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., Sorice, M.G. and Thomas, V.A., 2020. The meaning (s) of place: Identifying the structure of sense of place across a social–ecological landscape. People and Nature, 2(3).

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.