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EPIC Experience | Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge

The Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge, run by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, is now also home to two USFWS EPIC interns! This is the first group of interns to have the opportunity to work with USFWS biologist, Angela Dedrickson at this particular refuge. Interns Rose Caplan, and Shannon Finnerty started their year-long internship in September of 2018. During their time with the refuge, they have been an integral part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service team.

Interns in the bird blind to conduct monitoring with a refuge volunteer.

Mississippi sandhill cranes in their temporary enclosure.

The refuge was established in 1975 under the authority of the Endangered Species Act to protect the critically endangered Mississippi sandhill cranes and their unique, and itself endangered, wet pine savanna habitat.The population was once at a low of 30-35 individuals, however, with the efforts of the refuge they have been brought up to over a hundred individuals as of 2019. The 20,000 acres of the refuge also protects the critically endangered Mississippi gopher frog, more commonly known as the dusky gopher frog.

Intern Rose and Shannon check camera traps and fill feeds to monitor and track the wild cranes on the refuge.

Each morning the interns monitor the new cranes which are brought in from another facility to be released on the refuge. Through captive rearing and reintroduction to the area, as well as wild birds nesting in the savannas, the crane population continues to grow. The interns monitor their behavior and reactions to potential threats, as well as monitoring the wild population through camera traps. Rose and Shannon have also played a roll in the dusky gopher frog project from the time they arrived as tadpoles to their eventual release later this year. 

A intern dons a “crane suit” which allows her to approach the crane enclosure in somewhat of a disguise. This is done to prevent the cranes from becoming comfortable with humans.

Interns work with USFWS biologist, Angela Dedrickson to survey the potential release site of the dusky gopher frogs.

Interns on the refuge bayou conducting wildlife surveys from a boat.

A squirrel tree frog.

Both ACE and the US Fish and Wildlife Service are excited to see the partnership grow and continue into the future. An in-depth video for follow on the refuge and the role ACE EPIC interns are playing in the protection of these species.

Bryce Canyon National Park | Prairie Dog Habitat Restoration

Throughout summer 2018, ACE Mountain-West had crews on a habitat restoration project with Bryce Canyon National Park. With the goal of protecting the threatened Utah Prairie Dog, the crews worked to remove rubber rabbitbrush around existing prairie dog habitat.

Facing habitat loss, plague, predation and livestock grazing in their habitat, the Utah Prairie Dog population has taken a hit. In the 1920s an attempt to control their populations by poisoning the colonies and agricultural and grazing activities devastated the population. By the early 1970s, the Utah Prairie Dog had been eliminated from major portions of its historical range and had declined to an estimated 3,300 individuals distributed among 37 Utah Prairie Dog colonies.

Today the populations have increased and stabilized, but there is still work being done to maintain these numbers, especially in Bryce Canyon National Park where recent exposure to the plague have impacted population numbers. Prairie dogs burrow underground to build their homes as protection from predators. They do this in groups, burrowing extensive channels called “towns” to live in with their clan. Rabbitbrush grows too high for the prairie dogs to be able to spot their prey so in turn, when the brush grows to high the prairie dogs will abandon their “towns.”

To combat this, our ACE crew, led ACE Crew Leader by Katey Hockenbury worked to remove invasive brush around their habitat within the Park. The crew tracked their progress with pin flags and GPS coordinates in the sea of rabbitbrush they were removing.

https://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

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