Sandhill Cranes Facing New Problems With Dry Weather

The struggle for survival at Jackson County's Sandhill Crane Refuge is becoming more difficult. Hurricane Katrina's wind and rain did their share of damage. Now, the post-storm drought poses a new threat.

About 120 cranes make their home on 20,000 acres in Gautier.

"These cranes have survived hurricanes for thousands of years and we probably survived cranes going back to Frederick," wildlife biologist Scott Hereford said.

Hereford says Hurricane Katrina wasn't as kind.

"Most of the cranes hunkered out and rode it out. We did lose a couple of cranes, including an important breading female that died."

Biologist are busy tracking the surviving birds and making sure their home is cleaned up.

"The refuge itself fared pretty well. Most of the main structures had minor wind damage. Of course, we had a lot of trees down."

Hurricane Katrina left piles of debris on the refuge and since the storm there has been very little rain. That can become a dangerous combination.

"We recorded the humidity to be about 20 percent, which is extremely rare for this time of year on the Gulf Coast. The fire danger is very high," fire management officer Tony Wilder said.

Fire prevention measures on the Sandhill Crane Refuge are nothing new, but now some new tactics are being used to protect the marshes of the refuge.

"That includes removing trees from around the fire line and using the fire plow to plow a 30 foot protection line around the refuge to keep any fire that could occur from going out of the refuge on to private property."