Mississippi GEMS

Sandhill Crane Refuge Preserve

  1. Petit Bois IslandSite Information Point(s) of Contact: Refuge Manager: Alan Schriver
    7200 Crane Lane
    Gautier, MS 39553
    Phone: (228) 497-6322
    Fax: (228) 497-5407
    Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  2. Geographic Information
    1. Site Name: Gulf Coast Refuge Complex - Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR
    2. Narrative Description of the Site: The Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge, located in the southeastern portion of Jackson County, was established under the authority of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the protection and recovery of the endangered Mississippi Sandhill Crane. This sub-species, now estimated to be about 120 birds, had dropped to extremely low numbers (about 20) in the early 70's. The significant loss (98%) of wet savanna, the cranes preferred habitat, resulted primarily because of silvicultural practices, residential and commercial development and fire suppression. This habitat loss was the major reason for the cranes' endangerment.
    3. Date Site Established: This refuge was established in 1975
    4. Date When Information Last Updated: N/A
    5. Location: Jackson County, Mississippi latitude/longitude of centroid of site (88.74, 30.44)
      1. Relative Size: The refuge is approximately 20,000 acres consisting of three management units 1) Ocean Springs Unit (9,000 acres), 2) Gautier Unit (9,000 acres) and 3) Fontainebleau Unit (2,000 acres).
    6. Area of Influence:
      1. West - Cities of Ocean Springs, St. Martin and Latimer
      2. East - Pascagoula River, City of Gautier & the Hickory Hills Community
      3. South - Highway 90- Old Spanish Trail Highway- Sub-Divisions- Gulf of Mexico
      4. North - City of Vancleave, Rural Farms and Home Sites
  3. Ecological/Cultural Characteristics
    1. Habitat Types: Wet pine savannas, forested wetlands, pine scrub/shrub, and coastal marshes are the main habitat types on the refuge.
      Wet Pine Savannas: The original pre-settlement vegetation within the area of the refuge mostly consisted of pine savannas. The high natural fire frequency kept these grassland areas open, with vegetation such as wiregrass providing much of the fuel. Fire suppression allowed pines and shrubs to invade and out compete the native savanna plants. In the 1960s and 1970s, much of the remaining open savanna was converted to pine plantation by planting and ditching, the latter disrupted the natural water regime. Only about 2% of the original acreage of this habitat remains in the Atlantic/Gulf Coastal Plain making it one of the most endangered ecosystems in the nation. The refuge savannas are considered the last remaining large tracts. The savannas contain numerous species of grasses, sedges, and herbaceous wildflowers, interspersed with longleaf and slash pine. The plant species diversity is large, in fact, one of the highest in North America.
      Forested Wetlands: Forested wetlands on the refuge include swamps, bay-gum drains and pine flat-woods. Swamps are permanently flooded forested wetlands often found within the low lying wet savannas. Swamps are dominated with trees (cypress and tupelo) that can survive permanent flooding regimes. Major swamps on the refuge include Perigal Swamp, Turcotte Drain and Ben Williams Swamp. They are characterized by trees in the mid-story and over-story with a shrub layer and sparse herbaceous ground layer. Bay-Gum drainages are forested wetlands that consist of trees such bay, gum, and maple. These habitats support both shrub and herbaceous vegetation. Unlike swamps these forested wetlands are intermittently flooded. Flatwoods are located in areas where the water table is high enough to support trees such as pine, bay, maple and small cypress. Flatwoods were likely at one time savanna that has succeeded into forested habitat.
      Pine Scrub/Shrub: Pine scrub/shrub habitats are basically former pine savannas that have succeeded into shrubs with herbaceous ground cover. This succession is mainly attributed to the effects of long-term fire suppression. Very few of the native wild flowers and sedges remain since they have virtually been choked out by woody vegetation that was formerly kept at bay by wildfires.
      Coastal Marsh: Many of the Mississippi Sandhill Crane refuges coastal marshes (fresh and brackish) occur near and along riverine systems that flow through and adjacent to the refuge. These include West Pascagoula River, Bluff Creek, Page Bayou, Bayou Castelle, Perigal Bayou, Davis Bayou, and Old Fort Bayou. They consist of saw grass with other aquatic herbaceous species intermixed along the edges. On portions of the most southern Fontainebleau Unit, where the water salinity is higher, saw grass is replaced with salt meadow cordgrass and black needle rush.
    2. Rare/Endangered Species: Most of the 20,000 acres of the refuge is federally designated critical habitat for the Endangered Mississippi Sandhill Cranes. Other endangered or threatened species that may inhabit or visit the refuge include 1) Brown Pelican, 2) Peregrine Falcon, 3) Bald Eagle, 4) Bachmans Warbler and 5) Gopher Tortoise.
    3. Breeding/Nursery Area: In addition to the cranes, the refuge provides nesting habitat for many species of song birds, ospreys, raptors and game birds such as turkey, quail and dove. Many species of mammals also inhabit the refuge and include deer, rabbit, fox, bobcat, squirrel, and raccoon. Fishes such as largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish inhabit the fresh water bayous that flow through and along the refuge. These riverine systems provide excellent feeding and nesting habitat for many species of fishes. Some reaches of bayous, close to the gulf and during low flow periods, have waters that become brackish enough support species such as speckled trout, red drum, shrimp and blue crab. These areas where fresh and salt water mix are estuarine systems and represent one of these most productive wetland and open water habitats for fish and wildlife resources.
    4. Forage Area: The savannas, crop units and marshes on and near the refuge provide excellent forging habitat for many species of birds and mammals. Pine and pine/hardwood habitats with shrub and herbaceous understory provide seeds, berries, soft and hard mast that is consumed by many species of wildlife.
    5. Migratory Species: The Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge provides feeding, wintering habitat for many migratory birds including song birds, raptors and waterfowl. Savannah, scrub/shrub and forested habitats offer ideal food, cover and nesting sites for migratory species. Coastal habitats also provide important staging and feeding areas for neo-tropical migrants prior to fall migrations across the Gulf of Mexico and are the first areas these birds utilize on their return trip northward during the early spring.
    6. Ecosystem Function: In addition to their food, cover and nesting habitat values, the savannas, forested wetlands and marshes also provide other valuable functions. These include water purification, water table re-charge, flood storage/retention and storm surge protection. Vegetation along and near streams have the ability to assimilate pollutants from storm waters that may other wise enter the streams, bayous and estuaries. Wetlands also help to re-charge water tables. In addition floodplains serve valuable flood storage functions in that they contain and gradually release flood waters that may otherwise be speeding downstream and eventually piling up in low lying populated areas. Coastal wetlands are also known for their value in absorbing the shock of high wave actions and storm surges that occur during tropical storms and hurricanes.
    7. Uniqueness of Natural Community: The savannas consist of numerous species of grasses, sedges, herbaceous wildflowers and a few pine trees. The plant species diversity of savannas is large, in fact, one of the highest in North America. Of special interest are the orchids and carnivorous plants. Wet pine savanna soils are acidic in nature and have very low nutrient capacity. As such, the plants that grow in wet pine savannas are adapted for moist, high acid, low nutrient conditions. Some plants of the savannas make up the lack of nutrients in the soil by capturing, killing, and digesting animals -- mostly insects. These are called carnivorous plants. The refuge is the home of 10 species of carnivorous plants that fall into four main groups: sundews, butterworts, pitcher plants, and bladderworts.
    8. Archaeological and Cultural Significance: There are no identified cultural resource sites on the refuge.
  4. Current and Potential Use of Site
    1. Existing or Potential Educational Use: The refuge provides excellent educational opportunities. Frequently school groups, from elementary to college levels, visit the refuge. One of the nature trails abuts the Ocean Springs Middle School. This offers an excellent opportunity for the refuge to interact with this and other school systems within the coastal area. In addition, refuge staff are often asked by schools, clubs, groups, festivals etc. to speak about the refuge, wildlife resources and environmental issues. Science teachers take environmental refresher courses taught at the refuge by a local university extension service. Video, exhibits, nature trail and savanna at the visitor center offer a wealth of outdoor classroom opportunities.
    2. Recreational Use: The refuge offers the visiting public a 3/4 mile nature trail for hiking and birding. There is also have a diorama, exhibit and video about refuge operations. During January and February, refuge biologist offer the public an opportunity to view the cranes from select observation blinds. Visitors are provided with maps of areas near the refuge where they may drive to that are frequented by the cranes.
  5. Management Status
    1. Land Ownership: The Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge is owned by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.
    2. Existing Designations: The refuge is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
    3. Management Status: This refuge was established for the protection and recovery of the endangered Mississippi Sandhill Cranes. Restoration of wet savanna, which is the cranes primary habitat, is a major component of the recovery plan. Only 2 % of the original savannas now remain. We maintain and restore the savannas primarily with (fire) control burns. This unique habitat was severely reduced as a result of fire suppression. In addition to fire management, we also farm 60 acres of crop units on the refuge and plant grains such as chufa, rye, winter wheat and snow peas for the cranes. We also create small shallow water areas (2 or 3 acres) at various locations for roosting and nesting purposes.
    4. Existing Monitoring Activities: Monitoring crane activity is an integral part of the overall recovery plan. Many of our cranes have leg bands for identification purposes and radio tags which provide information regarding the cranes behavior.
    5. Management Needs: Habitat restoration and land acquisition are major management needs. This refuge is within the city limits of Gautier, MS. It is bounded on all sides by cities that are experiencing accelerated growth rates. Many acres of potential savanna habitat have been developed. This trend will no doubt continue. We need to acquire as much of the available lands as possible and continue to maintain and restore the unique savannas with an aggressive fire management program. We also need to continue our research and monitoring efforts.
  6. Site Viability: As stated under management needs urban development is a major threat to the ecological integrity of the refuge.
    1. Threats to Ecological Integrity: The accelerated growth rate occurring along the gulf coast and on all sides of the refuge will restrict the expansion potential of the refuge and likewise limit refuge management goals and objectives. Growth and development not only reduce the potential to expand the refuge and restore critical habitat but it can also hamper control burning which is the major management tool utilized by this refuge.
    2. Management Potential: Land acquisition, restoration of wet savanna, monitoring and research are important components of an overall management program. However, the limiting factor is that most of the unique savanna habitat and/or areas suitable for savanna restoration have been or soon will be developed. This fact makes it important that every element of our management program be maximized to the highest degree possible.
  7. Sources of Information: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services website for Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge: http://mississippisandhillcrane.fws.gov/.

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