Gulf of Mexico Foundation
Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Gulf Ecological Management Sites (GEMS)

Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Moss Point, Mississippi

1. Site Information Contact

    Refuge Manager: Pon Dixson
    Address: 6005 Bayou Heron Road, Moss Point MS 39562
    Phone: 228-475-0765
    Fax: 228-475-1834

2. Geographic Information

    Site Name: Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge
    Description of the Site:
        Established in 1992 with a boundary of 12,100 acres.
        The primary purpose is to protect one of the largest
        expanses of Gulf Coast savannah remaining.
    Date Site Established: 1992
    Location: Mississippi, Jackson County, Alabama, Mobile County
        (Headquarters located at 30.425.197 W and 88.424.157 N)
    Relative Size: 12,000 acres
    Area of Influence:
        West - Cities of Moss Point and Pascagoula, Mississippi
        East - Cities of Grand Bay and Mobile, Alabama
        South - Gulf of Mexico
        North - US Highway 90, Interstate Highway 10 and Home
    Site Location Map

3. Ecological and Cultural Characteristics
Habitat Types - Wet pine savannahs, forested wetlands, pine scrub/shrub, and coastal marshes are the main habitat types on the refuge.

Wet Pine Savannahs - The original pre-settlement vegetation within the area of the refuge mostly consisted of pine savannahs. The high natural fire frequency kept these grassland areas open, with vegetation such as wiregrass providing much of the fuel. Fire suppression allowed pines and shrubs to invade and out compete the native savannah plants. In the 1960s and 1970s, much of the remaining open savanna was converted to pine plantation by planting and ditching, the latter disrupted the natural water regime. Only about 2% of the original acreage of this habitat remains in the Atlantic/Gulf Coastal Plain, making it one of the most endangered ecosystems in the nation. The savannahs are considered the last remaining large tracts and contain numerous species of grasses, sedges, and herbaceous wildflowers, interspersed with longleaf and slash pine. The plant species diversity is large, in fact, one of the highest in North America.

Forested Wetlands - Forested wetlands on the refuge include swamps, bay-gum drains and pine flat-woods. Swamps are permanently flooded forested wetlands often found within the low lying wet savannas. Swamps are dominated with trees (cypress and tupelo) that can survive permanent flooding regimes. They are characterized by trees in the mid-story and over-story with a shrub layer and sparse herbaceous ground layer. Bay-Gum drainages are also forested wetlands that also occur on the refuge and consist of trees such as bay, gum, and maple. These habitats support both shrub and herbaceous vegetation. Unlike swamps these forested wetlands are intermittently flooded. Flatwoods are habitats areas where the water table is high enough to support trees such as pine, bay, maple and small cypress. Flatwoods were likely at one time savannah that has succeeded into forested habitat.

Pine Scrub/Shrub - Pine scrub/shrub habitats are basically former pine savannas that have succeeded into shrubs with herbaceous ground cover. This succession is mainly attributed to the effects of long-term fire suppression. Very few of the native wild flowers and sedges remain since they have virtually been choked out by woody vegetation that was formerly kept at bay by wildfires.

Coastal Marsh - Many of the Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge's coastal marshes (fresh and brackish) occur near and along riverine systems that flow through and adjacent to the refuge. These include Escatawpa River, Bayou Heron, Bayou Gautier, Bayou Cumbust, Franklin Creek, and Middle Bayou. They consist of saw grass with other aquatic herbaceous species intermixed along the edges. On portions of the refuge where the water salinity is higher, saw grass is replaced with salt meadow cordgrass and black needle rush.

Rare/Endangered Species: Endangered or threatened species that may inhabit or visit the refuge include Brown Pelican, Peregrine Falcon, Bald Eagle, Bachman's Warbler, and Gopher Tortoise.

Breeding/Nursery Area: The refuge provides nesting habitat for many species of songbirds, ospreys, raptors and game birds such as turkey, quail and dove. Many species of mammals also inhabit the refuge and include deer, rabbit, fox, bobcat, squirrel and raccoon. Fishes such as largemouth bass, bluegill and catfish inhabit the fresh water bayous that flow through and along the refuge. These riverine systems provide excellent feeding and nesting habitat for many species of fishes. Some reaches of bayous, close to the gulf and during low flow periods, have waters that become brackish enough support species such as speckled trout, red drum, shrimp and blue crab. These areas where fresh and salt water mix are estuarine systems and represent one of these most productive wetland and open water habitats for fish and wildlife resources.

Forage Area: The savannahs and marshes on and near the refuge provide excellent forging habitat for many species of birds and mammals. Pine and pine/hardwood habitats with shrub and herbaceous understory provide seeds, berries, soft and hard mast that is consumed by many species of wildlife.

Migratory Species: The Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge provides feeding, wintering habitat for many migratory birds including songbirds, raptors and waterfowl. Savannah, scrub/shrub and forested habitats offer ideal food, cover and nesting sites for migratory species. Coastal habitats provide important staging and feeding areas for neo-tropical migrants prior to fall migrations across the Gulf of Mexico and are the first areas these birds utilize on their return trip northward during early spring.

Ecosystem Function: In addition to their food, cover and nesting habitat values, the savannahs, forested wetlands and marshes also provide other valuable functions. These include water purification, water table re-charge, flood storage/retention and storm surge protection. Vegetation along and near streams have the ability to assimilate pollutants from storm waters that may other wise enter the streams, bayous and estuaries. Wetlands also help to re-charge water tables. In addition floodplains serve valuable flood storage functions in that they contain and gradually release flood waters that may otherwise be speeding downstream and eventually piling up in a low lying populated areas. Coastal wetlands are also known for their value in absorbing the shock of high wave actions and storm surges that occur during tropical storms and hurricanes.

Uniqueness of Natural Community: The savannahs consist of numerous species of grasses, sedges, herbaceous wild flowers and a few pine trees. The plant species diversity of savannahs is large, in fact, one of the highest in North America. Of special interest are the orchids and carnivorous plants. Wet pine savannah soils are acidic in nature and have very low nutrient capacity. As such, the plants that grow in wet pine savannahs are adapted for moist, high acid, low nutrient conditions. Some plants of the savannahs make up the lack of nutrients in the soil by capturing, killing, and digesting animals -- mostly insects. These are called carnivorous plants. The refuge is the home of 10 species of carnivorous plants that fall into four main groups: sundews, butterworts, pitcher plants, and bladderworts.

Archaeological and Cultural Significance: There are several Native American Middens on the Refuge.

4. Current and Potential Use of the Site
Existing or Potential Educational Use: The refuge provides excellent educational opportunities. The refuge is in partnership with the Grand bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. Within the next two years a state of the art environmental education center will be constructed on the refuge. This will allow the refuge to reach a large number of students and members of the general public.

Recreational Use: The refuge is opened to hunting, fishing, bird watching, wildlife observation and a variety of non-consumptive public use activities. The refuge is home to numerous native wildflowers and provides a tremendous backdrop for nature photographers. The refuge is developing two nature trails and plans to establish outdoor classrooms.

5. Management Status
Land Ownership: The Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge is owned by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service.

Existing Designations: The refuge is administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Portions of the refuge are designated the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Management Status: This refuge was established for the protection and restoration of wet savannah. Only 2 % of the original savannahs remain. Savannahs are primarily restored and maintained with prescribed burns. This unique habitat has been severely reduced as a result of fire suppression. The refuge will actively use fire to restore the natural ecology of the landscape.

Existing Monitoring Activities: While there is little monitoring taking place presently, the prescribed fire program will be monitored closely to document the impacts of fire on both the flora and fauna.

Management Needs: Habitat restoration and land acquisition are major management needs. We need to acquire as much of the available lands as possible to maintain and restore the unique savannahs with an aggressive fire management program. We also need to establish research and monitoring programs.

6. Site Viability
Urban development is a major threat to the ecological integrity of the refuge.

Threats to Ecological Integrity: The accelerated growth rate occurring along the gulf coast and on all sides of the refuge will restrict the expansion potential of the refuge and likewise limit refuge management goals and objectives. Growth and development not only reduce the potential to expand the refuge and restore critical habitat but it can also hamper control burning which is the major management tool utilized by this refuge.

Management Potential: Land acquisition, restoration of wet savannah, monitoring and research are important components of an overall management program. However, the limiting factor is that most of the unique savannah habitat and/or areas suitable for savannah restoration have been developed. The refuge needs to acquire the last remaining large tracts of lands and protect them for future generations.

7. Sources of Information:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services= WEB site for Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Gulf of Mexico Foundation - PMB 51, 5403 Everhart - Corpus Christi, TX 78411
(800) 884-4175 toll free - (361) 882-3939 phone - (361) 882-1262 fax
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webmaster: Carrie Robertson