Forest Service awards grant for timber conservation

By John McPhaul

Aware of the great economic development opportunity represented by the sustainable recovery of timber in an increasingly hurricane-prone region, the United States Forest Service (USFS) awarded the non-profit organization GreenWood a grant to provide training opportunities and market access for Puerto Rican workers.

William Gould, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Caribbean Climate Center, said Tuesday that through the Wood Innovations Program, the USFS, which is under the USDA, is promoting a new vision that reconciles the conservation of forested lands with the recovery of wood for economic development purposes.

Such expectations are achieved through the planting and management of forest ecosystems, raising awareness of the richness and value that living trees provide.

“Hurricane Maria raised awareness of the abundance of timber resources in Puerto Rico. This experience also reflected the need to plan and improve the capacity to recover timber resources in a beneficial way,” Gould said in a written statement. “The objective of the Wood Innovations program is to offer support so that the capacities that allow the use of these wood resources in a positive way are developed in Puerto Rico.”

“As the planet warms more, hurricanes are expected to increase in intensity, so it is necessary to establish a holistic approach to forest management that allows conserving biodiversity, water management, recreation, education and resources, wood resources,” the scientist added.

Gould noted that the program’s scholarships are an important step in that direction. This year the scholarship was awarded to GreenWood, a non-profit organization that since 1993 has promoted the development of wood products with a focus on sustainable forest management, a vision that it brought to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The two-year project — managed by the USFS International Institute of Tropical Forestry — is known as the “Sustainable Forestry Enterprise: Linking Forest Resources, Artisans, and Timber Markets with Artisan EcoTours to Improve Processing Capacity of Wood in Puerto Rico.”

The project consists of uniting local woodworkers with internationally renowned counterparts for a unique teaching experience where participants from inside and outside Puerto Rico learn practical skills from the experts.

In addition, they will visit the primary source of wood — forests — to gain inspiration for product design and to connect forest management with local product development and innovation.

The Wood Innovations Program started in 2015 and offers grants to stimulate innovation in the wood product and energy markets. Focus areas at the U.S. level include: bulk lumber, renewable wood energy, and technology development for fuel reduction, as well as sustainable forest management.

Last year, the program awarded another two-year grant to the Center for Landscape Conservation, a local organization that develops projects and activities for landscape conservation on private lands near El Yunque National Forest.

The objectives of the work include assessing the market for forest products from private lands around El Yunque and creating a tool to better understand the social landscape of wood products in the area. In this direction, the director of the Center, Edgardo González, and his team are working on an analysis of social interaction networks, which will produce a map to improve collaboration between forest managers, private owners, wood processing facilities, wood product markets and farmers.

The information is intended to help anticipate bottlenecks in the supply and processing chain, and improve the market value of local timber resources.

During the second year of the project, the organization will coordinate demonstrations and reduced-impact forest harvesting work to document wood harvesting and harvesting practices. Similarly, workshops on the management and development of wood products will be offered in the eastern region of the island.

Previously, the Wood Innovations program awarded another scholarship to the University of Puerto Rico in a project led by Prof. Elvia Meléndez-Ackerman, from the Natural Sciences Faculty.

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