New team, new goals
Governor, US official appoint new members to Conservation Trust board of trustees
By Richard Gutiérrez
Puerto Rico is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Caribbean. Its natural resources and nature reserves are very important to many residents. That is why, besides the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the island has many groups, either private, nonprofit, or public, that dedicate their work to the conservation of its natural reserves and most valuable lands.
The private and nonprofit Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico is one of these organizations. The Trust works hard to protect natural areas, establishing conservation easements among many other efforts that involve protecting and creating awareness regarding the conservation and importance of natural resources on the island.
On Thursday, three new members were appointed to the Conservation Trust’s board of trustees. U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau traveled to Puerto Rico to assist in the joint appointment between Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland. The new trustees each will serve a three-year term and help carry out the Trust’s mission on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico.
“It is an honor to share these nominations and continue to support the mission of the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico,” the governor said at a press conference held at the Botanical Gardens in Río Piedras. “The Trust is a key player in protecting our natural resources as well as helping to educate our people on the importance of environmental conservation efforts.”
The nominees are Blas Fonalledas, who has been nominated for a second term, Dr. Ana María García Blanco and Roberto Serrallés. Although both García Blanco and Serrallés will be new trustees, the governor pointed out that they have had a longstanding relationship with the Conservation Trust.
Fonalledas, meanwhile, has been working with the Trust since 2012 and has been part of the board of trustees since 2019. He is a well-known lawyer and has been intensively active in natural resource conservation projects in Puerto Rico, Peru and New Zealand. He is also an active member of the board of directors of the National Fish and Wildlife Federation.
García Blanco is a prestigious educator who graduated from Harvard University and a pioneer of Montessori education in Puerto Rico. She is also the executive director of the New School Institute.
Serrallés serves as a member of the board of directors of the nonprofit organization Para la Naturaleza (For Nature). He is also an executive in the spirits industry and a member of the well-known Serrallés family, whose company has been producing Puerto Rican rum since 1865. He has a doctorate degree in environmental science from the University of Oregon, is well known for using aquatic energy in his rum company’s facilities and has received many awards from international communities.
Beaudreau, meanwhile, had some noteworthy thoughts to share regarding the new Trust board members.
“For more than 50 years, The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico has preserved Puerto Rico’s rich and diverse ecosystems, biodiversity and natural resources. The new members of the board of trustees will continue this long legacy and will serve as shepherds of the Trust’s mission to protect and conserve Puerto Rico’s lands and waters, inspire stewards of natural and historical heritage, and promote conservation across the archipelago,” Beaudreau said. “Because of the work of the conservation trust, generations today and long into the future will be able to enjoy the richness that this land offers.”
On Wednesday, the deputy secretary traveled to the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Preserve in Fajardo, home of Laguna Grande, one of three bioluminescent bays found in Puerto Rico. The Trust acquired most of the lands and waters that make up the nature preserve in 1975, safeguarding the area’s natural ecosystems and unique biodiversity. Through decades of conservation and preservation works, visitors to Cabezas de San Juan and Laguna Grande now enjoy a variety of recreational activities, including kayaking, snorkeling, hiking and bird watching.
The visit also highlighted the recovery of the Puerto Rican boa and palo de rosa, an iconic Puerto Rican tree that, through a robust interagency effort, was brought back from near extinction. When the palo de rosa was listed as endangered in 1990, there were only nine known trees. Last year, after more than three decades of collaboration between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Army and local groups and with efforts propelled by the Endangered Species Act, the tree was down-listed and reclassified from endangered to threatened.
University of Puerto Rico (UPR) President Luis Ferrao Delgado, who was also part of the visit, stated that UPR has set itself up as a partner in conservation with the Trust and emphasized that the Trust can count on UPR for anything it may need.
“Please count on us with this effort,” he said. “There is a large group of scientists and investigators who support conservation efforts; once again, please count on us.”
The Conservation Trust cares for nearly 38,000 acres of natural areas and historically preserved facilities all over Puerto Rico. These include: Hacienda Buena Vista in Ponce, Las Cabezas de San Juan in Fajardo, San Cristóbal Canyon in Aibonito, Hacienda La Esperanza in Manatí and La Parguera in Lajas. Pierluisi noted that the executive director of the Trust has an ambitious goal, which is to conserve 33% of the lands in Puerto Rico by 2030. The governor said he will work so that the Trust achieves this goal, and that he believes there are measures that can be taken over time to achieve an even larger percentage.