At just under 30,000 acres, El Yunque is our country’s smallest national forest and the United States’ only tropical rainforest in the national forest system. For Puertoricaños, El Yunque is a cultural jewel, largely as a result of its unique Taíno petroglyphs (rock engravings) made by their ancestors – the Taino people.
Puertoricaños were understandably upset when the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) proposed to slice the preserve in half to rebuild a long-closed portion of Highway PR 191 (“Highway 191”) back in 1992.
Citing a ten-year-old Environmental Assessment (EA) dating back to 1982, FHWA determined that an EIS was not essential for deciding whether to reopen the road and issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact” (FONSI) to continue with the construction project. In failing to complete a full environmental review, FHWA sought to willfully ignore the proposal’s potential impacts on the island’s endangered species as well as the increased likelihood of rock slides.
When a court found that FHWA had circumvented the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process, the judge promptly ordered that a full environmental impact assessment should be carried out before any construction began. FHWA subsequently decided to drop the project rather than undertake the study and disclose the project’s full impacts on El Yunque rainforest.
Today, the rainforest remains intact and the drive around it to the new Forest Service recreation area on its far side takes a mere 25 minutes on existing roads.