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$4.3 million request is made to the legislature to fund Phase 1 of safe passage measures on 97

Between Riverside and Tonasket, more than 350 vehicle-deer collisions occur every year in just 12.5 miles of Highway 97. Medical costs, car repairs, Washington State Patrol and Sheriff’s Department response, Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) clean-up crews, and the value of the deer all add up to approximately $6,500 per accident, costing the public more than $2.5 million every year.

There is a solution that has broad support. WSDOT is proposing comprehensive planning on this highway corridor in three phases that begins with an initial recommendation for installation of three wildlife undercrossings complemented by necessary fencing and cattle-guards on the most dangerous 4-mile segment(s) for motorists and wildlife. Upon completion of the first phase, vehicle deer collisions are expected to be reduced by 50 percent over the entire 12.5 miles.

WSDOT has completed a precise pre-design scoping document for the first phase. After implementation, partners will utilize monitoring and deer carcass removal data to inform future actions necessary for subsequent phases on the remaining 8.5 miles of this dangerous corridor.

Community partners from across the state, including Conservation Northwest and the local Okanogan Trails Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation, have raised $200,000 for the purchase of the first undercrossing structure. A broad set of diverse organizations have expressed support for the underpasses including county commissioners, Colville Confederated Tribes, Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board, and more.

We are asking the legislature to leverage off of this private support to fully fund phase one with $4.3 million in the 2019-2021 transportation budget. In addition to providing safer passage on this stretch of Highway 97, funding this phased approach will show how private and public partnerships can be strategically targeted to address similar problems that exist on other highways in the state.

Click here to download a PDF handout on this request to the legislature.

These Bridges And Tunnels Save Animals’ Lives — And Prevent Car Wrecks

An Earthfix story on KUOW ran on November 9, 2018

by Courntey Flatt

Link to the full story, and text from the story below.

The first time Chris Branch hit a deer, he thought, “Well, here it is.”

He knew the road he was driving in north central Washington well. Branch drove Highway 97 every weekday from his home in Omak to work in Oroville, often at late at night or early in the morning — when deer are also on the move.

“I never saw it,” he said — until his front bumper rammed the deer. His Subaru was totaled.

He slammed on his brakes two other times for deer, skidding into collisions but not damaging the car too badly. He’s seen countless other deer, on the edge of the road and darting in front of vehicles.

This 12-mile stretch of central Washington’s main north-south route is one of the state’s most dangerous corridors for wildlife collisions. More than 350 deer are hit each year.

“Sooner or later it’s going to happen,” Branch said. “As much as you try to see their eyes glow in the dark, and things like that. … If you’re traveling and you’re thinking about something else, it only takes a split second.”

Now, Branch is working with the area’s Mule Deer Foundation, which was formed specifically to address wrecks with wildlife, and other conservation groups to fix the problem.

The best solution they’ve found: constructing wildlife underpasses. Jay Kehne has worked with Conservation Northwest for 10 years to get these underpasses built in strategic areas along this part of Highway 97.

“Underpasses and overpasses and crossing structures are dotted all over the West, particularly where there’s a migration pattern of antelope or deer or elk,” Kehne said. “So it’s not a new technology, but it’s very effective.”

These types of wildlife undercrossings have proven to work well in places such as Banff, Canada; Pinedale, Wyoming; and Bend, Oregon.

Kehne estimates the first part of this project in north central Washington — covering about 4 miles — could reduce collisions by 50 percent over the worst stretch of highway. Completing the entire project could nearly end vehicle-wildlife crashes.

“So it just solves it,” Kehne said. “It can be expensive. But it’s about $1 million a mile to fix it, while we’re spending about $2 million a year now just with fixing cars and hospital bills and all that.”

The groups have raised $300,000 for the first phase of the Highway 97 project and are hoping lawmakers will add it to a line item budget this upcoming session.

Other dangerous sections of highway in Washington include Highway 97 near Goldendale, most traffic corridors on Whidbey Island and several routes near Spokane.

Biologists with the Colville Tribe call the project a “no-brainer.” Many tribal members hunt deer for subsistence food. Seeing meat wasted on the roadways is unfortunate.

Eric Krausz, a biologist with the tribe, says losing more than 350 animals per year adds up.

“How many of those are females? How many of those were bred and would have had offspring? It doesn’t take long to do the math. That’s a substantial number of animals that we’re essentially eliminated from the landscape over time,” Krausz said.

In Washington, people are now legally able to collect roadkill for food. Over the two years the law has been in effect, around 3,500 deer or elk hit by cars have been collected, Kehne said.

In Oregon, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife is making salvage permits available no later than Jan. 1, 2019, but it is still illegal to collect roadkill until the Fish and Wildlife Commission adopts elk and deer salvage rules.

Oregon has also seen a substantial reduction in wildlife collisions near Bend, after two underpasses were built to help connect important mule deer habitat. The highway cuts off summer ranges in the Cascades from winter ranges in the desert.

“There isn’t really the option to try to keep the deer on one side of the highway or the other. They have this biological imperative that drives them from one side of the highway to the other, twice a year,” said ODFW’s Simon Wray in a video produced by the state.

After the underpasses were completed, collisions were reduced by up to 90 percent on that section U.S. Highway 97. Trail cameras have shown lots of deer using the fenced-in route — they’ve also captured a bear, coyotes, elk and small animals like badgers.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has plans in the works for two more wildlife underpasses along the highway. Construction on one is scheduled to start next year.

One of the largest wildlife crossing projects in the Northwest is being built near Washington’s Snoqualmie Pass, about 47 miles east of Seattle.

The completed span of 27 wildlife crossing structures will cover 15 miles and will cost $910 million. The most recently completed section, including a tall wildlife overcrossing, was paid for by the state’s gas tax.

Drivers may have noticed a bridge that seems to lead to nowhere across Interstate 90. For people, that’s true. But for wildlife, this bridge is connecting the northern and southern Cascades — an important migration route for deer and elk, said Jen Watkins with Conservation Northwest.

She walked around the bridge, just before construction finished up.

“We’re standing in the middle of the Cascades, where there’s a bottleneck of habitat. We’re standing on top of six lanes of freeway that carry 28,000 vehicles a day. Wildlife have got to cross this freeway,” Watkins said, looking out over the cars zooming by below.

The crossing is taller than your average bridge. Once it’s completed, it will have 8-foot fences that will funnel wildlife to where they should cross. The bridge will be covered in rocks and native plants. That way wildlife won’t even realize they’ve left the safety of the forest.

Even without all that camouflage, workers saw deer using the bridge almost immediately — while construction crews were still pushing equipment around.

As wildlife undercrossings were completed as a first part of the project in 2014, more than 13,000 deer and hundreds of coyotes have safely reached the other side of the road, said Meagan Lott, with the Washington Department of Transportation. She said culverts in the undercrossings have helped salmon and bull trout reach stretches of river cut off to them for decades.

Watkins expects the new bridge will eventually be used by more than 60,000 species.

“From frogs and salamanders, who are going to take quite a while to cross, to mountain lions and bears and wolverines. We’re rebuilding a forest over the interstate,” Watkins said.

Conservationists say it’s important to get these fixes in places now — before suburban sprawl reaches into wilder areas and makes it even harder for wildlife to get around.

It could also help with wolf recovery. To meet recovery goals, wolves need a way to get across the Cascades. Chase Gunnell, with Conservation Northwest, said this bridge could help.

“Wildlife can’t persist in large numbers and in perpetuity in islands of habitat. It’s really knitting together smaller habits, reconnecting landscapes, to allow animals to move in and utilize smaller areas of habitat,” he said. [Copyright 2018 EarthFix]

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.