Big Support for Wildlands & Wildlife in Puerto Rico
On February 5th the Sierra Club of Puerto Rico and coalition partners turned out 533 people to the state government's public hearings on the proposed fragmentation of the island's Northeast Ecological Corridor (NEC).
The 3,200-acre NEC was designated as a nature reserve in 2008, only to have that protection removed by the succeeding governor the following year in order to allow for large-scale development in the area, including nearly 5,000 residential and tourist units and four golf courses.
The Corridor, a top priority for the Puerto Rico Sierra Club, is one of the most important nesting grounds for the critically endangered leatherback sea turtle, and more than 50 rare, threatened, endangered, and native species are found in the NEC.
"The day of the hearing was amazing," says Puerto Rico Sierra Club coordinator Camilla Feibelman, below. "We had a bus come from San Juan with 50 people, and when they arrived we held a demonstration at the base of the building. We marched up seven flights of stairs chanting, then walked into the hearing room silently with our placards raised."
The room was so packed there weren't enough chairs, so volunteers rushed to rent 100 extras. "The government's panel started to present their plan, but at a certain point people's emotions overflowed and the crowd started to chant and clap," Feibelman says. "Meanwhile the leader of the government panel played the perfect villain, asking people to stop repeating themselves."
The forest supervisor for the El Yunque National Forest...
Children who had participated in the Club's Building Bridges to the Outdoors program...
...and a host of others, including local elected officials; a retired turtle biologist for the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources who was able to speak out for the first time; representatives from UPR's architecture school who have done a eco-hotel plan; a renowned urban planner; the local chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council; representatives from the business and professional association of Fajardo; and newly-elected Puerto Rico chapter chair, Orlando Negron.
The Chapter used a battery of methods to recruit people to the hearing. "Over the years we've collected 25,000 names into our database," Feibelman says. "Leading up to the hearing we held six phone banks to contact as many people as possible in the towns of Luquillo and Fajardo, as well as people who had seen a Sierra Club presentation about leatherback sea turtles and the NEC or had gone on excursions there."
Then just prior to the hearing, people who had indicated they would attend received a second call. "We also invited all the artisans and business people and schools that participate in our annual Leatherback Turtle Festival," Feibelman says, "and we did a series of events leading up to the hearing, including a community breakfast on the street and excursions to the NEC."
The chapter also orchestrated a phone-calling campaign to local talk radio shows, purchased radio spots, put up flyers and posters in neighborhoods, and paid for a week of announcements on a 'tumbacoco'-a car with speakers on top-to announce the event. ("Tumbacoco" translates as "so loud it knocks the coconuts off the tree.")
The hearing generated extensive coverage in the Puerto Rican media, including articles about how many children had testified in support of protecting the Corridor.