Puerto Rican woman named to head Tropical Forestry Institute
By John McPhaul
The United States Forest Service (USFS) announced on Monday the appointment of Puerto Rican scientist Grizelle González as director of the International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF).
“The Institute’s mission, which began more than eight decades ago, will continue to focus on developing and communicating the best available science for the understanding and sustainable management of our tropical forests,” González said in a written statement. “Looking to the future, I am excited to lead, collaboratively with multiple sectors of our society, the development and implementation of forestry programs that comprehensively address the social, economic, and environmental needs of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the North American region of the Caribbean in general.”
Dr. González will assume the position held for 40 years by scientist emeritus Ariel Lugo, and before him, the pioneer of the study and conservation of forests in Puerto Rico, Frank Wadsworth. She becomes the first woman to lead the IITF. González is currently a project leader and deputy director of the IITF’s research unit, where she directs the efforts of more than 150 scientists, from different sectors, who guide the science, administration and communication of studies related to tropical forests and grasslands, from 10 countries and in collaboration with 45 institutions.
“The Institute will be focused on evaluating the effects of climate change, and how land use and changes in land cover affect the functions of forest ecosystems,” González said. “Likewise, we are interested in green infrastructure in the urban environment, since these spaces provide important socio-ecological services for the health of our society.”
González began at IITF in 2000, after completing doctoral studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Previously, she worked at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, and co-led seven expeditions for educational and scientific purposes to the Canadian Arctic and Alaska.
She was the first Puerto Rican scientist permanently hired by the IITF, in 2003. Since then, her leadership roles have been on the rise. She was director of the Sabana Field Station between 2003 and 2018, and leader of the research unit from 2012 to 2017. That year, she was appointed deputy director of IITF, and had highlights as deputy director for research at the USFS’s South Scientific Station in North Carolina, and as supervisor of El Yunque National Forest. Likewise, she led research efforts after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.
As a scientist, she has published the results of her research in multiple journals, and is an adjunct professor at several universities on the island.