Ochoco NF employee assists Puerto Rico forest with hurricane recovery
PRINEVILLE, Ore. – July 9, 2018 – An Ochoco National Forest employee recently returned from a five-month assignment to El Yunque National Forest, helping to rebuild the forest’s recreation infrastructure following 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
Heidi Scott, lands & recreation special use administrator for Ochoco National Forest, served as the El Yunque’s first recreation planner, helping to develop a forest recreation and interpretation plan and strengthen connections to surrounding communities.
Hurricane Maria, which formed in September last year, is regarded as the worst natural disaster to affect Puerto Rico on record. The Category 4 hurricane toppled trees, bridges and structures across the National Forest, and left several million Puerto Ricans without power, water or cell service.
When Scott first arrived on the island in January, there were approximately 500 contractors and an incident management team working to clear debris from roads and trails just to allow workers back into the National Forest, Scott said.
Most workers were housed in a hotel on the beach with a generator for electricity and no running water. The local power grid did not come back up until May.
During her detail, Scott helped to reestablish recreation infrastructure, lay plans for new recreation opportunities, and assisted the Forest in finalizing a new Forest Plan.
Fore example, she helped to reestablish visitor services when the hurricane rendered the existing visitor’s center, El Portal Rainforest Center, uninhabitable. The building will be under construction for the next couple years, so Scott helped the Forest revitalize an old ranger station into a new visitor’s center, and installed a series of kiosks, called “portalitos,” in surrounding communities to bring the visitor information to the community.
One of the best parts of the detail was experiencing a National Forest so different from the other forests in North America, she said. Keeping an eye out for the West Indian Mongoose in the field was a standard precaution (because they can carry rabies) and it was not uncommon to encounter the Puerto Rican Boa in the forest.
While re-construction efforts on the forest will take years to complete, Scott said she hopes to return in a few years to see the results.
Source information: Patrick Lair is the Public Affairs Officer for the Ochoco National Forest and Crooked River National Grasslands in central Oregon.