Oil Spill Puts Dozens of National Wildlife Refuges At Risk

  Gulf wetlands

Managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the National Wildlife Refuge System is one of our greatest treasures for wildlife conservation. Now these refuges that protect public lands and waters, conserve America’s fish and wildlife, and offer countless outdoor recreation opportunities are facing severe damages from the BP Oil Spill.

The USFWS estimates that 36 national wildlife refuges are at risk from the BP Oil Spill – many of which serve as critical migratory stopovers, support rare or diminishing ecosystems, and are the last remaining havens for threatened and endangered species.

National Wildlife Federation’s list of refuges facing the greatest threats from the BP Oil Spill:

Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

Migratory Bird Sanctuary and Fisheries Recovering from Earlier Oil Spill take a Second Blow

Delta National Wildlife Refuge sits along the Mississippi River near Venice, Louisiana and can only be reached by boat. The refuge's marshlands are an important nursery for fresh and saltwater fish species such as speckled trout, redfish, flounder, and largemouth bass. Thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds come each year to rest and feed during migration or find a home for the winter.

The American alligator, brown pelican, Arctic peregrine falcon, and piping plover are federally listed species that are either refuge residents or migratory visitors.

Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi & Alabama

Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Disappearing Wet Pine Savanna Under Attack

The Grand Bay National Wildlife Refuge located in coastal Mississippi and Alabama, preserves one of the largest remaining blocks of wet pine savanna, a critically endangered ecosystem. The refuge supports a variety of other habitat types including mixed hardwoods and estuarine salt marshes.

Only 3 – 5% of the original wet pine savanna area remains today. Now these precious grounds that are already one of the most endangered ecosystems in North America are threatened by oil that is coming ashore.

Grand Bay NWR's habitat diversity makes it a haven for several species of migratory birds, waterfowl, amphibians, and reptiles. Threatened and endangered species in the refuge include the gopher tortoise, red-cockaded woodpecker, and brown pelican. The southern portion of the refuge supports a rich fishery that includes the spotted seatrout, red drum, flounder, blue crab, and shrimp.

Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi

Fragile Habitat Protecting Endangered Cranes Being Closely Monitored

In 1975, under authority of the Endangered Species Act, the Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect the critically endangered Mississippi sandhill cranes and their unique (also endangered) wet pine savanna habitat. Nineteen thousand acres were set aside.

Mississippi Sandhill Cranes

Mississippi sandhills are a non-migratory subspecies of the sandhill crane, and only 35 individuals remained on the Gulf coast when this refuge was established. Today, that number has swelled to roughly 120 cranes, but the Mississippi sandhill crane is still at risk of extinction – and is under new threats from the BP oil spill.

At present, only 5% or less of the original savanna habitat that once supported the cranes remains on the Gulf Coastal Plain. For this reason, Mississippi sandhill cranes now occur only on the refuge named for them and adjacent private lands in the vicinity of the refuge.

The refuge also protects and restores these last large expanses of wet pine savanna, primarily through the use of prescribed fire. The wet pine savanna is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the U.S. with more than 30 plants found in a square meter of land.

Refuge staff and interns are maintaining a vigilant watch on the refuge and have been active participants in the oil clean up efforts. 

Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge, Alabama

Oil Washing Ashore in What Should be a Safe Haven for Wildlife

Bon Secour NWR coastline

Though the Bon Secour NWR is relatively small – only 7,000 acres – it is one of the largest undeveloped areas on the Alabama coast and contains a variety of habitat types including fresh and salt water marsh, uplands, sand dunes, fresh water swamps and scrub forest.

Bon secour is French for "safe harbor", an appropriate name for a wildlife refuge that is a sanctuary for many native species of flora and fauna, including the endangered Alabama beach mouse.

Its beaches are nesting grounds for the endangered Kemp's ridley and loggerhead sea turtles. Hatchlings that survive the crawl to the ocean will swim to open water in the Gulf of Mexico where they seek food and cover in floating vegetation. This has raised major concerns about sea turtle hatchling exposure to oil among wildlife experts and biologists.  Bon Secour has now become part of an unprecendented program to relocate these nests to safer locations.

The refuge supports over 370 bird species during migratory season, including seven species of hummingbirds, a robust osprey population and several heron species. Roughly 100,000 people visit and explore Bon Secour each year, and it also serves as an outdoor laboratory for students and scientists.

Oil started washing ashore in early June 2010 and refuge staff, volunteers and BP oil clean up crews have been working to protect these fragile lands and clean up the oil.

Breton National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana

One of Our Country’s First Refuges Took One of the First Hits from BP Oil

Breton NWR

Breton National Wildlife Refuge is the second oldest wildlife refuge in the United States. This national treasure was established in 1905 by President Roosevelt and is composed of several islands providing habitat for wading birds and seabirds. With numerous nesting species including brown pelicans, royal terns, Caspian terns and Sandwich terns, the Breton NWR also provides an initial storm barrier for southeast Louisiana wetlands – whose features and vegetation are key components in protecting metropolitan New Orleans.

Thousands of brown pelicans and other shorebirds are currently nesting on these threatened barrier islands.

In early May of 2010, the US Fish and Wildlife Service found sheen and emulsified oil near the islands of the refuge and closed it to protect the nesting birds and to allow workers to operate safely and efficiently.

More Gulf Coast Areas In Danger

The gulf coast region is home to a number of protected natural areas including (both national and state) parks, forests, and wildlife refuges. These natural areas safeguard our shorelines and provide homes to many threatened and endangered species.

Other Gulf Coast areas threatened by the oil spill include:

 

Related Resources:

 

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