Puerto Rico LCD Pilot Area Selection Process

Methods and Results



Table 1. List of landscape level criteria for pilot area selection in Puerto Rico.

In Puerto Rico we are taking a two-step approach to achieve landscape conservation utilizing landscape conservation design (LCD) as a tool. For the first step we are completing a region- wide prioritization at the HUC-10 watershed scale to identify focal areas.  We identified fifteen relatively high level criteria that reflect partner shared objectives (Table 1).  Selection criteria included seven best professional judgement qualitative factors: potential for collaborative conservation, need and ability to address ecosystem integrity, need and ability to conserve cultural and historical resources, the need and ability to address issues of human well-being, the presence of significant marine resources, potential for climate SMART adaptation and resilience work, and the importance or potential for recreation and tourism and eight quantitative factors based on available data: existing and overlapping partner priority conservation areas, the proportion of Para La Naturaleza’s (Puerto Rico Conservation Trust) highest priority lands within the watershed (for Puerto Rico only), proportion of watershed with protected area status, need for dune restoration, potential for wetland restoration, water consumption , river dam removal priorities, and the number of existing co-management agreements within each watershed as an indicator of potential community engagement.  All qualitative criteria were evaluated by participants along a scale of 0 (no basis for decision), 1 low priority to 3 high priority.  Details of the stakeholder exercise are provided in appendix 1appendix 1a and appendix 1b.  We averaged the values of all participant responses.  Subsequently we also discussed the variance in responses (high variances showed lack of agreement among stakeholder scores, while low variance showed higher agreement).  Quantitative criteria were measured on scales commensurate with suitable and available data (Table 1).  Because of the differences in measurement scales, all data were normalized to a scale of 0 – 1 (equation 1).


Equation 1.   Si,N = (Si – Smin) / (Smax – Smin)

where S = score, N = normalized, i = individual watershed score, min = minimum of the data range, and max = maximum of the data range


Si,N represents the normalized score or value for each criteria in each individual watershed, collectively resulting in a watershed x criteria grid. The grid of fifteen normalized watershed-specific criteria were used in a weighted decision-model to provide a continuous ranking of watersheds across the geographies (equation 2).  Criteria weights (Wc) were derived through stakeholder ranking (Appendix 1b stakeholder exercise) and the average value among all stakeholders was used.  In brief, participants were asked to rank each criteria individually on a scale from 1, low importance to 10, high importance in terms of importance of each criteria to select a pilot watershed.


Equation 2. Ti = ∑ (Si,N *Wc)

where Ti = total score for each watershed, Si,N = normalized individual watershed score, and Wc = average stakeholder weight for each criteria


The exercises to parameterize the qualitative criteria and determine weights were distributed to fifteen non-Steering Committee member stakeholders (and two Steering Committee members who assisted on early stages of exercise development) in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the exercises.


We received seven responses (Appendix 2) and subsequently made minor modifications to the exercise then sent it to all Steering Committee members.  In addition to seven “trial’ responses, we also received three additional Steering Committee responses (four Steering Committee contributions and ten total responses).  Maps showing the mean normalized scores for each criteria are presented in Appendix 3. The initial model results are depicted in Figure 4.  Dark blue illustrates the top third, or highest priority, watersheds based on the complete set of criteria.  This map and the underlying criteria X watershed matrix (Table 2) were used to facilitate Steering Committee discussion during the September 29, 2016 face to face meeting.   Attendance at the meeting included participants from nine of the thirteen active organizations (Table 3).


Based purely on the data collected by the participant exercises (n = 10) the San Juan Bay Estuary watershed, Rio Herrera to Las Cabezas de San Juan watersheds, Caño Tiburones coastal watershed, Quebrada Boqueron to Rio Loco watersheds, and the Rio Grande de Arecibo were the top five watersheds based on all fifteen criteria as weighted by participants (Table 1 and Table 2).  The decision model proved useful to stimulate conversation among decision-makers (i.e. the Steering Committee) as to what criteria were most important to them.  Ultimately, the criteria represented the group’s collective conservation values.


The San Juan Bay Estuary watershed was the top ranked watershed prior to discussion based on all fifteen criteria, but was quickly eliminated from consideration due existing leadership as well as existing comprehensive multiple objectives conservation plans.  Decision-makers saw limited space for additional contributions, although they remain committed to work with the San Juan Bay Estuary Program and related partnerships as prescribed by existing plans.  The importance of building off existing partnerships was discussed extensively leading to this meeting, and culminated in two of the fifteen selection criteria, however, discussion shifted during the meeting to ask, how do we engage in an area where there is already clear leadership and existing efforts (e.g. efforts in Guanica, Rio Loco, San Juan Bay, and the NE Corridor), “without reinventing the wheel”?  This lead to a “how to” discussion with the conclusion that, collaborative landscape scale conservation toward multiple shared objectives is pioneering work and we’ll need to figure out how we implement best practices in rural and urban settings and how we develop actions from scratch and/or how to integrate with on-going efforts.


From this foundational realization the discussion turned to values and which watershed(s) allow(s) us to best capture those values.  Water, as a human use as well as ecological resource quickly rose to prominence.  Relatedly, aquatic connectivity received a lot of attention during conversation and seemed to unite ecological and human well-being themes.  The group also called out the importance of including cultural resources, although means of doing so are still elusive.  Additional values and logistical considerations that were pointedly discussed included the importance of working toward conserving biodiversity and working with a diversity of land-owners (public, NGO, and private interests) (detailed meeting notes available upon request).  Ultimately, the Steering Committee selected two distinct pilot areas, each with a different focus.  Each has the clear goal to improve the conservation landscape in Puerto Rico, but additionally, these areas were also selected to explore the means by which we can effectively co-produce collaborative conservation into the future.


The Rio Grande de Arecibo watershed was selected as the primary pilot area where the Cooperative will develop and implement LCD.  The Rio Grande de Arecibo was selected largely due to its importance for providing water for human (and ecological) uses.  In addition to the groundwater and surface water reservoir resources, the Rio Grande de Arecibo watershed is relatively highly forested with some agriculture in the uplands (e.g. Bosque Modelo project and opportunity to coordinate), is within the expansion area identified critical for recovery of the Endangered Puerto Rican Parrot, and aquatic connectivity was also discussed as a top priority in this region.  Finally, although most partners have interests in the region there are relatively few existing plans (aside from Bosque Modelo), such that the CLCC is empowered to explore the full capacity of the partnership to develop and implement long-term conservation strategies (LCD).


The Steering Committee also adopted a secondary pilot area, the Rio Herrera to Las Cabezas de San Juan watersheds, essentially the larger Northeast Corridor region, where several partners, including NOAA, DRNA, Para La Naturaleza, and US Forest Service have significant endeavors underway, such as a regional trails initiative. However, partners felt there is need for additional resources to fulfill the needs identified in existing plans and that there will be gaps that the Cooperative can address.  The intent of selecting this region is to explore the ways in which the Cooperative can interact and support on-going partner lead initiatives.  As opposed to leading conservation efforts as in the Rio Grande de Arecibo, in the NE Corridor the idea will be to play a supplemental role trying to bring new resources in support of existing efforts and/or identify gaps in existing efforts, especially relative to the priorities and objectives of the Cooperative which may or may not be being addressed by existing efforts.  The NE Corridor region also differs tremendously from the Rio Grande de Arecibo in that it is more coastal focused and more densely populated.

Summary and next steps

The CLCC used an informal structured decision-making process to identify criteria that included both conservation values and practical logistics, to ultimately select two watersheds in Puerto Rico to kick-off our landscape conservation design and implementation efforts.  Water as a human use and ecological resource rose to top of conservation priorities and logistically the Steering Committee saw great value in learning from a “from scratch” and “fill gaps” approaches.  We are concurrently working on the completion of a comprehensive objectives hierarchy.  The fundamental objectives identified by our steering committee address Ecosystem Integrity, Cultural and Historical Resources, and Human Well-being.  Once the Steering Committee approves the suite of objectives, we will then identify and engage local stakeholders and communities from both pilot areas in refining the objectives hierarchy for each specific geography.  Indicators of local importance will be identified through stakeholder engagement exercises that represent the suite of objectives.  Baseline conditions and future targets will be established within and specifically for the pilot watersheds based on the indicators.  While limited in geographic scope, this scale will facilitate development of specific policy and on-the-ground conservation actions.

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