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Plant Whisperer

Meet Melissa Nicolli, Vegetation Biotech in the Upper Columbia Basin Inventory and Monitoring Region

Taking inventory of all the plants and wildlife in over 400 parks across the country can seem like a monumental task. But thanks to the work of those like Vegetation Biotech Melissa Nicolli, this process is well managed. Nicolli catalogs the vegetation present in the Upper Columbia Basin Inventory and Monitoring region, a network of several park sites across the Columbia Plateau. Today, she is visiting John Day Fossil Beds National Monument – “I’m doing reconnaissance for our sage brush step and post-fire vegetation monitoring that can help the park plan for future wildlife seasons.” 

Melissa Nicolli poses for a photo at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

In networks across the country, Inventory and Monitoring team members like Nicolli gather and analyze information on specific park natural resources – the plants, animals, and ecosystems that can indicate the overall biological health of a park. Discoveries and inventories from these networks assist parks in making informed, science-based management decisions that best serve the parks and all the living things that call them home. “I spend my days monitoring the park’s natural resources, predominately plant resources. A typical day would include hiking to remote areas of the parks, setting up sampling plots, and collecting data on the different plant species. The information I collect can help park staff make informed management decisions that protect their native plant communities.”

Nicolli has worked with the National Park Service since 2013, serving at over a dozen parks across the country. Her love for national parks was fostered at a young age - “growing up, my parents would always take us on family vacations to different national parks around the country. It was the highlight of our summers. I grew to love national parks so much and appreciate the beauty, landscape, and relationship to nature.” 

Melissa Nicolli identifies grass at John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Nicolli enjoys being able to do her work across a network of parks. “Getting to work in several parks, as opposed to just a single one, allows me to see the most scenic landscapes, view wildlife from afar, and meet interesting visitors from all over the world. This past season alone, I got to work in six different park units, and I got to identify unique flora in each one.” But her favorite spot in the Columbia Plateau region is right here in John Day Fossil Beds National Monument’s Painted Hills unit. “It’s so beautiful. The amazing geologic features are incredibly unique and absolutely stunning.”

Behind every national park is a team of ordinary people dedicated to maintaining the extraordinary. They maintain habitats, educate visitors, and preserve history. They’re volunteers, rangers, museum curators, engineers, architects, and more. They’re our Park Ambassadors – linking us to these treasured places and all the stories they hold. Send thanks to an NPS employee or volunteer today

The “National Park Ambassadors” video series is produced by the National Park Foundation and its Find Your Park premier partners Budweiser, HanesBrands, L.L.Bean, Nature Valley, Subaru of America and Union Pacific Railroad, with additional support from The Coca-Cola Company and Winnebago Industries. 

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