They rescue an important natural lung near the urban center of Ponce

Ponce – A community struggle that spanned more than a decade recently concluded with a resounding victory for environmental protection, resulting in the first acquisition of an urban forest by the conservation organization For Nature (PLN) and the rescue of an important lung close to the urban center of this municipality.

“More than 10 years ago this process of reclaiming this space began so that it could be conserved as a forest and not build a Walgreens, which was what had been planned for here,” he said. Sandra Molina Colonprofessor of Ecology and one of the spokespersons for the Tree Friends Committee (Coamar), a group that led the battle for the natural space, today known as the El Samán forest.

El Samán is a piece of land of approximately two acres, steps from a factory of the manufacturing giant Medtronic, in the Sabanetas neighborhood. Due to its relative small extension, the forest can easily go unnoticed by those who take the exit from the Luis A. Ferré highway (PR-52) towards the PR-1 highway, in the direction of the urban area of ​​La Perla del Sur.

The ecological importance of El Samán, however, transcends its dimensions, a factor that, from the beginning, those who came out in its defense were very clear. before the attempt to develop a pharmacy on the premises.

Para la Naturaleza has coordinated cleaning activities in the forest. (Supplied)

“It is the main entrance to Ponce, where all vehicles pass through. The benefits of urban forests are so many that you might get tired of me telling you about them. Trees are what provide oxygen to the air, regulate the amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide) and that, in turn, reduces the effects of global warming. In an urban area, that is very important. (Also) noise is reduced; “If we didn’t have these trees, we would have even more noise,” stated Molina Colón, highlighting that, in an exercise with her students from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Ricomeasured a decrease of two degrees Fahrenheit inside the forest.

Reforestation and struggle effort

Over time, one of the trees became the “symbol” of the fight against construction, an effort that, on more than one occasion, required environmental defenders to occupy the forest to prevent or stop the logging of the flora.

“When they saw the machines, the boys quickly called. (The developers) entered that way, and they came directly to Samán. The idea was that ‘you knock down the Saman, and remove the symbol’. They arrived as far as Samán, but by then the boys had entered, (as well as) the people who live closer. “They got in the middle of the machines, and managed to mutilate the Samán, but they couldn’t knock it down,” he said. Carmen Ascencio Lopezalso from Coamar, in allusion to the tree that today gives its name to the forest.

At the moment, The El Samán forest has an inventory of 275 individuals of trees larger than five centimeters in diameter belonging to some 37 species..

Carol González Jorge, Sandra Molina Colón and Carmen Ascencio López, from the Friends of the Trees Committee, along with Mariana Rivera Figueroa, from Para la Naturaleza.
Carol González Jorge, Sandra Molina Colón and Carmen Ascencio López, from the Friends of the Trees Committee, along with Mariana Rivera Figueroa, from Para la Naturaleza. (Supplied)

“What dominates is the yellow acacia, (a species) naturalized. There is also the American guamá, the anacagüita and the ceiba, which was planted,” said Molina Colón.

“Coamar made an effort to reforestation parallel with the fight. Many were native species, we have acerola, maga, guayacán, ceiba, guava,” he said, for his part, Mariana Rivera FigueroaPLN volunteer leader for the southern region.

Management plan on the way

Rivera Figueroa specified that The acquisition of the land was completed on July 18through a donation from Walgreens to Puerto Rico Conservation Trust, to which PLN is attached. The transaction came about after extensive court proceedings that ultimately ruled that the company did not have the right to develop its branch in the forest.

“That’s how we entered, after all this community struggle. In reality, the fight had already been won because, basically, it could not be built, and we entered as recipients of the space to protect, improve and conserve in perpetuity”Rivera Figueroa summarized.

Graduate Martin Gonzalez Vazquezwho advised Coamar throughout the environmental defense effort and brought the case that resulted in the revocation of the construction permits, recalled that The group has taken other fights to prevent the felling of trees, including on Las Américas Avenue, Los Cafeteros Avenue, Plaza del Caribe and Los Caobos Avenue.

In the case of the El Samán forest, its entry into the judicial process was registered on September 28, 2011, the lawyer said, when the annulment of the logging permits was initially requested. Among the elements that raised the flag at that stage was the diameter of the trees that Walgreens had reported in the documentation aimed at obtaining permits, which disagreed with Coamar’s own observations.

The acquisition of the land was completed on July 18, through a donation from Walgreens to the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust.
The acquisition of the land was completed on July 18, through a donation from Walgreens to the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust. (Supplied)

“There was a long fight and, finally, the municipality “It says ‘no’, that the permit is canceled because you lied to us, gave false information and, furthermore, that place has a higher ecological value than any commercial development.”González Vázquez emphasized.

Currently, PLN is preparing the management plan that will guide the ecological development of the forest, a document that will have the input of community residents and merchants.

“The document establishes the values ​​of the area, many of which Coamar has already studied, including students who have worked on the topic of the forest for their research, and then, we are also going to look at the threats. “Threats, in terms of conservation, are everything that can, in some way, affect the conservation process, such as garbage, intentional fire and other factors”indicated Rivera Figueroa.

“From there, the objectives arise; What do we want to do with the space? There are spaces that are simply left alone and natural succession is allowed, (while) there are other spaces that are sought to be improved or reforested, or to establish recreation spaces for people,” added the PLN official.