. Impacts of recent hurricanes such as Hugo (1989) and Georges (1998) clearly indicate the importance of augmenting the wild Puerto Rican parrot population as soon as possible.
The Fish and Wildlife Service led a pilot release study using captive-reared Hispaniolan Parrots (Amazona ventralis), a species closely related to the Puerto Rican Parrot, during 1996-98 in Parque del Este, Dominican Republic. The pilot release study demonstrated that captive-reared parrots could be successfully introduced into occupied habitat. The birds used in the pilot study were reared in the same aviaries and under similar conditions as the Puerto Rican Parrot. After the pilot study, the knowledge, expertise, and a suitable number of captive-reared Puerto Rican parrots existed for the first time in the history of the Recovery Program.
Twenty-two parrots were selected from the two aviaries as optimal birds for potential release into the wild. Birds were selected based on age (1-4 years old) and on genetic and biological characteristics and behavior and physical condition. Of the twenty-two, only ten were found to be suitable for release this year. For both biological and climate-related reasons, releases must take place during late June and early August. Timing the release in this way enhances the chances that both breeding and non-breeding birds will freely flock together following the nesting season. This flocking is a common pattern for this very social bird and one that provides protection from predators.
Today, nine of those ten parrots are still alive, healthy, and adapting to their new environment. One bird was lost, and although its cause of death remains unknown, the other birds are in good shape, foraging on wild fruits and flying around the release area.
"We know that the first seven days after any release are the most critical to the birds survival," said Agustin Valido, Field Supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, Field Office.
"Over three weeks have passed and we still have 90 percent survival. The parrots survival chances increase with each day that passes. As they adapt to the wild, visits to supplemental feeders have declined, and some of the birds are beginning to forage and fly further away from the flock."
Once there were thousands - possibly a million - Puerto Rican parrots, but hunting and trapping nearly wiped them off the face of the island. "Our ultimate goal is to have thousands of Puerto Rican parrots throughout Puerto Rico, but we have to take it a step at a time," said Agustin Valido. "If these birds do as well as the first group, we have a super chance to increase the number of breeding pairs - a key component in the recovery effort."
For more information about the Puerto Rican parrot reintroduction program, visit:
Caribbean National Forest, Puerto Rico -- Release site is located in a remote section of the Caribbean National Forest, about a 1-hour drive from Rio Grande, Puerto Rico, which is about 45 minutes from San Juan, Puerto Rico.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has purchased 1,249 acres of the Puerto Rico's Cabo Rojo Salt Flats to triple the size of the Cabo Rojo National Wildlife Refuge. Three million dollars from the Land and Water Conservation Fund and one and a half million dollars from the Wetland Reserve Program of the U. S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) purchased the land located in southwestern Puerto Rico to beame part of the National Wildlife Refuge System on March 10, 1999.
The purchase and subsequent protection of the Cabo Rojo salt flats marks ten years of cooperation between Federal and Commonwealth agencies in conjunction with non-governmental groups favoring protection of the Cabo Rojo Salt Flats. Compiled by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine.