ONCE UPON A FOREST: FORT BUCHANAN PROTECTS THE PALO DE ROSA

Story by Jonelle Kimbrough, Strategic Communicator
Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate

Victor Rodriguez Cruz braved an imminent storm to reach the pinnacle of a limestone hill, where a Palo de Rosa emerged from the Earth. Just beyond the tree, he peered at a valley where a bustling city on San Juan Bay had all but erased a once pristine, wild forest. “When a tree is lost, it is lost forever,” he said as he admired the Palo de Rosa’s verdant, glistening leaves.

Rodriguez Cruz manages the Natural Resources Conservation Program at Fort Buchanan, a United States Army Reserve-funded Installation near San Juan, Puerto Rico. In his role with the Directorate of Public Works’ Environmental Division, he leads the charge to protect the Palo de Rosa – one of the island’s most endangered trees.

Named for the distinctive red hue of its heartwood, the Palo de Rosa is indigenous to the limestone hills, or “mogotes,” of Puerto Rico and Hispaniola. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Palo de Rosa to be endangered in March of 1990, when only nine trees remained in the forests of Puerto Rico.

Rodriguez Cruz pointed to a resilient tree. “They grow only on the tops of these mogotes. Is that their preference, or are those populations the only populations that are left?” he asked.

Under the canopy, he chronicled the rather somber history and unusual biology of the Palo de Rosa.

Its decline, he said, could be attributed to many factors.

Deforestation and urban encroachment have decimated the Palo de Rosa’s natural habitat.

In addition, the Palo de Rosa’s reproduction cycles are erratic, at best. Biological studies indicate that the tree may be a “mast flowering” species, or one that produces an abundance of fruits in some seasons but no fruits in other seasons.

Seed dispersal is also a challenge for the Palo de Rosa. The Palo de Rosa may be an “outcrossing” species, requiring the cross pollination of individual trees. Since its populations are so limited, the pollination process could be very difficult. Furthermore, the fruits of the Palo de Rosa resemble the fruits of trees pollinated and dispersed by bats. Any absence of bats, or other pollinators, could have contributed to the tree’s demise.

Fort Buchanan is one of the few places on Puerto Rico where the Palo de Rosa thrives today. Still, only 12 Palos de Rosa live on Fort Buchanan. According to Rodriguez Cruz, the trees at the Installation are some of the only trees on the island that are currently producing viable seeds.

Fort Buchanan, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources hope that these seeds are seeds of change.

In 2009, a Memorandum of Agreement between Fort Buchanan, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources  incorporated provisions for the protection of the Palo de Rosa into the Installation’s land use management plans.

The Fish and Wildlife Service uses Fort Buchanan’s trees to collect seeds to propagate the Palo de Rosa, enhance the Installation’s population and introduce them to other viable areas of the island. The Service also visits Fort Buchanan annually to monitor the health of the trees.

Fort Buchanan’s Directorate of Public Works has implemented numerous conservation measures as well. Reforestation has improved the environment for the Palo de Rosa and the post’s other endangered species, the Puerto Rican boa. The Directorate restricts access to the Palo de Rosa’s habitat, evidenced by prolific gold signs that relay a message of caution to Fort Buchanan’s residents. If necessary, the Installation limits the scope of military activity in those areas. They have eliminated the use of herbicides near the habitat. In addition, Rodriguez Cruz and his colleagues consistently educate Soldiers, Civilians and Families about their Installation’s unique tree.

Rodriguez Cruz crouched in the leaf litter to assess a tree’s roots. “Ultimately, we want to recover the populations of the Palo de Rosa so that the Fish and Wildlife Service can remove the tree from the Endangered Species List,” he remarked.

The loss of any tree would impact the survival of the Palo de Rosa, but Rodriguez Cruz believes that the loss of the species could broadly impact the culture of Puerto Rico.

“The Palo de Rosa is endemic only to the Caribbean, so the tree is a significant part of our natural heritage in Puerto Rico,” said Rodriguez Cruz. “Our natural heritage encourages tourism to our island, supports our economy and inspires our art.”

“Our flora could benefit us,” he continued, placing his hand on his chest. “Cures for cancers could be in these forests.”

Rodriguez Cruz regarded the Palo de Rosa once more. Then, he descended the mogote with the company of hummingbirds and lizards. He recounted Fort Buchanan’s important role in the protection of Puerto Rico’s special natural resources. In his voice, hope resonated – the hope that the Palo de Rosa will flourish with the spirit of the past and the hope that the Army Reserve can contribute to its future.

ARTICLE CONTRIBUTORS

Heather Brown, Army Reserve Sustainability Programs
Jonelle Kimbrough, Army Reserve Sustainability Programs
Victor Rodriguez Cruz, Fort Buchanan Directorate of Public Works – Environmental Division

PLUGGING INTO ENERGY EFFICIENCY

EV Stat

Story by Dmitrii Cordero Mojica, Francisco Mendez and Anibal Negron Rodriguez
Fort Buchanan Directorate of Public Works

As part of Installation efforts to increase energy efficiency, improve infrastructure and reduce its resource “bootprint,” Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico has plugged into electric vehicle charging stations.

Fort Buchanan’s mission is to provide standardized services and sustainable infrastructure in support of the Armed Forces and the diverse Fort Buchanan community. The Garrison is committed to protecting natural, cultural and human resources; promoting pollution prevention through the continual improvement of environmental management technologies; and implementing energy, water and fuel efficiency measures that comply with all applicable laws, regulations and Executive Orders. To that end, the Fort Buchanan Directorate of Public Works has leveraged funding through an Energy Savings Performance Contract to install eight electric vehicle charging stations on post.

The electric vehicle charging stations will provide power to the new plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in the Installation’s General Services Administration fleet, and they are located at the Directorate of Public Works, at the 1st Mission Support Command and at the Logistics Readiness Center.

Fleet managers can use remote management and control services to monitor the use status of each station, determine the amount of power flowing to each vehicle and identify any required preventative maintenance.

In conjunction with this effort, Fort Buchanan’s Logistics Readiness Center has collaborated with the General Services Administration fleet manager to acquire more electric vehicles through a continuous vehicle replacement program, which will replace every fossil fuel vehicle in the fleet with a hybrid electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. This replacement program will support the Installation’s “Environmental Management Action Plan #1: Fleet Fuel Efficiency Management,” which aims to reduce fleet greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by fiscal year 2025; to create a fleet comprised primarily of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles; to provide appropriate charging or refueling infrastructure for zero emission vehicles or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles; and to implement fleet efficiency management tools.

During the last week of fiscal year 2016, the Logistics Readiness Center received three plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and they expect to receive two hybrid electric vehicles and nine plug-in hybrid electric vehicles in fiscal year 2017.

This plug-in hybrid electric vehicle technology combines a high capacity battery with an electric motor with a gasoline engine.

When it is connected to a standard 120-volt or a 240-volt electrical outlet or charging station, the vehicle’s battery can store enough electricity from a power grid or a solar photovoltaic canopy for the vehicle to operate in electric mode under typical driving conditions and during a short commute, therefore significantly reducing the vehicle’s petroleum consumption.

When the battery is depleted, the vehicle then functions in hybrid mode with a regenerative braking system. An “Electric Vehicle,” or “EV,” button allows the vehicle to operate in one of three modes. In “EV Now” mode, the vehicle will operate using primarily battery power. In “Automatic EV” mode, the vehicle will use battery power when possible and move to gas engine power when needed. In “EV Later” mode, the vehicle will save battery power for future use.

Fort Buchanan will continually strive for energy efficiency not only by conserving electric energy but by reducing fuel consumption as well. The plug-in hybrid electric vehicles use about 30 to 60 percent less petroleum than the conventional vehicles.

FOR THE SAKE OF THE SNAKE: FORT BUCHANAN PROTECTS PUERTO RICAN BOA

Story by Jonelle Kimbrough, Strategic Communicator
Army Reserve Installation Management Directorate

Actor Nicolas Cage once quipped, “Every great story seems to begin with a snake.”

At Fort Buchanan, the story of wildlife conservation begins with the Puerto Rican boa.

The Caribbean Islands host some of the most biologically critical and diverse snakes on Earth. The Puerto Rican boa, also known as Epicrates inornatus, is important to the environment and natural heritage of Puerto Rico. However, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has listed the snake as endangered since 1970.

Fortunately for the boa, the United States Army Reserve “has its six.” Fort Buchanan – an Army Reserve-funded installation near San Juan – is leading the charge for its protection.

The Puerto Rican boa is crucial in its habitat, the lush forests of limestone hills called mogotes. Adult snakes prey on pests such as rats and invasive reptiles such as green iguanas. Boas are vital components of the food chains of island birds including the Puerto Rican lizard cuckoo and red-tailed hawk.

As necessary as it is to the island’s ecological balance, the Puerto Rican boa is vulnerable to some formidable threats.

Introduced, non-native animals such as mongooses and other snakes are competing with the boa for habitat and food. In some cases, the interlopers are turning Puerto Rican boas into meals.

Deforestation, urban encroachment and pollution have damaged the boa’s environment. As an island species, habitat loss is especially troubling for the snake. Quite simply, they have no other place to go. “Its limited geographical distribution makes the Puerto Rican boa prone to extirpation by any change created by humans or natural causes,” said Victor Rodriguez-Cruz, an Environmental Protection Specialist with the Directorate of Public Works (DPW) at Fort Buchanan.

Furthermore, poaching has contributed to the boa’s decline. Hunters have coveted the snake for its meat and skin. As early as the 1700s, Puerto Rico exported the oil from the snake’s fat as a major commodity. “[The boa was] hunted and killed due to the belief that snake oil provided relief for aching joints,” Rodriguez-Cruz explained.

If the boa faced extinction, the biological diversity on Puerto Rico would be imperiled. Natural cycles would be disrupted, and the environment would certainly suffer. Nevertheless, the people of Fort Buchanan are working to ensure a hopeful future for the snake.

Initiated in 2013 and guided by a Memorandum of Understanding with the USFWS, Fort Buchanan’s comprehensive, ambitious boa program includes the management of both the species and the land on which it lives. The Installation’s DPW and its partner agencies are capturing, measuring and tagging boas, and they are performing other monitoring activities that help wildlife biologists determine boa populations, activity patterns and habitat uses. They are also enhancing the boa’s environment through reforestation and native plant restoration initiatives.

Innovative projects are driving boa conservation forward.

For instance, Fort Buchanan is investigating the use of an advanced technology called a Passive Integrated Transponder (PIT) tag to study the boa. A PIT tag for a boa is similar to a microchip for a dog. It is essentially a “barcode” for an individual animal that can electronically transmit information on snake growth, migration and survivorship to the biologists participating in the studies.

Also, the Department of Defense Environmental Security Technology Certification Program (ESTCP) recently issued a grant to the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ Research and Development Center Laboratory to examine “soft release” for snakes that require translocation at Fort Buchanan. According to Rodriguez-Cruz, Puerto Rican boas have very cryptic habits. People rarely see them, but they occasionally venture into urban areas. Wildlife biologists must translocate the wayward snakes. With the soft release method, biologists capture boas in urban areas and move them to designated forests. There, the boas briefly live in man-made pens prior to their full release into the wild. Soft release allows the snakes to gradually acclimate to the forests and thus raises their probabilities for success. Rodriguez-Cruz said that the ESTCP project has the potential to increase the effectiveness of capture and translocation efforts and to reduce snake-human encounters. The Installation could also benefit financially since the ESTCP grant would cover all expenses associated with the soft release demonstration.

Outreach and awareness are essential components of Fort Buchanan’s boa conservation program, too. “By educating the public, we are eliminating a lot of misconceptions about snakes in general and especially the boa,” said Rodriguez-Cruz. The Installation is identifying snake habitat with signage, encouraging its residents to report boa sightings, and training contractors who work on the post on boa protection procedures – to name only a few of the efforts.

Committed to the protection of its largest indigenous snake, Fort Buchanan serves as an example of conservation to the Caribbean as well as to the entire Army Reserve and active Army, both of which play a critical role in the stewardship of our military’s lands and the world’s precious natural resources.  “What we do inside of the Installation for Puerto Rican boa conservation, if deemed efficient, can be useful to the management of the snake outside of the Installation,” Rodriguez-Cruz said.

The environmentally essential Puerto Rican boa has managed to survive despite the forces that jeopardize its very existence. With the Army Reserve in its corner, the snake now has the chance to thrive, and its story will be great for generations to come.

puerto-rican-boa_oliveras

Photo by Eneilis Mulero Oliveras, Fort Buchanan Directorate of Public Works

FIGHT THE BITE: FORT BUCHANAN WORKS TO COMBAT MOSQUITOES, ZIKA

Yellow Fever Mosquito

Do you know Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus? The Directorate of Public Works (DPW) at Fort Buchanan, Puerto Rico knows these fellows all too well. They are not colleagues or Soldiers or even characters in the community. They are mosquitoes, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), they are responsible for the illnesses that are currently creating major public health concerns in the Caribbean Islands, Central America and South America.

With its bounty of natural beauty and its rich heritage, Puerto Rico is an idyllic paradise, but the concentrated population and lush environment on the island also create a “perfect storm” for the proliferation of the Yellow Fever mosquito and Asian Tiger mosquito, which are aggressive biters and the primary carriers of Dengue Fever,

Chikungunya virus and Zika virus. Per the 2015 Census, the island boasts over three million residents – one million of whom live in the San Juan area. In addition, Puerto Rico has a sub-tropical climate with an average temperature of 80 degrees and copious rainfall. According to Mr. Victor Rodriguez-Cruz, an Environmental Protection Specialist at Fort Buchanan, the Aedes mosquitoes have a preference for habitats around urban settings, which tend to have many standing pools of water for breeding. “[The climate] provides adequate conditions for mosquitoes to breed, and with our high population density, there is a potential risk of mosquitoes transmitting a variety of arthropod-borne viruses,” he said.

While all mosquito-borne illnesses are dangers to public health, Zika virus is a particularly dire issue. Dengue Fever and Chikungunya virus present symptoms that include fever, headache, muscle ache and joint pain. Although similar to those of Dengue Fever and Chikungunya virus, the symptoms of Zika virus are much milder in and sometimes completely absent from afflicted individuals. But, Zika virus can also cause neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome and a brain-damaging birth defect called microcephaly, which is a life-long and incurable condition that can often remain undetected until an infected child is born. Furthermore, Zika is blood borne and can be transmitted from human to human through sexual contact, blood transfusions and in-utero transmission.

The CDC estimates that the Zika virus now affects an estimated one million people in South and Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean islands, and the illness is spreading rapidly – even into the United States.

Fort Buchanan is leading the charge against mosquitoes and mosquito-borne diseases in Puerto Rico. “It is important for the Installation to protect the community by proactively controlling mosquito populations,” Rodriguez-Cruz remarked. “Our vector management program is directed towards maintaining mission readiness by protecting the well-being of our Soldiers, their Families and the Civilians who support them.”

In collaboration with Army Public Health Command through Rodriguez Army Health Clinic, Fort Buchanan’s Installation Integrated Pest Management Program has developed a tiered program to control the mosquito population and reduce the spread of Zika. They are using traps to capture and monitor mosquitoes on the Installation, and they are implementing mosquito breeding area surveillance to determine the origins of the populations and remove their habitats. When mosquito populations are discovered, larvae are removed, in some cases. In cases where source reduction is not feasible, though, ultra-low-volume pesticides are applied. Additionally, Fort Buchanan is partnering with Federal and state health departments to share their epidemiological and ecological information.

“This tiered approach permits us to attack the mosquito population throughout all stages of the insect’s life cycle: egg, larvae, pupae and adult,” said Rodriguez-Cruz. “This approach implements Integrated Pest Management practices that rely on the judicious use of both chemical and non-chemical treatments to prevent and control mosquitoes. This methodology minimizes potential environmental impacts and prevents pollution by reducing sole reliance on pesticides. Also, surveillance of mosquito populations helps determine the need for control and helps us to monitor the effectiveness of the program.”

PREVENTING MOSQUITO-BORNE ILLNESSES

Remove any containers with standing water from your Army Reserve facility or personal property. Standing water is the primary breeding habitat for mosquitoes.

Clean and refresh pet water dishes, watering troughs and birdbaths at least once each week.

Cover outdoor pools and spas when they are not used, and ensure that they are properly chlorinated.

Clear rain gutters and roofs of debris and standing water.

Install mosquito-repellant plants such as citronella, mint, marigold and catnip in your garden.

Stay inside when mosquitoes are active.

Close doors and windows. Use air conditioning to cool your facility.

When you are outside, use oscillating fans to deter mosquitoes.

Use a mosquito repellant that has been registered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Ingredients such as DEET and picaridin are considered to be safe and effective when used as directed.

Wear long sleeves and pants when feasible.

Monitor your health. If you notice any symptoms of Dengue Fever, Chikungunya virus or Zika virus, seek medical assistance.