Refuge manager trading coasts, not concerns

Florida Keys wildlife-refuge manager Anne Morkill will be exchanging worries over feral cats for concerns about the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse when she leaves Big Pine Key for her move to a federal refuge post in San Francisco.

Morkill, overall manager of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s refuges in the Florida Keys since 2006, has been named to serve as project leader for the San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Complex, a network of seven refuges lying along a 125-mile stretch of the California coast.

“I expect to take lessons I learned here on things like invasive plant control, submerged lands and working with refuges close to urban areas,” said Morkill, 47. “It’s a different location and a different coast. But a lot of the issues are almost identical.

“Like the Keys,” she said, “these (California) refuges have world-class natural resources and a lot of people who want to use and enjoy them.”

Where the Keys have the endangered Lower Keys marsh rabbit, San Francisco Bay has the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse.

Morkill will help oversee the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge and its critical seabird nesting colonies, while the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary covers surrounding waters.

Locally, she managed the bird colonies of the Great White Heron and Key West National Wildlife Refuges while working in conjunction with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

During her Keys service, Morkill dealt with watercraft access issues in the backcountry, feral cats on protected lands in Big Pine Key and North Key Largo, controlled burns that were not always popular with neighbors, and residents who insist on feeding Key deer.

Morkill came to the Keys from Alaska. “There is a very short list of refuges that I’ve been keeping an eye on for openings, primarily coastal refuges on the west coast,” she said.

The San Francisco refuge complex covers a larger geographic area with “three times the staff,” Morkill said.

In an email to associates, Morkill told them of her planned Oct. 1 departure. “However, my decision to move on is bittersweet as I have enjoyed working with you all on the many challenging and fulfilling conservation projects in the Florida Keys these past six years,” she wrote.

The Florida Keys position will be advertised within the agency but it likely will be several months before a new refuge manager is appointed, she said.

“I like being challenged and I’m ready for a new challenge,” Morkill said. “This is a big one.”

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