Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Cynthia Manfred Fernández

Office of Communication
April 18th, 2012 at 5:00PM

Cynthia Manfred Fernández Cynthia considers herself a self-educated naturalist. She has been a forest guide for more than 16 years at the El Yunque National Forest in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. Nature has always been a centerpiece in her life and her job allows her to advocate for conservation; making these some of the most fulfilling years of her life.  

What do you feel when you are in the forest?
I feel very connected. The beautiful El Yunque Rainforest is the largest area of protected land in the island and a magnet for local and foreign visitors alike. El Yunque is primeval in many ways and I’m witness to its complexity and strength day-by-day. I’m also reminded of nature’s flow between fragility and resilience here, there and everywhere…giving me some hope at least as to the future of earth’s natural systems.

What makes you get up in the morning and go to work?
Another day to champion the cause! As a child, a big part of life’s excitement for me came from going into the little forest behind my home to spy on the creatures that lived there. I dug the ground and scanned the bushes to find new creatures or the same ones doing different things. I loved spending quiet, still time among them as in a group of best friends. I have enjoyed doing these things all my life, so just imagine, I wake up to a job where I share this treasure with other people!

My work, the actual product of my efforts, is something that occurs intimately between my audience and me, which I find hard to measure. Audience feedback keeps me going. Immediate feedback is great and energizing, but feedback that arrives weeks, months, and even years later totally lights me up inside, especially when it meant something to a young mind.

How did you get your favorite job with the Forest Service?
Wow, by pure chance in a weird way.
I was not even aware the Forest Service managed anything in Puerto Rico. Actually, I had been scouting for jobs in any of the island’s natural protected areas through the local natural resources department. But job openings seemed to always want a strong background in science or law enforcement which I did not have. So I had lost hope. Suddenly, I ran into a job opening as an interpreter in El Yunque. The Forest Service needed four interpreters to provide educational programs in coordination with a great new Interpretive Visitor Center about to open in less than a year. For that, my background fit the bill!

Describe your forest’s Interpretive Program.
When I give tours, I don’t need to sell its beauty. That’s a given. But rather, engage the visitor in a journey of science and discovery through the not-so-obvious layers of life. The idea behind an interpretive tour or program, what one strives for, is to reach out and touch the core values of each person by the use of intangible concepts, so that a lasting experience is achieved. In my case, a tour would hopefully reinforce an already developed sensibility or positively tweak attitudes in favor of conservation ethics. The context of the tour is on ecology of the forest but the goal of the tour is to plant something that can grow with time long after the information washes away.” 

If you could have dinner with five famous people, who would they be?
I would love to have tea with Barack Obama, Indira Gandhi, Jane Goodall, Luis Muñoz Marin, Jesus of Nazareth….I think these kinds of lists naturally evolve continuously.

If you could have one word to describe you, what would it be? 
You know that is quite hard. I’ve not given it much thought, but I guess it might be “protector.” I think protector is what I’ve become by living in awe of life and in kinship with all creatures.