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U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Conducting Initial Damage Assessments to Wildlife and National Wildlife Refuges


September 9, 2005

Contacts: Jeffrey Fleming, 404-679-7287
Jim Rothschild, 404-679-7299

With a huge storm surge and winds over 150 miles per hour, Hurricane Katrina swept into coastal Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  Sixteen coastal national wildlife refuges (NWR) were temporarily closed in its aftermath, and initial damage assessments to Fish and Wildlife Service facilities now exceed $94 million.  Impacts to wildlife are just beginning to be assessed.

Here are some preliminary examples of Hurricane Katrina’s impact on wildlife:

      Refuges covering nearly 365,000 acres still closed:  In Alabama, 6,816-acre Bon Secour NWR in Gulf Shores; 4.218-acre Choctaw NWR in Jackson.  In Mississippi, 14,060-acre Grand Bay NWR; 20,000-acre Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR in Gautier; 48,000-acre Noxubee NWR in Brooksville; 24,445-acre St. Catherine Creek NWR in Sibley. In Louisiana, 15,222-acre Atchafalaya NWR in Whiskey Bay; 22,770-acre Bayou Sauvage NWR in New Orleans; 9,028-acre Bayou Teche NWR in Franklin; 17,094-acre Big Branch Marsh NWR in Lacombe; 37,600-acre Bogue Chitto NWR in Pearl River; 13-000-acre Breton NWR in Gulf of Mexico; 9,463-acre Cat Island NWR in St. Francisville; 48,800-acre Delta NWR in Venice; 4,212-acre Mandalay NWR in Houma; 70,000-acre Tensas NWR in Tallulah

      Breton National Wildlife Refuge now about half its previous size:  Breton NWR, which is part of the Chandeleur Islands and celebrated its centennial last year, is roughly half the size it was before Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast last week.

      Worst damages to refuges:   Besides Breton NWR, Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Delta NWR; Bogue Chito NWR; and Bayou Sauvage NWR appear to have taken the greatest impact.

      Sea Turtles:  About fifty sea turtle nests along the Alabama coast were lost.  All ten of the nests at Bon Secour NWR were destroyed.
      Mississippi sandhill cranes:  A captive flock of Mississippi sandhill cranes at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species (ACRES) in New Orleans survived the hurricane.  At Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, about 38 of the 140 remaining endangered Mississippi sandhill cranes have radio transmitters.  25 of  the 38 transmittered birds have been found alive after the storm.  Although access to the refuge is restricted in several areas, preliminary assessments indicate a high survival rate for the cranes.

      Red-cockaded woodpeckers:  Significant numbers of trees are down at Noxubee NWR, and these include cavity trees used by roosting and nesting red-cockaded woodpeckers.  Tree loss also will impact foraging habitat for these endangered birds.

      Coastal Wetlands Impacts:  Though it is still early and more analysis is needed, the Service and its partners have completed some preliminary assessments and expect significant coastal wetland impacts. Coastal marshes in the Mississippi  River delta and the Parishes south of New Orleans were hard hit by winds, surge, and saltwater.  Spartina was extensively uprooted, and Phragmites was laid over and "burned" by saline storm surge.  Further spatial analyses will be needed to quantify the acreage of those wetlands that were converted to open water.  Coastal forested wetlands in the eastern Lake Pontchartrain Basin to the Pearl River were defoliated, and heavy damage to standing trees was sustained.  Prior to Hurricane Katrina, roughly 23 square miles of valuable coastal wetlands were being lost annually.
      Alabama Beach Mouse:  Primary dunes, which are typically the beach mouse’s best habitat have been destroyed.  In addition, 90 percent of the secondary dunes were destroyed.  Scrub habitat was damaged by salt spray from the ocean.  Both habitat types serve as food sources for the beach mice and it is likely that their population will be substantially reduced from the effects of both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Ivan from last year.  Biologists are looking at the possibility of supplemental feeding of oats and seeds in places where beach mouse tracks are found.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting, and enhancing fish and wildlife and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.  The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System comprised of more than 545 national wildlife refuges, thousands of wetlands, and other special management areas.  It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fish and wildlife management offices, and 78 ecological services field stations.  The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts.  It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to State fish and wildlife agencies.

Photos of Hurricane Katrina

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