From Coast to Coast: Riding the Waves of an Esteemed USFWS Career

By Allyson Turner, public affairs officer, Pacific Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Bloggers Note: Just prior to this interview, Michael was honored with the prestigious Meritorious Service Award from the Department of the Interior. Michael has worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for 29 years and his career has been more of a zig-zag than straight line. Michael went from Maine to Idaho to California and back to Idaho again. His time was not only with the Service but also in graduate school and private industry. The last 21 years of his career have been with the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office and focused on the Hells Canyon Relicense project. Michael’s coordination, engagement, communication, and relationships developed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Idaho Power are attributed to the success of the relicensing of the Hells Canyon Complex. This license, upon completion, will be the largest hydropower license in North America with over $1.5 billion in conservation benefits. Michael was granted this award for efforts throughout his career that have resulted in conservation gains that would not have otherwise been accomplished without his hard work. Acting Regional Director Hugh Morrison recently presented the award to Michael.

Michael works for the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office as a remote employee, stationed in Portland, Oregon. He lives with his wife, Carmen, who is a solicitor for the Department of Interior. They live in Oregon City.

Two men are shaking hands and smiling at the camera. Both men are wearing blue shirts.
Michael Morse and Hugh Morrison at the Meritorious Service Award ceremony. USFWS photo.

It seems you are a real water lover, in both your career and personal life. How or when did you fall in love with water?

I grew up in Maine, and water is everywhere there. The state has a 3,400-mile-long coastline, many rivers and lakes, and the annual precipitation averages over 40 inches per year. I was involved in water activities from a young age. My first job with the Service was working on Maine’s coastal islands during the establishment of Maine’s Coastal Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex in 1977. I also started kayaking in mid-1960s. If you want to love and understand river systems, you need to get in a boat and get on the water! Once I moved to Idaho, I spent most of my free time on rivers and my work time studying them from a water quality/quantity standpoint on hydropower projects. Being on the rivers so much is what sparked my interest in water quality, management, and river ecology.

What is your favorite place you’ve visited as a USFWS employee?

Oh, that’s a really hard question. I love the refuges on both coasts- in Maine and California, and visiting Hells Canyon is like travelling back in time. If I had to pick just one, it would be a field site adjacent to Kern National Wildlife Refuge in the central valley of California. I have memories of going there during spring for work and seeing thousands of waterfowl and other shore birds, stilts, avocets and ibis: flying over large expanses where the snowmelt water was held. We would go back in the field, after work, to watch the sunset and observe the birds moving on their travels through the Pacific Flyway, it was the most incredible sight!

What is your favorite species or animal you’ve worked with?

I really like everything associated with water- birds, fish, and snails (of course!), but if I had to pick just one….I would say Leach’s storm petrel. They are my favorite from Maine. Can I pick one from each coast? I would pick black-necked stilts in California. They are really cool birds.

How did you find your way to the USFWS?

In Maine, my work on the islands made me realize my passion was for natural resources. I was a wildlife management major, but I later left Maine and headed to Idaho State University (ISU) for graduate school. There, I studied in part, under G. Wayne Minshall, who was a primary author of the 1980 River Continuum Concept and legend in the world of river ecology. I studied contaminants engineering and water quality at ISU. I guess I never went back to live on the east coast after that. From grad school, I ended up again for the Service in Sacramento. My engineering and water background made me a good fit for the Contaminants Program and then for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) program, and that’s when I dove feet first into my second career with the Service. From the Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office, I went to Boise and continued working on FERC licenses for the Service.

A man is kneeling in the right side of the frame next to a sculpture of chinook salmon on a brick wall.
Michael Morse at the Natural Resource Center in Boise, Idaho. USFWS photo.

What is your favorite part of your job with the USFWS?

The people. Hands down. I am really honored to receive the Meritorious Service Award, but this award is not just mine…I couldn’t have done it without the Service team. Some retired staff, Jim Esch, Estyn Mead, and Dave Hopper come to mind, who were instrumental in the work we have done for the Hells Canyon project. There are also staff at the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Office now who will carry the torch forward. Collectively, we labored for decades on this project, and this is their award too.

A man and a woman sit in camping chairs in an outdoor setting.

Finally, tell me about your most memorable day working for the USFWS.

The thing that jumps out the most is riding in a bubble-front helicopter in California surveying hydropower projects in the Sierras. That was such a great experience! I also really love powerhouses because of my engineering background. Some of them are carved out of solid granite 1200 feet below the mountain surface. I love seeing how it all works, and each one is so different! There have been many memorable times…I also love doing snail surveys in the Snake River springs….we had a blast collecting data in Hagerman, Idaho. I really am lucky to have had such a great career with the Service.

A snail survey in action in a tributary to the Snake River, Idaho. USFWS photo.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service works with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. For more information, visit https://www.fws.gov/about/region/pacific and connect with us on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Flickr, and YouTube.

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Conservation stories from one of the world’s most ecologically diverse regions.

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