June 18, 2008

Burns Tidy Up Crane Habitat

GAUTIER -- Nearly 30 Mississippi Sandhill crane nests were located and monitored during a busy spring at the National Wildlife Refuge devoted to the birds.

Fire crews burned 5,460 acres during the spring. The contained fires serve to keep the pine savannah habitat healthy for the cranes by removing the buildup of overgrowth. Cranes, deer and other native wildlife need the open landscapes produced by fire for food and shelter. Recently burned areas are less susceptible to destructive wildfires which could threaten nearby homes.

"The prescribed fire season is over but crane nesting will continue for a couple more months," explained biologist Emily Neidigh. "Close coordination between the fire crew and the biology staff ensured that the crane nests were not disturbed."

Neidigh said the fire crews at the refuge keep busy during the summer months by deploying locally and throughout the country to help suppress wildfires. When not deployed, they work to manually remove woody vegetation at the refuge with chain saws and heavy equipment.

The refuge is home to about 110 Mississippi Sandhill cranes. At least five of the nests discovered since nesting season started in March may contain some of the next generation of cranes born at the refuge, Neidigh said.


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