The V.I. Department of Agriculture recently purchased 35 acres in northwestern St. Croix as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, according to the department.
This purchase of Plot No. 3 Hamm’s Bluff, just to the south of the government-owned Hamm’s Bluff property currently utilized by the National Guard, is the local agency’s third purchase in that area. (See related links below)
According to Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen, this brings the total of land purchased for Forest Legacy in northwestern St. Croix to nearly 112 acres.
“Our agency is committed to securing additional funds for future land purchases for the protection of historically important and environmentally sensitive areas, as well as toward the preservation of green spaces for the benefit of the entire territory," Petersen said in a statement.
"The Forest Legacy Program of the USDA Forest Service provides a unique avenue for us to purchase and set aside these important areas of critical concern to the territory," he said.
Petersen commended the whole department and singled out Marilyn Chakroff, the Forest Stewardship Program coordinator, "for her fortitude and commitment in overseeing this latest achievement of our agency." He also thanked The Nature Conservancy, the Trust for Virgin Islands Lands and the International Institute of Tropical Forestry.
According to the Agriculture Department, its Forestry Division has been working towards this goal since January 2001 when Agriculture first joined the program. The Forest Legacy Program is a federal program through which states and territories can request funds to help protect environmentally important forest areas that are threatened by conversion to nonforest uses.
Over the years, the department has applied for funds to purchase lands, for or conservation easements on lands, that were designated as priority areas for protection. The number one priority area in the U.S. Virgin Islands is northwestern St. Croix, according to Agriculture.
Agriculture first purchased a 6.5-acre parcel at Estate Spring Garden No. 6, which has strategic importance because Maroon Ridge runs right through it. The department hopes this parcel could become the cornerstone of a territorial park in northwestern St. Croix, to honor the runaway enslaved Africans in whose memory this area was named. Subsequent purchases have included land in Estates Annaly, Rosehill and Hamm’s Bluff.
“We sincerely hope that these acreages can contribute to economic development for the territory through proper use and management – we have much untapped potential in the areas of cultural and heritage tourism,” Petersen said.
One important aspect of the Forest Legacy Program is the requirement that funds awarded have a 25 percent local match. For all purchases to date, the match has been provided through a donation of land from The Nature Conservancy to the Trust for Virgin Islands Lands Inc., a local land trust organization.
Funds for the purchase of Forest Legacy property were awarded through the USDA – Forest Service – International Institute of Tropical Forestry, in San Juan, Puerto Rico.