Kelly Kay joined the UCLA Department of Geography in 2017, where she studies the political economy of the environment and nature/society geographies, with a focus on land in North America. Her current projects look at (1) the acquisition of softwood timberland by financial investors and the impacts of ownership change on timber-dependent communities; (2) just transitions and the Los Angeles Green New Deal plan (with Andrea Furnaro), and (3) Native Hawaiian struggles to reclaim water rights with the end of plantation sugar production on Maui (with Alida Cantor and Chris Knudson).
Her work has been published in a range of Geography and Environmental Studies journals, including Nature Climate Change, Progress in Human Geography, Environment and Planning A, Environment and Planning E, Antipode, Geoforum, and the Annals of the American Association of Geographers. Her current book project, tentatively entitled Landscapes of Finance: Time, Timber, and the Fate of US Forest-Dependent Communities, examines the changing experience of rural life in timber-dependent communities in the US as a new class of investor-owners have come to own the majority of private timberland, managing that land with different aims and temporalities than their longstanding predecessors. The project uses ethnographic (interviews, participant observation, anonymous story submissions) and archival data to document modern-day socio-ecological relationships with financialized timberland, situating these relationships within a longer history of timber company towns.
Prior to joining UCLA, she worked as an Assistant Professor in Geography and Environment at the London School of Economics, and as a Ciriacy Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellow in Geography at UC Berkeley. Kelly received her PhD in Geography from Clark University.