Anne Morkill has been named as the new director for the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation. She brings to the position more than 30 years of experience working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other federal agencies at wildlife refuges all over the United States.
Morkill grew up in Miami, but headed west to get a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from Colorado State University and a master’s degree in zoology at the University of Wyoming. In her long career, she’s worked throughout the west and as far north as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Aleutian Islands. She’s also worked in the wildlife refuges of Florida.
Morkill, who just moved to Sebastopol from Pacifica last month, has been working as the wildlife refuge manager for San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge for the last seven years, where she oversaw a complex of seven refuges, comprising more than 40,000 acres, and stretching from Monterey to Antioch.
After spending a lot of time in her car driving between refuges, one of the things she’s excited about with her new job at the Laguna Foundation is the commute: just 12 minutes from her front door to her office.
In her free time, Morkill and her partner love to sail. They recently bought a new boat called The Egret, which features a painting of a bird that looks remarkably like the logo of the Laguna Foundation, though that, she notes, is a heron.
A self-confessed foodie and outdoor enthusiast, Morkill said she’s looking forward to exploring all that Sonoma County has to offer.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
I have a 30-year career in federal government, 24 years with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I’ve been with the National Wildlife Refuge System.
Similar to the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a network of lands that are set aside for wildlife conservation. I’ve been a wildlife biologist and then a refuge manager. For the last seven years, I’ve been here in the San Francisco Bay Area.
What are your initial goals starting out as the new executive director?
My first goal is to learn about the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation — its incredible history and its contributions to the watershed and to wetland restoration.
I also plan to focus on developing the financial health of the organization so that we can meet our strategic plan, which is a five-year plan that runs through 2021. I’ll be looking at what the current goals and objectives are that have been established by this community and the staff and the board, and then we’ll be taking a look at the next five years.
We also are looking forward to celebrating the 10th anniversary of the designation of the Laguna de Santa Rosa as a Wetland International Importance — that comes up in 2021.
Something that I really believe in, and that is already part of the Laguna mission, is connecting the health of the watershed to the health of the community and people’s everyday lives. How can we ensure that the Laguna de Santa Rosa is known by all the residents of the watershed and that they understand its relevance and why it’s important for people to be stewards of their natural environment.
I think people tend to think of the Laguna as a “nice natural area” without realizing it’s ecological importance and, as we’ve recently learned, its role in flood prevention.
Flood prevention certainly, but there’s also just the whole idea of “nature prescriptions” — the idea that being out in nature is really important for people’s physical health and mental health, and why a healthy ecosystem is important for them in all aspects of their lives.
The other thing too is the Laguna de Santa Rosa itself: it’s a channel and, depending on what season it is, it’s either a narrow channel or very wide, but it’s also a 250-square-mile watershed. So the folks in Rohnert Park or east of Santa Rosa in the Mayacamas Mountains, do they understand their connection to the Laguna de Santa Rosa through the small tributaries in their neighborhood? So really it’s about connecting everyone and helping them understand the importance of the entire watershed of Laguna de Santa Rosa, and then also its importance to the entire Russian River watershed, being one of the tributaries to the Russian River.
What made you decide, after managing such a large refuge, “Oh I really want to work in Laguna de Santa Rosa?”
It’s really taking me back to my roots in a way. I started out as a biologist on a national wildlife refuge, and I’ve kind of come up through my career with increasing responsibilities.
What really attracted me about it is the fact that, even though we don’t necessarily own all the land, working with partners in this wetland complex and then the greater watershed is really like managing a national wildlife refuge. And then the restoration program and the environmental education program is what I’ve been doing for my whole career.
So for me, it’s about the ability to focus in on a particular watershed and address some of the challenges: whether it’s changing land uses or climate change impacts, or changing demographics in the community and how different cultures and communities use the Laguna watershed.
What’s exciting for me is that it’s a very well-established, renowned organization, but there’s also the opportunity to expand and grow geographically within the watershed, but also perhaps with new audiences and new supporters.
And, of course, Sonoma County is a very attractive place to live.
What are your thoughts about the Laguna Foundation’s educational programs?
I think what I’ve been most impressed with is how this small but mighty organization accomplishes so much and touches so many lives through the Learning Laguna program in the schools and the Camp Tule Summer Camp, and then all of the stewardship programs where they engage schools or volunteers of all ages in restoration, planting native plants and things like that. I’m just really impressed with how much gets accomplished.
I really like the idea of building our future conservation stewards. So the question is how can we build these connected education programs so that as kids come up, they go to Camp Tule when they’re 6 years old and then maybe a few years down the line they become camp counselors, and then later on, maybe they’ll get hired as an intern in our restoration program. Then one of these days, maybe they’ll be working for the Laguna Foundation, or they’ll be a wildlife biologist or a plant ecologist.
I love that idea of really thinking about what I call “the ladder of engagement” and building the conservation constituency. And, as they say, everybody’s a future voter.