July 8, 2008

Sandhill Crane Refuge’s Work Continues

By Karen Nelson, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Jul. 8--PASCAGOULA -- A manager with the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, which takes up hundreds of acres in Jackson County, paid the county a compliment Monday when he paid the refuge's version of taxes.

Lloyd Culp, refuge complex manager, told the Board of Supervisors, "You've got something very special developing here in Jackson County. You have some of the rarest habitat on the entire planet."

Culp was talking about the pine savanna preserved on the sandhill crane refuge as habitat for the birds. That type of savanna 200 years ago stretched from Texas to Florida. Only about 2 percent is left and almost all of it is in Jackson County, he said.

And what is developing is more housing for research and education at the three campuses that Culp oversees -- the Mississippi Sandhill Crane Refuge and preserves at Grand Bay and Bon Secour, Ala.

Culp told supervisors that it's an exciting time for the wildlife preserves in this area.

Culp, who took the job within days of Katrina, said the storm did more than the immediate wind and water damage. The drought that followed for six to eight months caused major damage to the cranes because it made them vulnerable to predators. But he said that after three years, life is finally getting back to normal on that preserve.

The sandhill crane center is reopened to the public and the Grand Bay preserve is building research and education space.

Culp also told the board that the federal government has paid $108,000 toward rural fire departments and $99,000 to the county general fund to make up, somewhat, for what the county is losing in taxes it might have collected if the refuge acreage had been developed.

Culp also said he would begin the process of considering giving Gautier an easement across a strip of Sandhill Crane Refuge land so the city and county can build an access road to the Hickory Hill area. The popular residential area in north Gautier has only narrow Martin Bluff Road for ingress and egress.

Culp reported that the crane breeding program is going well with about 100 birds on the refuge, but added, "You'll never see the sky darkened by sandhill cranes."


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

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