After citizens denounced the alleged irregularities in the felling of trees on Cerro Gordo beach, in Vega Alta, government officials in charge of supervising the procedures – which are paid for with federal funds related to the recovery from Hurricane María – assured that they were met federal and state regulations.
However, neither the National Parks program, attached to the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA), nor the Department of Recreation and Sports (DRD), could specify to this newspaper the number of trees intervened, the territorial extension covered and how many they were eliminated as part of the recovery plan for the national parks around the Island.
“This information can be answered by the Department of Recreation and Sports,” said Gerardo Hernández, assistant secretary of the National Parks program, when approached yesterday by THE SPOKESMAN about the number of trees that had been felled on Cerro Gordo beach, attached to National Parks.
Shortly before, the assistant secretary had described the process to approve the felling of trees. As he explained, the private company that was hired by the DRD, has certified arborists who do the studies in the national parks and if they determine that there is a diseased bush or that it represents a danger of falling on a person, they mark it and enter it digital database.
“The DNER has access to that database at the moment. Every time the arborists from the private company upload the information on the trees to be felled, the Department of Natural Resources can observe it and make its evaluation, ”Hernández said.
So it is the Department of Natural Resources that finally approves whether to cut down the trees in the national parks? He asked. THE SPOKESMAN.
“No, it is a collegiate decision. It is a decision that is made between the seeding professionals of the private company and the seeding professionals of the Department of Natural Resources ”, answered the assistant secretary of National Parks.
On the other hand, the representative Rafael “Tatito” Hernández, denounced the poor execution of the DNER to supervise the private company in charge of cutting down trees. He also questioned the action taken by the company, when picking up the trees that had been cut down yesterday morning, as he explained, when a stir was raised on social networks.
“I got there (Cerro Gordo beach) and the community is outraged. Trees that were completely healthy were felled, there was no need. There was an agreement between the DRD and the DNER so that only those trees that were sick or that represented a danger to people would be cut down, ”said the representative.
He said that before felling the trees there had to be an arborist’s certification. “Here the DNER secretary has to face up and explain what happened, not from a desk, he has to get to Cerro Gordo and see what happened. It is a ministerial duty of the secretary ”, he indicated.
As stated, the interagency agreement between the DRD and DRNA seeks to streamline bureaucratic processes, which the representative supports, but criticized the execution of the plan.
In light of the legislator’s statements, the Assistant Secretary for National Parks indicated that “if Tatito Hernández is a certified arborist, let him come and prove it. Everything that has been done in the parks has been by certified planting professionals ”.
Regarding the suspicion raised by sectors of the community and cyclists who pass through the area before the arrival of trucks to collect the cut trees, the official insisted that nothing illegal had happened.
“Raising suspicions or accusations of possible acts of corruption is a lack of respect. This has been an orderly process, and the felled trees were diseased and could pose a danger to people. As the saying goes: “Palo si vogue and palo si no vogue,” he concluded.
Deforestation without data
On the other hand, the DRD confirmed that it is Natural Resources who finally certifies whether a tree is going to be cut down or not.
Regarding the private companies in charge of carrying out the work in the national parks, it was reported that there is one that verifies compliance with FEMA eligibility and two for the work of removal, selective pruning and cutting of damaged trees.
The DRD did not provide details on the number of trees intervened and felled, because they did not have the information collected, they indicated.
Environmental organizations have denounced the felling of trees in municipalities such as Camuy and Humacao, where recovery projects are also developed in national parks.
At the end of this edition, a reaction from the Secretary of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER), Rafael Machargo Maldonado, was not possible.