Michelle Chappell Finds Home in Wide-Open Landscapes of the West

Michelle Chappell has worked in some pretty varied conditions during her 23-year career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Work has led her from North Carolina to the Texas Gulf Coast, to the Northeast Montana Wetland Management District and Medicine Lake Refuge in Montana, Everglades Headwaters Refuge in Florida back to North Carolina, and now Southeast Idaho.

The grand landscapes of the wide-open West pulled Michelle Chappell and her family back to the West. “Our son is getting to the age where we can share our love of the outdoors with him, and we enjoy seeing his excitement.”
The grand landscapes of the wide-open West pulled Michelle Chappell and her family back to the West. “Our son is getting to the age where we can share our love of the outdoors with him, and we enjoy seeing his excitement.”

“I’ve worked in some pretty climatic extremes in my career,” Michelle said. “I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to work in diverse regions and the experience that comes with that. The fishing was tremendous in Texas, and the hunting was awesome in Montana. The winters were long in Montana, and we experienced wind chills as low as 60 below while there, and a little bit of cabin fever to boot.”

With a desire to closer to family in northeastern North Carolina, Michelle made another big cross-country move from Montana to Florida in 2015, then to Mattamuskeet NWR in 2017.

But there was something about the West that kept tugging at her and her husband of almost 21 years. The grand landscapes of the wide-open West outweighed the memories of the long, cold winters. The couple decided they wanted to enjoy the land of sage brush and snow together with their young son.

“We missed the feeling of freedom and opportunities the West offered, so I started looking for other positions.” Michelle said. “Our son is getting to the age where we can share our love of the outdoors with him, and we enjoy seeing his excitement.”

“I’ve worked in some pretty climatic extremes in my career. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to work in diverse regions and the experience that comes with that.” — Michelle Chappell.

Michelle found her way back to the West, and was hired as deputy project leader at Southeast Idaho NWR Complex and moved in February 2020.

She was recently selected as the new project leader for Southeast Idaho National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which comprises Bear Lake, Grays Lake, Camas, Minidoka and Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuges, and Oxford Slough Waterfowl Production Area. The refuge complex’s office is in Chubbuck, Idaho.

“I look forward to this next adventure. I have been very fortunate to have the opportunity to move around the country with the Service and experience the habitat and conservation work at different stations.”

Chappell said her primary goal as the project leader is to continue to build on previous conservation successes at the refuges.

“These are some amazing refuges with great staff. Improving the wildlife habitat and updating infrastructure will be a focus across all our refuges,” Chappell said. “One of our highlights is the Great American Outdoor Act project at Camas Refuge, which will include the restoration of Camas Creek and improved habitat for waterfowl. We’ll also look for opportunities to improve public access opportunities for recreation of all types, including hunting and fishing.”

Article by Brent Lawrence, a public affairs officer in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Columbia Pacific Northwest Regional Office.

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