El Yunque National Forest

The El Yunque National Forest, previously known as the Luquillo National Forest and the Caribbean National Forest, is a forest that is located in northeastern Puerto Rico. It’s the only tropical rain forest in the United States National Forest System. The forest is commonly referred to as El Yunque, which might be attributed to either a Spanish approximation of the aboriginal Taino word yu-ke which means “white lands”, or the word “anvil” which is yunque in Spanish. The second tallest mountain in El Yunque is named El Yunque also. The El Yunque National Rainforest is located on the slopes of the Sierra de Luquillo Mountains and it surrounds 28,000 acres of land, making it the largest block of public land in Puerto Rico. El Toro, the highest mountain peak within the forest rises 1,065 meters above sea level. Ample rainfall creates a jungle like setting with lush foliage, crags, waterfalls, and rivers. The forest has numerous trails from which the jungle-like territory’s flora and fauna can be appreciated. It is also renowned for its special Taion petroglyphs.

The forest region was initially set aside in 1876 by the King Alfonso XII of Spain, and represents one of the oldest reserves within the Western Hemisphere. It was established as the Luquillo Forest Reserve on January 17th of 1903 by the General Land Office with 65,950 acres, and became a National Forest in 1906. It was renamed the Caribbean National Forest on June 4th of 1935. It’s home to over 200 species of plants and trees, 23 of which cannot be found anywhere else. The critically endangered Puerto Rican Amazon, with an estimated wild population of 30 individuals, occurred exclusively in this forest until November 19th of 2006, when another wild population was released by the Department of Natural Resources in the municipality of Utuado’s Rio Abajo State Forest.

An Executive Order signed by President George W. Bush on April 2nd of 2007 changed the name of the Caribbean National Forest to El Yunque National Forest, better reflecting the historical and cultural feelings of the Puerto Rican people.

Due to Puerto Rico being south of the Tropic of Cancer, it has a tropical climate. There is not distinct dry or wet season; it rains all year round. The temperature and the length of daylight remain fairly constant throughout the year. All of these factors offer a year-round growing season.

The ecosystem is specifically surveyed by the Management Team of Ecosystems which is led by Pedro Rios. Because of its location in the northeastern portion of Puerto Rico, the incoming trade winds from the Atlantic Ocean bash into the mountains, leading to an excess of rainfall registered at about 240 inches each year. This process is called orographic lift and it accounts for the intense rainfall and constant cloud presence in the mountainous region. This constant cloud cover and the persistent winds that are produced by the adiabatic process of air particles rushing up through the mountainside has affected the morphology of the forest, but the main effect has been on the bosque enano or dwarf forest.

The El Portal Rain Forest Center, opened in 1996, is designed to offer visitors an introduction to the rain forest. A walkway set at 60 feet above the ground allows for a view of the tops of the trees, and another walkway winds along the bases of the trees. Exhibits at the center focus mainly on the plants and animals of the rain forest, the significance of rain forest around the world, and the threats to rain forests and efforts to conserve them.

There is a common misconception that El Yunque National Forest is the only rain forest in the United States National Forest System. However, this isn’t the case. There are other rainforests in the National Forest System, including the ones in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest as stated in the US Forest Service website. The park also features a various observation towers including Yokahu Tower.

This national forest was chosen to be Puerto Rico’s entry in the America the Beautiful Quarters program.

Image Caption: Photo of El Yunque from the east, Puerto Rico, taken January 2004. Credit: Stan Shebs/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)