Zastrow: The Forest Service salutes Andy Morse

By Dave Zastrow
For The Cordova Times

Each year the Alaska Region 10 Regional Forester in Juneau accepts nominations for the Regional Forester Awards. These awards recognize individuals and groups who have demonstrated significant achievements in restoring, sustaining and enhancing the national forests in Alaska, or have contributed to the well-being of their fellow employees, customers and local communities. Anyone within the organization may submit a nomination.

This year, Cordova Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Andy Morse was selected as the Employee of the Year. Andy serves as the LEO for the Cordova Ranger District, covering 2.9 million acres of public lands. Most of the district is remote and is accessible only by air- or jet-boat, ATV, snow machine, aircraft, cabin cruiser or overland by foot.

Andy is often called upon to provide lifesaving assistance to members of the public engaged in motorized and non-motorized recreation, subsistence hunting and fishing, ocean and river travel or winter recreation activities. He is skilled in search and rescue and has intimate knowledge of the local terrain.

This summer, Andy was dispatched to assist in a search-and-rescue effort on the remote Sheridan River southeast of Cordova. Five pack rafters attempted to float out of Sheridan Glacier Lake into Sheridan River and run a section of white-water back to the Copper River Highway. This glacial lake is filled with icebergs and the water temperature lingers just above freezing. When they entered the canyon section of the river several of their rafts capsized.

One of the rafters, forced to swim a long stretch of the glacial river, became trapped on a ledge on the canyon’s vertical wall for over two hours while waiting to be rescued. Andy’s intimate knowledge of the area enabled him to use an ATV to get as close as possible to the person’s location and then hike in the rest of the way.

The victim was hypothermic and losing feeling in their toes. After locating the stranded paddler, Andy roped himself up and traversed the canyon wall, and then belayed the person to safety. Then he gathered the rest of the rafters and hiked them out to safety, where the Cordova Volunteer Fire Department addressed any medical issues.

Timing is everything in search and rescue operations. The U.S. Coast Guard rescue helicopter stationed in Cordova was unavailable at the time, so Andy was responsible for conducting the rescue with limited resources. If not for Andy’s knowledge of the terrain, his understanding of rescue skills and techniques, his ability to take in the scope of the situation, and his fast and decisive action the situation could have ended much differently.

Andy’s actions were lifesaving and above and beyond the call of duty. Through these actions he exhibited the bravery, valor and heroism at the heart of the Forest Service and the law enforcement profession.

This year’s Regional Foresters Award recipients will be honored at a virtual ceremony.

Dave Zastrow is the Public Services Staff Officer of the U.S. Forest Service, Cordova Ranger District.