It’s the little things that worry Gabriela Ritokova the most. Ritokova, a resident of Corvallis, is the Oregon Department of Forestry’s new forest pathologist. The focus of her scientific work is on the microscopic pathogens that attack and weaken or kill forest trees.
While what Ritokova studies is small in size, tree diseases have a large impact on the state’s economy and forest health. Diseases such as Swiss needle cast, laminated root rot, Port Orford cedar root rot and sudden oak death kill or stunt thousands of trees each year, costing private landowners and local economies millions of dollars.
That Ritokova would become a scientist should come as no surprise. Both her parents worked in the sciences in the former Czechoslovakia, where she grew up.
She came to the United States in the 1990s, working as a nanny in San Francisco before earning a degree in Conservation and Resource Studies at the University of California at Berkeley. While studying at Berkeley she landed a job in the laboratory of Dave Wood, an entomologist who encouraged her to pursue further studies in forest health. “We worked on insect-pathogen interactions of pine pitch canker and sudden oak death,” she recalled.
Moving to Oregon in 2012, Ritokova spent almost a decade working for the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative before being hired at the Oregon Department of Forestry in the Forest Resources Division.
“My job now is primarily focused on sudden oak death along the south coast, but I’ll be involved in anything requiring a pathologist, including aerial detection surveys, consulting with foresters in our different districts, and representing ODF with the public and in scientific meetings,” said Ritokova.
Her success in her chosen field comes despite profound hearing loss. Hearing aids and skill at lip reading have helped her, which is even more impressive knowing English is her third language.
When not working, Ritokova and her husband enjoy being outside with their dogs, which they take on hikes in Oregon’s forests. She also travels frequently to visit family in central Europe.