Kiandra Rajala

M.S. Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech, 2018
B.S. Forestry,  University of Montana, 2013
B.S. Parks, Tourism & Recreation Management, University of Montana, 2013

As an undergraduate at the University of Montana, I completed dual degrees focused on forest and recreation resource management along with a minor in wildlife biology, and I conducted independent research on the motivations of big game poachers in Montana.  I spent ten field seasons working in natural resources with the US Forest Service in Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska; the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources; and the University of Alaska in positions ranging from wildland fire, forestry and timber management to trail work, visitor education, and wilderness recreation. Throughout these experiences I realized the integral, but often overlooked, role that people play in the use, management, and sustainability of natural resources. I was thrilled to find a graduate research opportunity at Virginia Tech that explicitly focused on the science of human dimensions of natural resources. My thesis research was part of a larger multi-disciplinary project studying the social-ecological dynamics of rangelands in the Southern Great Plains. Specifically, I focused on how and why land ownership change relates to grassland conversion to woodlands. As a Research Associate at Virginia Tech, my current work examines the human dimensions of invasive grass management among agricultural producers in the Northern Great Plains.

Research Interests:

  • How people connect with and relate to their environment through sense of place, relational values, and ecosystem services
  • Social-ecological dynamics of ecosystem transformations and the emergence novel ecosystems
  • Balancing environmental conservation with the sustainability of natural resource-based livelihoods
  • Private-public partnerships in ecosystem-based management
  • Balancing outdoor recreation use with resource protection

Current Projects:

  • Producer perspectives of invasive grasses in the Northern Great Plains:
    • How preferences for ecosystem services relate to the acceptability and management of invasive grasses
    • Social-psychological drivers of Kentucky bluegrass management
  • Understanding heterogeneity in land ownership as a driver of land cover change in the Southern Great Plains
    • The place meanings and dependencies that create private landowners’ sense of place
    • How variations in sense of place relate to thresholds for woody plant encroachment
    • Social-psychological drivers of landowners’ woody plant management behaviors
    • Individual and structural factors contributing to landowners’ use of prescribed fire

Past Projects:

  • Evaluating the visitor experiences of millennials in Virginia State Parks
  • Examining factors that influence recreation users’ willingness to pay for access to Virginia State Forests
  • Poaching in Montana: The Importance and Implications of Game Wardens’ Perceptions of Poachers, Undergraduate Honors Thesis, Davidson Honors College, University of Montana.


Rajala, K. F. (2019). Ecosystem Transformation Across a Changing Social Landscape: Landowner Perceptions and Responses to Woody Plant Encroachment. (Master’s thesis, Virginia Tech).

Sorice, M. G., Rajala, K., & Kreuter, U. P. (2018). Understanding Management Decisions of Absentee Landowners: More Than Just Presence-Absence. Rangeland Ecology & Management. , 71(2), 159-162.