St. Thomas — Governor Albert Bryan announced on Sunday that former Senator Positive Nelson as his nominee for commissioner of the Department of Agriculture.
“I am excited to announce former Senator Positive Nelson as Commissioner Nominee to the Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture. Former Senator Nelson, as a lifelong educator and longtime advocate for farmers, will bring a new approach to the Department,” Bryan said.
Nelson, a longtime educator, and former senator who served seven terms for the district of St. Croix is the sponsor of the Agriculture in the Classroom Act and was instrumental in the passage of the Sustainable Agriculture Act. He is also the prime sponsor of the Virgin Islands Medicinal Cannabis Patient Care Act, which Governor Bryan signed into law Jan 19.
“I will endeavor to build the Virgin Islands agriculture industry to a point where we recognize food production as a matter of national security, good health, and economic opportunity. I have a vision of an Agricultural Depot which will create a ready market, processing, storage, and wholesale/retail outlets. This, I believe, will incentivize growth, consistency, and availability of local produce, meats, and value-added products,” Commissioner Nominee Nelson said.
As commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, former Senator Nelson will focus his key initiatives around developing the Virgin Islands’ agricultural industry and creating a ready market for local foods and value-added products.
Nelson also mentioned that he would focus on the restoration of indigenous plants and forestry in the territory. Deforestation has changed the habitats for many native plants and animals, reaching as far as coral reefs in the territory already affected by climate change according to studies conducted by the University of the Virgin Islands and other organizations.
Many bird species also rely on lush forests to survive and raise their young in the territory. Reintroducing indigenous flora and fauna in the territory could be a major boost for tourism as well.
Forest restoration on St. Croix and St. Thomas could reintroduce threatened bird species, like the Puerto Rican screech owl that once called St. Croix its home.
The Puerto Rican woodpecker is also a common, and widely distributed species in Puerto Rico, mainly occurring in forests, coffee plantations, mangroves, palm tree groves, parks and gardens.
Besides Puerto Rico, it once inhabited the island of St. Croix. Loss of forest could be particularly devastating for woodpeckers, since they rely on specific trees for food, specifically the yellow-bellied sapsucker, who is native to the region and relies on a mixture of tree sap, insects and berries to survive.
Invasive species in the Virgin Islands include cane toads, pigeons and include rats and mongoose who compete with native birds for food and sometimes raid their nests for unprotected eggs or newborn chicks.
It’s not a well known fact in the territory that the pigeon species roaming around downtown Charlotte Amalie are actually not native to the Virgin Islands and are an invasive species. The deer population on each island also threatens the health of forests, as these mammals are not native and wreak havoc on plant species that are eaten faster than they can grow.
In the summer of 2016, representatives from the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the United States Virgin Islands met in Hawaii to develop and share strategies to manage invasive species.
Hunting is allowed for mountain doves, and white-tailed deer with bag limits in season, dictated by DPNR. The season for dove and duck hunting is set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and is September and December. No hunting is permitted within the boundaries of the National Parks or in the Virgin Islands Wildlife Refuges.
“I commit to bringing the VI Department of Agriculture up to the twenty-first century. A fresh source of food is equivalent to healthy living. I am, again, humbled but excited at being able to participate in this dawning of a new day,” Nelson added.
As Commissioner, Nelson intends to also focus on employee morale, food production, water restoration, market distribution and educating the next generation of farmers, as some of his immediate priorities.
Editor’s note: I’m happy to share that while exploring last summer with a friend in St. Thomas, we heard a single woodpecker, pecking wood above the wooded area near the Humane Society. We still have a few birds hanging in there.