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NWP Global Registry of Apprentice Ecologists - Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, Gautier/Vancleave, Mississippi, USA

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Mississippi Sandhill Crane NWR, Gautier/Vancleave, Mississippi, USA
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simonlladner



Registered: December 2016
City/Town/Province: OCEAN SPRINGS
Posts: 1
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Living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a combination of beaches, marshes, swamps, and bayous that together make up our unique (and fragile) ecosystem, I’ve always been aware of humans’ effects on the environment. That being said, I never really considered that humans could cause things to grow, rampantly, even if they were indigenous to that area. This phenomenon was made very clear to me when I first asked the Sandhill Crane National Wildlife refuge to help me conduct an environmental stewardship project in the fall of 2016.
Of course, this request didn’t just come out of the blue; I was inspired to conduct an environmental project by the Nicodemus Wilderness Project. The reason that I actually chose to go about doing something instead of passing the opportunity over was because I’ve recently become hyper-aware of my environment’s need for human intervention, since the woods behind my school was recently drastically altered to mimic a historic pine savanna. Additionally, I took AP Environmental Science in my fall semester, and my teacher, Mrs. Rumery, was very supportive of me doing a project for Nicodemus.
After sending the initial email to the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge (SCNWR), I brainstormed with my contact, Scott Hereford, until we settled on the idea of tree lopping – the removal of pine trees from the Mississippi wet pine savannas that grow wildly, suffocating the Sandhill Crane’s habitat. I was then tasked with procuring volunteers. I did this by talking to each AP Environmental Science class until I had 15 students to come with me. We conducted the project in early October – all volunteers met together at the SCNWR with the director of fire management, Scott Saucier, and he walked us through safety procedures, and then they bussed us out to a natural area that desperately needed lopping.
The primary reason for us going out that afternoon was to cut down “slash” pine trees, which grow quickly and seed over large distances. Historically, wet pine savannas counted on fire to weed out smaller pine trees and keep the ground relatively clear. With the incursion of humans and their remarkable tendency to repress fires, the slash pine was able to grow into the thick pine forests that we see along Mississippi coastal highways today. Although they do “control burns” every two years, SCNWR couldn’t burn all of their property often enough to prevent pine saplings from growing to maturity; thus, they sometimes had to resort to tree cutting in order to manage it.
While to many, lots of trees may not seem a problem – after all, who’s going to complain about more trees? – this is a problem for the critically endangered Mississippi Sandhill Crane, which, unlike other sandhill crane species, doesn’t migrate. It’s a niche specialist, and the vanishing Mississippi Pine Savanna is the only habitat that can support all of its needs. The cranes are the reason I decided to conduct this project: to help create a more habitable environment for the Mississippi Sandhill Crane.
Mr. Saucier told us that the ideal habitat for a crane is less than 5 pine trees per acre. The site that we arrived at had hundreds of pine saplings growing on only a few acres. After every volunteer had a set of loppers, we set to work cutting down saplings. We had cleared about 4 acres of land before it got too hot to continue. Although that doesn’t sound like a lot, I estimate that each volunteer cut down at least fifty trees each. So together, we cut down hundreds of trees without fire and created a more hospitable environment for the sandhill crane in the process.
Looking back, I don’t regret anything about this project. I believe the group was the perfect size (more than 15 people couldn’t have fit in the van anyways). Although we didn’t clear as much land as I would’ve liked, it’s challenging to clear a large area in one day, since it gets so hot under that Mississippi sun. I’ve never really considered a career in environmental science, but working with Mr. Saucier made me seriously contemplate getting a degree in forestry or something similar, and working outside. I very much enjoyed working in nature, where even people weren’t meant to tread. Through this project, I also overcame a lot of my nervousness that I had about talking to people both in person and through email, and I wouldn’t trade that away for the world.
· Date: December 28, 2016 · Views: 445 · File size: 21.8kb, 3389.4kb · : 3264 x 2448 ·
Hours Volunteered: 75
Volunteers: 15
Authors Age & Age Range of Volunteers: 18 & 16 to 18
Area Restored for Native Wildlife (hectares): 1.6
Trash Removed/Recycled from Environment (kg): -
Native Trees Planted: -
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