Miami Woman Honored for Saving Puerto Rican Coastal Wetland

MIAMI, Florida, May 7, 2008 (ENS) – Mildred Ramos Majoros of Miami has been named the winner of the 2008 National Wetlands Award for Conservation and Restoration. The award honors her multi-year effort as a project manager with the Trust for Public Land to preserve 270 acres of critical coastal habitat in Puerto Rico that was slated to become a large-scale resort.

Plans were in the works to build 1,025 residential units, a 250-room resort/casino, a 175-unit hotel/casino, and two golf courses. But there were lawsuits and widespread concern about the resort’s proposed use of limited water resources, destruction of wetlands and possible harm to endangered species’ habitats.

An endangered leatherback sea turtle
hatchling makes human contact at
the San Miguel Natural Reserve.
(Photo courtesy U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service)

As a result of Majoros’ efforts, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico permanently protected the wetland complex in 2007 by designating it as the San Miguel Natural Reserve.

The new San Miguel Natural Reserve on the north coast of Puerto Rico, in the area known as the Northeastern Ecological Corridor, includes 212 acres of intertidal and emergent wetlands that benefit 14 federally listed threatened and endangered species.

After years of controversy, The Trust for Public Land purchased the property from Juaza, Inc. in August 2007 for $12.5 million and conveyed the property to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico for its permanent protection as a natural reserve.

Funding for the Commonwealth’s purchase came from a variety of sources, Majoros said, including $8 million from the Berman Oil Spill settlement funds from the Oil Pollution Act Natural Resource Damage Assessment Program and $1.5 million from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Cooperative Endangered Species Conservation Fund Recovery Land Acquisition Program.

The project is also eligible to receive $3 million from the Coastal Estuarine Land Conservation Program, which is currently being considered for funding by Congress.

“We were very pleased to work with the Commonwealth to identify and secure permanent funding for this spectacular coastal property, so that it will be protected as part of Puerto Rico’s extraordinary system of natural reserves,” said Majoros.

She is currently negotiating with the landowners to protect an additional 140 acres in the region.

“Mildred encountered myriad and complex issues related to title and survey problems,” says Greg Chelis, director of Florida and the Caribbean for the Trust for Public Land. “Mildred handled these matters with the same confidence, determination and problem-solving abilities she exhibited in her negotiations with landowners and their attorneys.”

The site, 25 miles east of the capital San Juan, is the most important nesting beach for the endangered leatherback sea turtle in Puerto Rico, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and provides nesting habitat for other sea turtle species as well.

It includes more than a mile of beachfront, near-shore coral reefs, one of the region’s last unspoiled dune systems, and the remnants of a 19th century hacienda that was used for sugar cane production.

“Mildred’s dedication and commitment seeing the San Miguel acquisition through to a successful conclusion are nothing short of heroic,” says John Iliff, Southeast regional supervisor for NOAA’s Restoration Center.

“Her quiet but determined work demonstrated that it is indeed possible to conserve land in the face of incredibly powerful economic and development pressures without legal intervention,” he said.

The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit land conservation organization. Since its founding in 1972, TPL has helped protect more than two million acres of land in 46 states. In Florida, The Trust for Public Land has protected more than 300 sites – over 200,000 acres at a market value of about $500 million.

Majoros will be honored along with five other National Wetlands Award winners at a ceremony in the Cannon House Office Building Caucus Room in Washington, DC on May 13.

Caroline Dean, 89, of Opelika, Alabama won the award for education and outreach about native plants and wildflowers in the Southeast. She has contributed an extensive collection of photographs and descriptions to the Auburn University botanical archives and led rescue efforts to save plants from impending development.

Raymond Semlitsch of Columbia, Missouri won the award for scientific research. Dr. Semlitsch is a professor in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia. He has led the conservation of small isolated wetlands by documenting their importance to the survival of amphibians and reptiles.

Valer and Josiah Austin of Pearce, Arizona have won the award for landowner stewardship. They specialize in maintainance of open spaces and restoration of watersheds to promote the biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert region in southeastern Arizona. In cooperation with numerous U.S. and Mexican organizations, the Austins are working on cross-border watershed management and a biological corridor initiative that will contribute to the restoration of wetland habitat.

John Dorney of Raleigh, North Carolina won the award for state, tribal and local program development. An employee of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, has been the visionary and driving force behind the development of North Carolina’s wetland and stream protection programs since 1990. He has taken the state from a one-person operation to one of the finest wetland protection programs in the country.

Diane Nygaard of Oceanside, California has won the award for wetland community leadership. Nygaard founded the non-profit Preserve Calavera, which, under her leadership, has become the largest conservation group in north San Diego County. It helped to purchase and restore the 134 acre Sherman property in Carlsbad, California.

EPA’s Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles said, “These wetland champions are restoring and protecting one of America’s greatest natural assets through education, conservation, and dedication.”

Since 1989, the National Wetlands Awards program has honored exceptional individuals who have demonstrated extraordinary effort, innovation and excellence in wetlands conservation, research, or education at the regional, state, or local level.

The program is administered by the Environmental Law Institute, an independent, non-profit research and educational organization based in Washington, DC.

The National Wetlands Award is supported by a bevy of federal agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Forest Service, and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.

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