Women in Science: C. Meghan Downes

Women in Science
Algae outdoor bioreactor in Atoka, NM at the New Mexico State University Artesia Agricultural Science Center and the Center for Excellence in Hazardous Materials Management research facility. Photo by NMSU Press Service

The new Women in Science series features women scientists from across the Southern Research Station (SRS)–their education, career paths, challenges, achievements, and inspirations.

Meet Cara (Meghan) Downes a research economist who recently joined the Southern Research Station Economics and Policy unit at the Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Research Triangle Park, NC. Downes received her doctorate in Environmental and Resource Economics from the University of New Mexico. Prior to coming to work for the FS, Downes was the Associate Professor of Economics at New Mexico State University (NMSU).

Downes’ work will focus on research and development activities on understanding wildfire suppression and related wildfire and disturbance economics processes. Her responsibilities will include advancing the unit’s efforts to produce periodic wildfire suppression expenditure forecasts for the Forest Service and Department of the Interior.

“As a natural resource and environmental economist, I work to understand how the natural world and the human world interact,” says Downes. “As a Forest Service economist, my job is to estimate how much is spent fighting fires; predicting what expenditures will be in the coming year; trying to better understand how money is spent; and whether or not that money is spent effectively.”

Another component of Downes’ work is investigating ecosystem services, non-timber forest products, and the economics of sustainable development using forest resources. Our nation’s forests are one of our most precious resources. She works to understand how these resources are used and how to develop policies to protect and enhance them for the American people and future generations.

Women in Science
Meghan pictured at the Flour Bluff mariculture center in Corpus Christi, TX. Photo by Samantha Starbuck.

Downes grew up in New Mexico and has spent most of her life in the woods, the mountains, and the grand open spaces of the West. Catastrophic wildfires were a common occurrence where she grew up, including the dramatic and devastating fires of Las Conchas and Cerro Grande, which is part of what led her to her current career.

Coming to the Forest Service is a bit like coming full circle for me,” Downes said. “I started my career as a researcher for the Forest Service while a graduate student. After working for (NMSU) for 10 years, the opportunity to pursue research full-time for the Forest Service was very appealing. My appointment at NMSU was very rewarding and I enjoyed my time serving the citizens of New Mexico, but I was ready for a new challenge and to get back to my Forest Service roots.”

Read on to learn more about Downes. Who inspires her? What a typical work day is like for her? And what led her to the field of economics? Visit Women in Science to learn more about Downes and others.

For more information, email Teresa Jackson at teresajackson@fs.fed.us.

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