Grand Bay Expansion Proposal
Conserving the Nature of America
Map of the Southeast Region Map of Kentucky Map of the Caribbean and Navassa Map of North Carolina Map of Tennessee Map of South Carolina Map of Arkansas Map of Louisiana Map of Mississippi Map of Alabama Map of Georgia Map of Florida

Introduction to the Proposal


Jump to a section: Introduction | Location and Size | Habitat Diversity | How an Expansion Contributes to Grand Bay's Conservation Goals


The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), Southeast Region, proposes to expand the acquisition boundary at Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama. The purpose of the proposed refuge expansion is to contribute to the goals of the Central Gulf Coast Ecosystem by preserving valuable riverine habitat, protecting endangered and threatened species, restoring and protecting key habitats (i.e. coastal savanna, longleaf pine), and managing populations of migratory birds and other interjurisdictional trust species. The Service’s Central Gulf Coast Ecosystem Team has endorsed this project and several partnership opportunities exist with state agencies and conservation organizations. The project area is within The Nature Conservancy’s Grand Bay Bioreserve, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), and the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources’ Grand Bay Coastal Preserve.

Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) was established in 1992 with an acquisition boundary of 12,100 acres. The primary purpose of the refuge is to protect one of the largest expanses of Gulf Coast savanna remaining in a relatively undisturbed state. In 1997, a 2,700 acre expansion was approved to bring under management a section of the scenic Escatawpa River. In 2003, a 665 acre expansion was approved to contribute to the goals of the Central Gulf Coast Ecosystem by preserving valuable near-shore barrier islands habitat. In addition, the proposed expansion enabled the Service to acquire a small tract with a metal storage building which is being utilized as a refuge maintenance facility. The Service has acquired a total of 10,216 acres within an approved acquisition boundary of 17,742 acres at Grand Bay NWR.


Location and Size


Grand Bay NWR is located in the coastal zone of Jackson County, Mississippi and Mobile County, Alabama, approximately 10 miles east of Pascagoula, Mississippi. The proposed expansion includes four areas which total 8,384 acres.


Area A: 331 acres - Download map of Area A

A small area at the northeast corner of the refuge that includes a large gopher tortoise colony. .


Area B: 1,341 acres - Download map of Area B

An area of coastal savanna in the central part of the refuge. See map.


Area C: 2,703 acres - Download map of Area C

A section of the Escatawpa River and a tributary, Black Creek on the west side of the refuge. See map.


Area D: 4,009 acres - Download map of Area D

An area known as the Grand Bay Swamp which reaches from the eastern boundary of the refuge to Bayou La Batre in Alabama. See map.


Habitat Diversity


The proposed expansion areas contain a diversity of habitat types including wooded swamps, wet pine savannas, riverine corridors, estuarine tidal marshes, and nearshore coastal waters. Some of the most significant natural communities are:


Bottomland Hardwood Wetlands

In Area C, large blocks of bottomland hardwood wetlands border a riverine corridor formed by the Escatawpa River, tributaries, and numerous sloughs and lakes. Water levels fluctuate by several feet from their low point in the summer to winter and spring flood stage. The Escatawpa River also receives tidal influence from the Gulf of Mexico. Forest types are dictated by soil moisture regimes and include slash pine on the higher sites of the first levee where Atlantic white cedar occurs as a mid-story component. This occurrence represents one of the furthest known western extents of the species. Bald cypress and swamp tupelo dominate the swamps behind the natural levees. Associated trees and shrubs include sweetbay, redbay, and wax myrtle underneath the pine while buttonbush, swamp privet, and black willow are found below the cypress-tupelo canopy.



Pine Savannas and Flatwoods

Open longleaf and slash pine savannas and flatwoods which are recognized for the spectacular displays of pitcher plants, orchids, composites, and other plants, characterize Area B. The savannas include a low, dense herbaceous layer and a sparse tree canopy dominated by slash and longleaf pines. Studies indicate that species richness in savannas is among the highest of any natural community in temperate North America, with up to 40 species per square meter having been measured at Grand Bay. Flatwoods are distinguished from savannas by a lesser tree canopy, a less diverse herb layer and a well developed and often more diverse shrub layer.



Pond Cypress Savannas

Pond cypress savannas, which are the wettest savanna communities at Grand Bay, commonly occur in slight depressions and along shallow drains which meander across Area D. The canopy is dominated by pond cypress and occasionally slash pine and under a regime of frequent fire; an open character is maintained with a sparse shrub canopy. A dense herbaceous layer is dominated by grass and sedge species.



Intertidal Marshes

The intertidal marshes located in the Grand Bay estuaries of Area D include a wide variety of marsh types (low, mid-level, and high elevation marsh habitat) and some unvegetated salt flats. The brackish marsh occurs as a fringe of varying width along the southern edge bordering on the Mississippi Sound. Dominant plants in this community are saltgrass, black rush, and Spartina spp. Salt flats occur at the upper margin of brackish marshes and are characterized by expanses of hypersaline soil devoid of vegetation apart from widely scattered individuals of a limited number of halophytic species. Narrow, distinct bands of Spartina alterniflora occur along the creeks and channels.




The Grand Bay Swamp in Area D represents the westernmost occurrence of pocosin along the Gulf Coast, a natural feature of regional significance. Pocosin, a natural community more commonly associated with the Atlantic Coastal Plain of the Carolinas, comprises a virtually impenetrable, shrub thicket of sweetbay, titi, swamp black gum, and slash pine laced with bamboo vine. The plants grow on a substrate of waterlogged organic matter often as much as 2 meters thick. Rare plants known from this community include Atlantic white cedar and spoonflower.



Barrier Islands

A string of near-shore barrier islands form part of the southern boundary of the Area D. These islands are continually eroding primarily because of a lack of available sediments. The open-bay areas behind the islands support large productive oyster reefs and seagrass beds. The habitats provide cover and food availability for a host of estuarine and marine species. The coastline is fringed with salt flats, salt shrub thickets, shell middens, and tidal creeks which provide shelter and foraging habitat to a variety of game and nongame wildlife.



How an Expansion Contributes to Grand Bay's Conservation Goals


Every National Wildlife Refuge has a Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP), a document that provides direction for managing the refuge over a 15-year time period. Comprehensive conservation plans address conservation of fish, wildlife, and plant resources and their related habitats, while providing opportunities for compatible wildlife-dependent recreation uses. An overriding consideration reflected in these plans is that fish and wildlife conservation has first priority in refuge management, and that public use be allowed and encouraged as long as it is compatible with, or does not detract from, the Refuge System mission and refuge purpose(s).

An expansion of Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge would provide serveral conservation benefits, such as:

  • Prevention of the fragmentation of longleaf and slash pine savannas, flatwoods, pond cypress savanna, and brackish and salt marsh communities
  • Many opportunities for partnership with agencies such as The Nature Conservancy, NOAA, and MDMR (Grand Bay Coastal Preserve)
  • Increased potential for re-establishing a second breeding flock of the endangered Mississippi sandhill crane
  • Groundwater recharge for the regional aquifer and a source of high quality water to the productive estuarine waters of the Gulf of Mexico

This proposal seeks to meet both present and future land conservation and resource protection needs for Grand Bay NWR. By protecting additional conservation lands critical to the management of refuge resources, it is tied to many of the goals and objectives of the Refuge’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan including:

  • Goal 1: Fish and Wildlife Populations and Habitat Management - In support of national and regional plans, promote management actions that will provide for viable populations of native fish and wildlife species and habitats, with special emphasis on wet pine savanna;
    • Objective 1-1: Migratory Waterfowl – Within 15 years of CCP approval, support the annual population objective of the North American Waterfowl Management Plan (NAWMP), by contributing 20 percent (3,600 ducks) of a midwinter population of approximately 18,000 ducks in the Coastal Mississippi Wetlands Initiative Area.
    • Objective 1-2: Other Migratory Birds – Within 15 years of CCP approval, provide habitats sufficient to meet population goals of regional and national bird conservation plans.
    • Objective 1-3: Threatened and Endangered Species – Document all sightings of listed species, and within 15 years of CCP approval, create and enhance favorable conditions for gopher tortoises (200 acres) and possible reintroduction of 12-15 Mississippi sandhill cranes (5-7 nesting pairs) and gopher frog (creating 2 ponds).
    • Objective 1-5: Wet Pine Savanna – Within 15 years of CCP approval, restore 2,500 acres of wet pine savanna habitat, supporting primarily grassy-herbaceous dominated conditions to benefit grassland birds.
    • Objective 1-6: Forested Wetlands – Within 15 years of CCP approval, restore forest structure to promote super-emergent trees, cavities, and understory structure on approximately 2,000 acres to benefit migratory land birds.
  • Goal 2: Resource Protection - Identify, conserve and protect natural and cultural resources through partnerships, land protection programs, and law enforcement.
    • Objective 2-2: Cultural Resources – Within 15 years of CCP approval, develop and begin to implement a Cultural Resources Management Plan (CRMP).
  • Goal 3: Visitor Services - Provide opportunities for high quality, wildlife-dependent public uses, leading to greater understanding and enjoyment of fish, wildlife, and the Gulf Coast ecosystems contained within the refuge.
    • Objective 3-1: Visitor Services Plan – Within three years of CCP completion, develop a Visitor Services Plan to be used in managing public use facilities and opportunities on the refuge.
    • Objective 3-3: Fishing and Hunting – Continue to allow fishing and provide hunting for deer, squirrel, and waterfowl consistent with state regulations and seasons.




A closeup of a brown sandhill crane chick
Grand Bay's Comprehensive Conservation Plan lists an opportunity to reintroduce endangered Mississippi sandhill cranes to the refuge within the next 12 years. Photo: USFWS crane cam at Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR.

A white and purple-pink pitcher plant
A pitcher plant at Grand Bay, characteristic of the pine savanna and flatwood habitats. Photo © Tom Carlisle.

A sparrow in a tree
Seaside sparrow. Photo © Tom Carlisle.

Sunset at Grand Bay
Sunset at the bay. Photo © Tom Carlisle.

A doe staring straight at the camera
An expansion of Grand Bay would continue to allow for fishing and provide hunting for deer, squirrel, and waterfowl consistent with state regulations and seasons. Photo: USFWS.
Last updated: June 21, 2011