In response to the mining concessions granted by the government in 1980, Massol-González organized Casa Pueblo to educate the communities and mobilize them in a fight to stop the destruction of Puerto Rico’s central mountains. These mountains are home to the rivers that supply water to more than a million residents. In 1986, after a grassroots community campaign, the government decided to reject the mining proposal. However, in 1993 the government again granted mining permits. Casa Pueblo launched an even broader-based and intense campaign uniting the environmental, scientific, student, cultural and religious sectors. In response to the strong opposition, Puerto Rico’s governor signed a law prohibiting open-pit mining in the region.
To protect the area from future development, Massol-González urged that the area be declared a preserve. In the course of a hard-fought campaign, Casa Pueblo was able to win public support throughout the country. In 1996, the governor signed a measure that officially converted 303 hectares (748 acres) into a forest reserve, later named Bosque del Pueblo (People’s Forest).
The establishment of Bosque del Pueblo was a significant environmental advancement in Puerto Rico. For the first time in the island’s history, a community was put in charge of managing a government-owned reserve. It also was the first time in 50 years that a region was designated protected at the initiative of a community-based group. The leadership of Massol-González in this campaign led to a new model of community and government collaboration. The reserve is locally run, and Casa Pueblo developed opportunities to involve scientists, specialists, artists, young people, and adults who volunteer their labor in virtually every aspect of the forest’s management.
The cultural significance of the forest is incorporated into the ecologically sustainable activities that take place within it. Local volunteers lead walking tours and offer visitors educational programs on environmental and cultural topics. Ecologically friendly cabins are available for visiting organizations. In 2001, Massol-González and Casa Pueblo developed the Bosque’s newest program, the community butterfly garden. Casa Pueblo partnered with the people of Adjuntas as well as local universities to cultivate plant habitats that would increase the Bosque’s butterfly population. The butterfly garden is used for youth environmental education and has increased tourism to Bosque del Pueblo as well.
The conservation management plan of the reserve, developed by Massol-González, provided a model for other Puerto Rican and Caribbean communities working to establish co-managed forest reserves.
Massol-González and Casa Pueblo of Adjuntas incorporated sustainable practices into Casa Pueblo’s solar-powered building, the organization’s headquarters, and a community and cultural center. In keeping with its philosophy of economic self-sufficiency, Casa Pueblo produces shade-grown coffee that it markets under the Madre Isla name.