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Mississippi Sandhill Crane
National Wildlife Refuge

7200 Crane Lane
Gautier, MS   39553
E-mail: MississippiSandhillCrane@fws.gov
Phone Number: 228-497-6322
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Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge

The Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge is one of more than 540 national wildlife refuges administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It was established in 1975 to safeguard the endangered Mississippi sandhill crane and its unique disappearing wet pine savanna habitat. The refuge consists of more than 19,000 acres in four units and is now part of the Gulf Coast National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Refuge Complex Manager also administers Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge (Mississippi/Alabama) and Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (Alabama).

Getting There . . .
The Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge is located in Jackson County, Mississippi, three miles north of Gautier. The headquarters/visitor center is located one-half mile north of I-10, exit 61, on the Gautier-Vancleave road.

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The refuge was established for the protection and recovery of the endangered Mississippi sandhill crane and the restoration of its unique habitat, wet pine savanna (pitcher plant bogs). It is estimated that 95-97% of this habitat has been altered, and the refuge serves as a key remnant ecosystem representative. The pine savanna has a rich herbaceous flora and includes some of the highest plant diversities, particularly carnivorous plants, in North America. The non-migratory Mississippi sandhill crane population has increased from 30-35 cranes in the mid-70s to the current 110-130 birds.

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Management Activities
Fire Management:

Managers use prescribed fire as the primary habitat management tool on the refuge. The prescribed fire program is used to mimic the natural fires that burned through the savannas every few years. Fires suppress the growth of hardwood shrubs and trees, create large open areas and clear out dead under-story plants while "recycling" nutrients. These nutrients act as fertilizer rejuvenating the wire grass and pitcher plants. The main objective in management of the refuge habitat is the long-term ongoing restoration of the unique and endangered wet pine savanna. As a result of fire suppression and pine plantations, afforestation is a major problem as trees and shrubs have supplanted the once-open savannas. In fact, some ecologists believe up to 90 percent of the trees on the refuge, primarily slash pine, need to be removed. Because of rainfall and low topography, the soils are often too wet for typical timber harvest or mechanical removal with heavy equipment. Hand-clearing with chain saws may be the only way to remove trees in many areas.

Invasive Species Management:

Exotic, non-native plant species can cause real problems with native habitats and restoration efforts. Cogongrass (Imperata cylindrica), a noxious grass, is causing concern as it is forming monotypic stands along roadways and other disturbed areas, and making its way into refuge habitats. Management of cogongrass is a challenge, but prevention of its spread into native savannas is necessary.

Farming for Wildlife:

A number of upland sites have been cultivated to provide winter feeding areas for cranes. There are now 13 food plots (or crop units), totaling about 113 acres and a 40-acre pasture on the refuge. Chufa, a sedge that produces a nut-like tuber, has been the major growing season crop. Corn, sunflowers, and a number of other crops have also been planted. Ryegrass, winter wheat, vetch and other cover crops have been planted in the autumn. Deer, turkey, and other resident wildlife also use the crop units.

Water Management:

The changes in habitat in areas surrounding the refuge have developed and caused important changes in the natural water regime, resulting in drier habitats and disturbance to historic crane roosts. Refuge personnel have created roost ponds and constructed several water control structures to adjust water flow into savanna edges during nesting season.

Crane Population Management:

A restocking effort with captive-reared birds is used to bolster the wild population. Although cranes lay one or two eggs each season, very rarely is more than one chick reared successfully. Beginning in 1965, "extra" eggs, the second viable egg from a two-egg nest, were occasionally removed from the local nests to become part of a captive flock. This captive breeding flock is divided and about half of the cranes reside at the Audubon Institute's Species Survival Center outside New Orleans and about half are at the White Oak Conservation Center near Jacksonville, Florida. Since 1981, captive reared cranes have been released annually on the refuge. This program is the largest crane release program in the world and has been so successful that 90 percent of the free-flying cranes seen today are captive-reared.

Refuge personnel monitor the cranes year-round to understand as much as possible about how they live and what they need to survive and nest successfully. Many of the cranes are marked in different ways so they may be identified individually with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service bands, plastic leg bands and leg bands mounted radiotransmitters. The information obtained is put in a data base and provides clues to habitat use, nesting, survival rates, cause of mortality, and many other aspects of local crane life.