Caitlyn Reilley has worn many hats during her time at Oregon State University.
First, she was an undergraduate pursuing a career as a clinical dietician. Then, after realizing how heavily social, economic, and environmental factors influence individual health outcomes, she switched gears to focus on community-level health. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public health in 2016, securing a job as an outreach coordinator for the Linus Pauling Institute, a nutrition research institute at OSU.
While working as the outreach coordinator, Reilley began eyeing opportunities to return to school to study environmental policy. She learned about the opportunity to join the College of Forestry as the coordinator for the Elliott State Research Forest project.
“The Elliott project coordinator role was such a unique opportunity to bring my skillset to a project situated at the intersection of public lands policy, natural resource management, and rural community well-being,” Reilley says. “It was also fulfilling to help the College envision a path forward for the Elliott that benefits local communities while providing critical research into the best way to deliver the myriad of social, economic, and ecological values our forests provide.”
According to Reilley, developing a proposal for a research forest was often messy and included many difficult conversations. Overall, however, it was a joyful experience for her and gave her confidence in the ability of humans to work together to solve complex natural resource issues.
It also confirmed her desire to study natural resources management. As a current graduate student in sustainable forest management with a concentration in economics and policy, Reilley is working with Mindy Crandall, assistant professor of forest policy and economics. Crandall’s research focuses on the role that natural resources, especially forests, play in human well-being.
Together, she and Crandall are a part of a collaborative project studying the human dimensions of wildfire with researchers at the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. Her master’s research explores community vulnerability to wildfire and the social drivers of human-caused fire ignitions.
“The majority of fires in Oregon are started by people, and research into what drives these human-caused fires can help inform fire prevention strategies,” Reilley says.
Reilley’s research into socially vulnerable populations allowed her to support the implementation of Senate Bill 762 (SB 762), Oregon’s omnibus wildfire bill allocating millions for landscape scale forest restoration and community wildfire preparedness projects.
“As a part of this project, we are identifying and mapping socially vulnerable communities to help allocate resources provided by SB 762,” says Reilley. “Not all communities are equally equipped to prevent or respond to wildfire and it has been really encouraging to see how much interest there is in using this type of data to prioritize funding and support for communities that need it most.”
When Reilley is not in front of her computer analyzing data, she is in the forest and enjoys long-distance running and mountain biking with her Australian shepherd pup Ginger.
“Thanks to a rigorous Ginger-driven training plan, I was able to complete my first Ironman triathlon last summer in Coeur D’ Alene, Idaho,” Reilley says. “I also recently started building live edge furniture. I love to hunt for unique slabs of wood and am slowly building my arsenal of power tools.”
“I’ve learned so much from working with College of Forestry faculty these past three years. The Elliott project and implementation of SB 762 have provided incredible opportunities to see first-hand how the research informs real world management and policy decisions that promote healthy ecosystems and communities. Oregon communities are really at the heart of the work I’ve been able to be a part of here in the College, and I feel so fortunate for that.”
As the recipient of two scholarships from the College of Forestry: the Hal Salwasser Fellowship and the Lu Alexander Graduate Fellowship, Reilley is looking forward to using her scholarships to present her research at conferences this spring. After graduating this summer, she plans to continue working in the wildfire policy realm and hopes that her future career path never takes her too far from her home here in Oregon.
A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry.