Meet the NPF Team: Richelle Dodds
Meet Richelle Dodds, a member of NPF’s resource management team, which specializes in directing funding to support sustainability in parks as well as priority projects that protect parks' historic, cultural, and natural resources.
Richelle’s appreciation for national parks started early in the forests of Shenandoah National Park as a child. “Since I was a kid, I always loved animals and had a curiosity about our natural world. As I got older, I wanted to better understand how energy moves through ecosystems and how I can help protect species on this planet.”
Now, she wants to help younger generations understand the very real domino effects humans have on the world, environment, and wildlife. “Our lives are so intertwined with the natural world around us. We need plants and animals to keep waterways clean, pollinate crops we need for food, and act as buffers for storms and floods.”
What is your favorite national park experience?
In September 2019, I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, home of Grand Teton National Park. Upon landing and jumping into a shared rental car with my colleague, he asked me if I had seen anything like it. He was talking about the soaring, snow-capped peaks of the Teton Mountain Range. I was in so much awe staring out of the car window I don’t think I even answered his question. It was the first time I had been to a western park and I wasn’t prepared for all the incredible sights I was about to see. It was clear I was not on the east coast anymore.
During my trip, I participated in a sunrise wildlife tour where we saw moose, elk, eagles, beautiful waterways, and the Teton mountains at sunrise, which gleamed purple against a watercolor-like backdrop of the pink and golden sky. The elk were very active; my trip took place in the peak of the rut where male elk put on a show for the females in hopes of securing multiple mates. Between the elks’ bugles and the sound of antlers violently crashing against one another, I started to realize this place is run by wildlife and I’m just a guest in their home.
I extended my trip to check out two projects I manage that NPF supported at neighboring Yellowstone National Park. What a drive that was! We were halted twice due to bison crossing the road. One of the projects I witnessed was the rehabilitation of the native cutthroat trout on Yellowstone Lake. Their population had been decimated from invasive lake trout and the park has done wonders in restoring it. I was lucky enough to have the program manager take me out onto the fishing boat so I could learn more about the project and see it for myself. I’ll never forget being on the lake and the smell of fish wafting through the air.
Lastly, I traveled to Lamar Valley at dusk where I was set up with spotting scopes to hopefully catch a glimpse of one of the park's wolf packs. With a lot of patience, we saw the pack arrive at their rendezvous site, an open grassy area adjacent to the forest. The pack had four pups, all with black fur and all of which were play fighting and annoying their mothers. That was the most magical sight to see and although it was difficult to take photos of them at a safe distance, I will always be able to picture their puppy-like antics in my memory.
Can you describe your job and the projects you work on at NPF?
My focus at NPF is natural resources, which includes wildlife and the habitats they live in. My job is to help drive private funding to park projects that promote biodiversity and healthy environments, including air and water quality.
NPF has supported numerous wildlife projects including wolf population monitoring and studies such as population viability, genetics, and predation impacts in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem after their reintroduction in 1995, as well as cutthroat trout population rehabilitation through removal of invasive lake trout at Yellowstone Lake. These projects have seen cascading trophic effects in the ecosystem, such as grizzlies returning to fish for cutthroat for the first time in decades.
In the greater Glacier National Park ecosystem, we are supporting habitat and species studies in preparation for the return of endemic bison to the region for the first time in 150 years. We’ve provided funding and telemetry equipment to monitor critically endangered California condors at both Redwood National and State Parks and Pinnacles National Park and provided funding for wildlife signage at Everglades National Park to protect nesting sites of sensitive species, such as the American crocodile.
We have also provided support for extensive habitat restoration projects, including the reforestation of Longleaf pine at both Flight 93 National Memorial and Big Thicket National Preserve, and we are expanding our reforestation efforts to Redwoods National Park. At Everglades National Park, we're supporting wetland restoration efforts to return the ecosystem to its former status. I continue to work with the National Park Service to determine priority projects related to relevant topics such as climate change to protect and restore our natural resources at parks.
What is one of your favorite parts of working for NPF?
My absolute favorite part of my job is going to the parks! There is nothing like petting a tegu in the Everglades, watching bighorn sheep scale a butte in Badlands National Park, or tracking Florida panthers in Big Cypress National Preserve. It is so much fun to experience the work the National Park Service does firsthand, and it helps me better understand the importance of their work when I talk with their scientists. It's not always fun and games though – I’ve trudged through muddy, dense, buggy thickets in the Everglades to track pythons!
If you could create a park around a current or historical figure or moment, what would it be?
I would love to create a national monument around the Endangered Species Act, species protection legislation, and treaties throughout United States history. It would be really cool if it was an outdoor monument with sculptures of species lost and informative plaques to inspire younger generations to care about the natural world. I remember learning about endangered and extinct species in middle and high school, but at the time I didn’t really grasp the importance of biodiversity and how much it touches all of our lives.
What advice would you give to young women who are interested in a career in wildlife preservation?
Keep at it and don’t take no for an answer. The field is highly competitive but persistence and passion pay off big time. I knew I wanted to be in wildlife conservation since I was in college. When I graduated, I must have applied for 80 positions at conservation organizations and interviewed over 20 times. It was after several years and continued education that I finally secured my first role working in nature conservation.
We need more women in conservation. Ask for what you want and keep pushing for what you deserve. You truly can be anything you want to be.
What do you want people to most understand about your work?
Parks serve as living laboratories for science and are important platforms to share results, which can inspire a conservation ethic beyond borders. Parks have a strong collaboration of subject matter experts that design and supervise projects, but rarely have the funds to carry out these crucial projects. That’s where philanthropy comes in.
Inspired by Richelle’s work and story? Help NPF continue our work to protect habitats and wildlife in national parks.