The history of El Verde Field Station a rich both culturally and scientific. Some of the station facilities date to the 1930 and are considered of historic value. Scientific research is similarly rich and initial studies date to the 1940s.
When Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898, approximately 5000 hectares of the Luquillo Mountains were under the protection of the Spanish Crown. The Caribbean National Forest was established in 1903 and has been managed by the USDA Forest Service since 1917. A series of land acquisitions in the 1930s and 40s more than doubled the size of the Caribbean National Forest to 11,350 hectares. The first of these purchases was the El Verde tract (Track 11) in 1934.
Intensive ecological research was initiated by the USDA Forest Service in the 1940s, with the establishment of a series of research plots in four vegetation zones at different elevations and aspect positions in the mountains. These plots provide a valuable database to gauge the response of these ecosystems to more recent hurricanes, such as Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Georges in 1998. Research at the El Verde was oriented toward a multi disciplinary investigation of ecosystem processes during the 5-year Rain Forest Project, sponsored by the Atomic Energy Commission. As one of the earliest examples of large-scale ecological studies, this project described the vertical and horizontal structure of Tabonuco forest, focusing on processes such as nutrient cycling, energy flow, and responses to gamma irradiation exposure. Following the termination of the Rain Forest Project, the Terrestrial Ecology Division of the Center for Energy and Environment Research continued research in the areas of nutrient cycling and energy flow. Later, the Rain Forest Cycling and Transport Project (1980-1987), funded by the Department of Energy and UPR, studied the structure and function of terrestrial and aquatic food webs and their roles in ecosystem processes; nutrient import, export, and immobilization; and the structure and activity of fungal decomposers.
Research at El Verde has continued with funding from the National Science Foundation and University of Puerto Rico. In 1988, El Verde Field Station became one of main focal research locations for the Luquillo Long-Term Ecological Research Program (LTER). The emphasis of the LTER program is on disturbance regimes in Tabonuco forest and the role of biota in the recovery of tropical forest ecosystems after disturbance, with an initial emphasis on the effects of Hurricane Hugo.
The general area of El Verde was apparently occupied by subsistence farmers and exploited for charcoal and timber. Specifically, former residents have told us that there were two, and probably three periods of historic activity at the El Verde Field Station property.
Logging occurred in the El Verde area as early as the 1800’s, but the first activity at the site of El Verde occurred somewhat later. According to the oral history (Alejo Estrada Pinto, personal communication) the first known activity at this locale occurred early this century, or possibly beginning as early as the late 1800’s, when the site was used as a staging area during coffee harvest. It stands to reason that if the area was planted in coffee, it had been partially cleared prior to this time for planting of the coffee bushes. Therefore, we assume the area was logged to some degree prior to the coffee harvesting period. Frank Wadsworth (personal communication Oct. 23, 2001) described a sawmill owned by Arthur Harvey located near the Forest boundary; presumably this is the same one he describes in his dissertation (1950:112) as:
“established in the Espiritu Santos Valley in 1923. It operated only eight months, cutting timber extracted by oxen and tractor from Tract 11. The species cut included ausubo, tabonuco, laurel sabino, masa, nuez moscada, and granadillo.”
The Caribbean Forest [Land Status] Atlas shows that this 1,040-acre property (Tract 11) was appraised in 1934; and apparently acquired circa 1935. Different entries in the Atlas show it as belonging to George T. Livingstone and the Keystone Plywood Corp. of Baltimore, Maryland, apparently Livingstone purchased it from Keystone. A review of the property deed documents on file at CNF reveals that as early as 1853 there were transactions involving at least part of the tract. During the late 1800’s and early 1900’s smaller properties were purchased by different owners and added to the main property. Around 1924, at least part of the tract was sold by the Harvey brothers, Arthur and Luke, to Bliss Plywood Corporation. Frank Wadsworth (personal communication Oct. 23, 2001) explained that Arthur Harvey planted a hybrid mahogany from St. Croix in the area near the present Job Corps Center. This plot was planted in 1931, before the Forest Service began planting in the area, and it is known as the “Harvey Plot”, suggesting that the Harvey’s may have not sold all their holdings at the same time. The deed documents show that the large property that was eventually sold to the Forest Service as Tract 11, when appraised, had coffee, plantains and pasture. At that time somewhere on the property there was a two-story wooden house and a smaller thatch-roofed building with coffee processing equipment, both in poor repair. This suggests that coffee growing on this property was in decline, probably a result of a series of severe hurricanes and a fall in the price of coffee that affected coffee plantations island-wide at about this time. From the 1934 appraisal map it appears these structures were north of Sonadora Creek, and therefore at least several hundred meters from the present project area.
The first period for which we have concrete physical evidence is about 1937, when several of the existing buildings were constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps to serve as “Experiment Station Office and Residence, El Verde.” A set of original blue-line architectural plans dated June 5, 1937 for this facility is on file at the Caribbean National Forest. We do not know exactly when construction of this building began, but presumably shortly thereafter, and probably was completed in 1938. A 1940 Caribbean National Forest map shows “El Verde Exp. Sta.” confirming it was functioning in this capacity at least by then.