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Collaborative effort to raise private funds for the purchase of the first wildlife underpass is launched

Mule Deer Foundation and Conservation Northwest with support from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation are together raising and contributing over $300,000 for “seed money” to purchase the first wildlife underpass on Highway 97 between Riverside and Tonasket. Protecting this critical mule deer migratory path while avoiding potentially fatal vehicle accidents is a top priority for all three organizations.   With Washington State Department of Transportation supplying the design, know-how, and eventual installation, this funding drive is gaining momentum!

Yakima, Spokane, Mt Vernon, Ellensburg and Wenatchee Mule Deer Foundation Chapters have donated over $20,308 to this cause.  Okanogan Trails, the lead MDF Chapter for this project has donated $12,000.   These are hard earned dollars primarily coming from members contributions at each chapter’s  annual banquets & auctions. It is hoped that these donations along with contributions  from Back Country Hunters and Anglers and private citizens will be matched by Mule Deer Foundation National Office funds.

Conservation Northwest has launched an Okanogan Wildlife Crossings Campaign online fundraising effort, where citizens across the state can make a donation large or small towards our overall fundraising goal.  Join our effort and make a donation today for safer passage!

Collaboratively our partners aim to use this successfully expression of diverse community support for the purchase of the first wildlife underpass structure to jointly make a funding request with all project supporters to the Washington State Legislature next legislative session to leverage these private funds with public support for the necessary funding to complete the first 4-mile phase of creating safer passage on this stretch of highway.  The first phase will include three underpasses, fencing and cattle-guards and is ready to begin as early as spring 2020 if funds are available. Once completed the first phase is expected to cut auto/deer accidents by over 50% over the entire 12 miles.  Future phases will address the remaining problem areas.

This effort is a great example of what we all can accomplish when we join our voices and efforts together for a good cause.   Help us meet our $300,000 fundraising goal by learning more and donating online today towards the first wildlife underpass!

Information kiosk on shrub-steppe habitat and need for safer passage on Highway 97 installed at Carter Mountain Wildlife Area

Through a partnership with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, our Okanogan Trails Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation designed and installed an information kiosk at Carter Mountain Wildlife Area this month to engage visitors on the value of shrub-steppe habitat in our region and the need for creating safer passage on Highway 97 for people and wildlife.  Situated adjacent to Highway 97, Carter Mountain Wildlife Area provides important habitat for wildlife moving through and residing in the Okanogan Valley.  This kiosk will help engage and inform visitors to the wildlife area.

Information kiosk at Carter Mountain Wildlife Area sponsored by the Okanogan Trails Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation. In the picture from the left: Jay Kehne, Allisa Carlson, and Justin Haug.

The kiosk is the final step in a larger project of Okanogan Trails Chapter of Mule Deer Foundation to improve a trailhead and user experience at Carter Mountain Wildlife Area.  With funds raised at their banquet in 2014, the local chapter made improvements in coordination with Okanogan Backcountry Horsemen, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) to the Carter Mountain trailhead that included Improvements included grading, gravelling packing and fence installation around the trail head parking area. This trailhead provides access to the Carter Mountain Wildlife area where hunters, back country horsemen, hikers and wildlife watchers come to enjoy Okanogan’s shrub steppe landscapes and wildlife.  The trailhead sits immediately adjacent to the location of the planned first installation of the first underpass in Phase I of the safepassage for HWY 97 effort currently underway.  Some pictures attached to add as needed.

The information kiosk is the result of many generous contributions.  Design and layout of the new information kiosk was donated by Okanogan Conservation District, materials and construction donated by the local Home Depot store, photos and maps provided by Justin Haug,  Graphics completed by Fossil Graphic in New York City, with final installation of the Kiosk completed by WDFW, and Mule Deer Foundation volunteers.

Carter Mtn Trailhead Improvements

Central Washington Latino Community Fund documents support for safer passage on Highway 97

In a letter signed by Central Washington Manager Micaela Razo, the Central Washington Latino Community Fund displayed their support for making Highway 97 in the Okanogan Valley safer for people and wildlife.  The letter states “the Latino community has a long history in the Okanogan valley and is well established and distributed.  The Safe Passage on Highway 97 Project is proposed along this corridor that many Latino community members travel every day, to and from work, schools, and recreate.  We join the Colville Confederated Tribes, Conservation Northwest, the Mule Deer Foundation and many other local partners and community members in support of this project.”

View the full letter of support, and other statements of support for creating safer passage on this stretch of highway.

Secretary Zinke Prioritizes Big Game Corridors

This month at the Western Conservation and Hunting Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke signed Secretarial Order 3362, which aims to improve habitat quality and western big game winter range and migration corridors for antelope, elk, and mule deer. The order seeks to foster improved collaboration with states and private landowners and facilitates all parties using the best available science to inform development of guidelines that helps ensure that robust big game populations continue to exist.  Priority states currently include Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

“We all know that animals go where animals want to go, and more often than not that’s dependent upon natural features like watersheds, rather than whether land is owned by the BLM, state, or private landowners. We need to manage appropriately. My goal is healthy herds for American hunters and wildlife watchers, and this order will help establish better migration corridors for some of North America’s most iconic big game species like elk, mule deer and antelope,” said Secretary Zinke.  According to the Department of Interior the Secretarial Order initiative will help with many aspects of solving the challenges encountered along the pathways of these migratory routes.

“We greatly appreciate Secretary Zinke’s commitment to improving the habitat quality of big game migratory corridors and winter range on lands managed by the department’s bureaus,” said Mule Deer Foundation President and CEO, Miles Moretti. “Big game populations have faced increasing challenges during their seasonal migrations and in the crucial winter period. Federal public lands play a critical role in the annual life cycle of mule deer and black-tailed deer and we pledge our wholehearted support and engagement to implement Secretarial Order 3362.”

Here in Washington, creating safer passage for motorists and mule deer on Highway 97 in the Okanogan Valley is a priority and a great way to show how our state can work with diverse partners to engage in implementation of this initiative.

Click here to view the Department of Interior’s press release on this Executive Order.

Scholarship contest awards for high schoolers near Highway 97 project area recognized at annual Mule Deer Foundation banquet

In an effort to engage young adults in understanding the need and communicating the benefits of creating safer passage for people and wildlife on Highway 97 in Okanogan County, the Okanogan Trails Mule Deer Foundation Chapter hosted a scholarship contest for Tonasket, Omak, and Okanogan Highschools.  The contest asked highschool juniors and seniors in these three area schools to submit a photo and essay providing new ideas and new strategies for communication. The scholarship contest is funded through generous donations from local Mule Deer Foundation chapter individual donations, Toyota Together Green, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

High quality entries were submitted that resulted in 7 winners!  The winners had their work featured at the May 2016 Mule Deer Foundation banquet held by the Okanogan Trails Chapter, and were awarded scholarship amounts to support their continued learning. Congratulations to our winners and thank you to all that participated, we were inspired by the entries!  A few of the visual aids from contest winners are below.

Scholarship contest entry by winner Jenna Valentine.


Scholarship contest entry by winner Madeleine Graham.


Scholarship contest entry by winner Mikayla.

Colville Confederated Tribes show support for safer passage on Highway 97

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Nation send a signed letter of support for the work of our coalition and improvements to provide safer passage on Highway 97 for people and wildlife.

The letter states, “The Tribe is an active manager of its natural resources, and values working with communities and organizations on landscape level projects that contribute to the recovery and protection of wildlife populations and other natural resources.  The Safe Passage on Highway 97 project is proposed on lands that not only fall on Tribal property, but also include lands that are within the Tribe’s usual and accustomed areas….The Tribe supports this project as it addresses the safety of motorists and protects the lives of deer and other wildlife species that utilize this area to meet their habitat needs.”

Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office vehicle damaged after hitting a deer

Omak Chronicle Article, December 5th 2012.  An Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office vehicle was damaged Dec 2 when the deputy driving it hit a deer on U.S. Highway 97 two miles north of town.  Deputy Josh Brown was not injured.  The SUV received an estimated $3,000-$4,000 damage, Sheriff Frank Rogers said.  The front passenger side quarter panel, pushbar, grill and lights were damaged.  Deputies have hit approximately 10 deer so far this year, and average six or seven a year, he said.  “I think we all have  hit one at some point,” he said.  The county is self-insured for vehicle damage, so the repair bill will come out of the sheriff’s budget.