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New trustees appointed to Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi and U.S. Deputy Secretary of the Interior Tommy Beaudreau joined local leaders and community members to announce the appointment of three members to the board of trustees of the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico. The trust is a nonprofit organization established in 1968 through a partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the government of Puerto Rico. 

The three board members, jointly appointed by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Pierluisi, will serve a three-year term and help carry out the trust’s mission “on behalf of the people of Puerto Rico.”

Ana María García Blanco and Roberto Serrallés will join as new members to the board, while Blas Fonalledas has been reappointed for a second term. Beaudreau also announced the appointment of Interior’s assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Shannon Estenoz, as the department’s liaison to the trust’s advisory council.

“For more than 50 years, the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico has preserved Puerto Rico’s rich and diverse ecosystems, biodiversity and natural resources,” Beaudreau said. “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.”

Pierluisi told reporters that the goal is to conserve 33% of lands in Puerto Rico by 2030.

“Right now, about 18% [of lands] are being conserved but there are other measures that we can start taking along the way, including legislative bills to increase that percentage,” the governor added. “The goal is that, by 2030, we reach that percentage. At a global level, the goal is to protect 30% of the lands but we want to be more ambitious here, and that is why the Trust proposes it be 33%.”

The announcement of the trust’s new members comes amid a two-day visit to the island where Beaudreau highlighted the U.S. president’s “Bidenomics” strategy and the Biden-Harris administration’s “all-of-government” approach to “Puerto Rico’s recovery and renewal,” investments from Biden’s Investing in America agenda and the Interior Department’s work to strengthen the Endangered Species Act.

Beaudreau and Estenoz held a roundtable in Río Piedras with community leaders and federal partners on Thursday. The group discussed the climate crisis’ impact on the people of Puerto Rico, intergovernmental partnerships to protect and conserve Puerto Rico’s landscapes, and the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to support “a strong foundation for sustained growth,” the department’s announcement reads.

On Wednesday, Beaudreau visited the Cabezas de San Juan Nature Preserve in Fajardo, home to 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 efforts, 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. Through a “robust interagency effort,” the iconic Puerto Rican tree 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 (ESA) – the tree was downlisted and reclassified from endangered to threatened.

The Interior Department has been celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ESA this year, emphasizing its importance in preventing imperiled species’ extinction, promoting the recovery of wildlife and conserving the habitats upon which they depend. 

The ESA has been highly effective and credited with saving 99% of listed species from extinction. So far, more than 100 species of plants and animals have been delisted based on recovery or downlisted from endangered to threatened, based on improved conservation status. Hundreds more species are stable or improving due to the collaborative actions of Tribes, federal agencies, state and local governments, conservation organizations and individuals.  

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