Spotlight Story

10 January 2024

Andrés Pérez Cintrón: Catalyzing Change Through the Integration of Cultural Heritage in Conservation

Category: Spotlight Story

Andrés Pérez Cintrón, a passionate environmental advocate from Puerto Rico, has a unique view about the integration of cultural knowledge in the field of natural resources. His journey into environmental conservation is marked by resilience, dedication, and a profound connection to his cultural heritage. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, he thrives as a Natural Resources Specialist at the USDA Forest Service International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF).

Having graduated with a bachelor's degree in wildlife management biology and a minor in education, Andrés recognized early in his career his innate love for nature and the art of educating others.
“During my undergrad, I identified that I like educating people. I am a people person.”

This realization shaped his academic pursuits, eventually leading him to a master's degree in environmental and social planning.

Andrés started his career in environmental conservation through internships that shaped his trajectory. He reminisced about mentors whose inspiration fueled Andrés' desire to contribute meaningfully to conservation efforts. As part of his experiences, he interned with the National Park Service at Biscayne National Park, broadening his understanding of park management, planning, and the administrative intricacies involved.

In his current role at IITF, Andrés focuses on Wildland Fire Incidents Data Collection in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. He stresses the significance of creating comprehensive fire incident maps and educating communities about wildfire risks due to climate change.

“As a RAP intern with the MANO Project, I focus on incidence data collection, merging everything that I have learned during my academic and professional career. There's a lot of funding to prepare communities for developing plans to prepare for wildfire risks. In Puerto Rico and USVI, wildfires have not been a big topic of conversation, but it's because people don't know about it. My job is to look for that data and use it to put together a map that identifies vulnerable and underserved communities at risk of wildfires, so we can reach and educate them about it. ”

Beyond his professional endeavors, Andres is deeply rooted in his Puerto Rican heritage. He acknowledges and pushes forward the cultural significance of conservation efforts. This internship is particularly important for him, as he gets to serve his Island and the conservation efforts he deeply cares about.

“I want to work for my island. This is my hometown. I want to work for the conservation of the natural resources that we have and give people the opportunities to work for our land and for what is ours.”

Connecting with communities is not a task that Andrés takes lightly, and he strongly advocates for cultural knowledge in conservation work. For him, language, traditions, and ways of being play a role in connecting with people and serving them in the best way possible to achieve their conservation and mitigation goals.

“Working with natural resources is about cultural meaning, too. I am attached to the cultural part of Puerto Rico and being a Latino here. Hispanic Access Foundation and the MANO Project have been supportive when I talk about the importance of acknowledging that Spanish is my first language, acknowledging that we are different, we are more family-oriented, we have different ways of approaching conservation, different ways of appreciating nature and of recreating.”

He passionately champions the integration of Bomba music, an African heritage genre, into conservation initiatives at IITF. This cultural integration aims to bridge communities and raise awareness about conservation while honoring Puerto Rico's rich cultural heritage.

His commitment to guiding and inspiring young students to pursue opportunities in environmental conservation on the Island is something he actively pursues. He constantly shares internship opportunities and aims to serve as an inspiration for young individuals interested in similar experiences.

“I can serve as an inspiration to young, early career students to tell them about my pathway, my enthusiasm, and my willingness to go outside my comfort zone.”

Andres brings a dynamic force in environmental conservation, balancing professional expertise with a profound connection to his cultural roots. His dedication to inclusivity, cultural sensitivity, and catalyzing change within the conservation landscape puts him in a position to inspire younger conservationists who want and aspire to work in and for Puerto Rico.

“Leadership in conservation for me right now means that I can help other young students so they can achieve and have the same opportunities that I’ve had so far. Helping them with their resumes, helping them to identify what they want to do, and just talking with them so they see and acknowledge that there are opportunities, that there's space for people like us, people of color, to be in these spaces and make an impact locally.”

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