Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Wendy Cordeiro

May 16th, 2018 at 1:15PM

A picture of Wendy Cordeiro rappelling down a practice tower with her fire gear on.
Wendy Cordeiro on tower at National Rappel Academy 2012. (Photo taken by Joel Torres, captain on Scott Valley Fly Crew, H-502 Klamath National Forest.)

Wendy grew up in Hawaii, where her father is from, surrounded by many of the endangered plants and animals that are important to her native Hawaiian culture. Now a budget analyst with a background in firefighting, she was inspired by her mother’s work at the USDA Forest Service’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry, then located in Honolulu, where the focus was upon forest health, fighting invasive species, and protecting watersheds. As she grew older, she knew that she wanted to work for a natural resource agency. Her mother’s colleagues in the Forest Service’s Atlanta regional office connected her with the agency’s Fire and Aviation Management program.


What do you do in the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
I just started in a new position as a budget analyst on the Coconino National Forest this month. As a budget analyst, I am involved in the day-to-day monitoring and analysis of funding for all forest programs.

However, I began working for the agency in 2010 as a temporary senior firefighter in California, becoming a permanent apprentice firefighter in 2011. Apprentices are permanent agency employees and afforded the opportunity to experience different fire disciplines prior to completion of the program. As an apprentice, I spent a season on a 20- person rappel crew attached to a type two helicopter, and we rappelled down from the ship to remote fires. In time I moved up to become an Engine Boss and Incident Commander.


A picture of Wendy Cordeiro and her crew at Round Mountain Lookout.
Crew photo at Round Mountain Lookout on Modoc National Forest: From left to right: Jared Ehlers, Ethan Catlin, Wendy Cordeiro, Jordan Mallory, and Dustin Kingwell; Chadric Holster (kneeling) and James Brogan (in engine). (Forest Service courtesy photo.)

What is your favorite part of your job?

I enjoy researching adherence to policy; I like to dig into information and figure out whether or not a process or procedure is working effectively and how best to fix or correct any issues. As for fire, I loved everything about firefighting. Firefighting is hard work that not everyone wants to do, but when you are working outdoors with your crew, you get to see beautiful parts of the country that not everyone gets to see. At the end of the day, firefighting is helping people, either directly or indirectly, and working with a larger family of others who share those values.


How has your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
I grew up in a culturally diverse environment, and I think my background allows me to work with anyone from anywhere on anything. Hawaii‘s many ethnicities and cultures all become part of its close-knit neighborhoods, communities, and families.

In my undergraduate college summers, I worked on fire crews to help with college expenses and continued temporary wildland firefighting until I began my career with the Forest Service.

My interest in budget, policy adherence, and public administration began as I progressed in my fire career and saw how federal, state, and local policies interact with Forest Service programs and activities. I enrolled in graduate school at Northwestern University to study Public Policy and Administration, and after 10 years of firefighting, I stepped away from fire suppression toward administrative support for fire. In time, my experience working fire budgets allowed me to transition to budget analysis for all forest programs.


Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you’re currently working on.
This past summer I detailed as the program support specialist for the Wildland Firefighter Apprentice Program. The position gave me the chance to give back to the program through the work of administering two academies.


A picture of Wendy Cordeiro and her mother, Yvonne Cordeiro.
Wendy graduating from the Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Academy in 2012 pictured with her mother, Yvonne Cordeiro. (Photo by Misty Cordeiro.)

Describe a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of.

A personal achievement is my recent completion of my master’s degree. I started graduate school in 2015, when I was still fighting fire and transitioning to administrative budget work. A professional accomplishment was my internship with Senator Mazie Hirono’s office in Washington D.C. in 2016. As an intern I assisted with correspondence and worked with public affairs to take photos of meet and greets. I also researched topics and attended Senate Committee hearings, where I took notes for staffers. The experience allowed me to experience public policy development and accountability first hand.


What are some of the greatest challenges confronting your field?
Increased costs of doing business combined with greater competition among various programs for the budget has historically been a challenge. Looking at fire, there can be difficulties in coordinating and managing fire budgets across multiple agencies as each agency has different mandates and constraints.


What are some of the most promising strategies being used by the Forest Service to address these challenges?
I think the Forest Service collaborative approach – stakeholders and forests working together on projects – has been successful. Some examples from forests where I have worked include the Western Klamath Restoration Partnership in California, which is working to restore fire-adapted landscapes, and The Four Forest Restoration Initiative in Arizona, which is working to restore forest ecosystems on portions of four national forests. There are collaborative projects like this throughout the country.


How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I would like the public to know that the Forest Service mission touches many areas of everyday life, like ensuring the availability of clean water, opportunities for recreation, the conservation of critical ecosystems and wildlife habitat, the availability of grazing land for cattle and other livestock, and timber products for building homes, furniture, and more. Additionally, I would like the public to realize the commitment and degree of dedication of Forest Service employees.


Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
The Forest Service is a great place to work, full of opportunities across a broad array of areas. I tell people that temporary positions are a great way to gain exposure to different areas of work within the agency.