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 an outsized 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 collars.
That Ritokova would become a scientist is no surprise. She grew up behind the Iron Curtain in the former Czechoslovakia (since Communism’s fall divided into two nations). Both her parents were in the sciences there.
She came to the United States in the 1990s, working as a nanny in San Francisco before earning a degree at the University of California at Berkeley. While studying at Berkeley she landed a job in the lab 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.
“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,” Ritokova said.
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.