Background

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has reported that over a 10-year period (from 1996 to 2006) they picked up over 1,600 deer carcasses from this 13-mile stretch of Highway 97 just south of Tonasket in Okanogan County from milepost 299 to 312 (see below). This same stretch of highway is an important north-south freight corridor and is within the Okanogan Trails Scenic Byway. This project is working to improve safety at one of our state’s top 10 animal-vehicle collision sites.

Relief Map: Roadkill Over Five Years
Relief Map: Roadkill Over Five Years

Washington State’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan 2010:  Target Zero aims to reduce all fatalities and serious injuries on our states highways to zero by 2030.  It recognizes the risk of wildlife-vehicle collisions and says the state will “design roads and roadsides using best practices to reduce collisions or reduce the severity of collisions if they do occur.”

In an attempt to improve safety in this location stretching from Riverside to north of Janis Bridge, a series of wildlife underpasses and complimentary fencing has been proposed by WSDOT for consideration. Improving safety in these 13 miles would be conducted in a phased approach with a series of underpasses and associated fencing with long-term monitoring and maintenance. WSDOT is interested in hearing from the public and working with landowners within this area as they explore options for improving safety.

Phase One

In 2019 and 2020, phase one commenced as the Mule Deer Foundation, Conservation Northwest, and the Colville Confederated Tribes renovated Janis Bridge to serve as a wildlife undercrossing and installed two cattle guards and the first mile of deer fencing along highway 97 south of the bridge to the intersection with Highway 7.

This structure, along with one mile of wildlife fencing, has reduced collisions by 91% after two years of use.

Trail cameras have captured thousands of animals utilizing the Janis Bridge Crossing.

What is next?

After the success of the first completed structure, work needs to continue north and south of Janis Bridge to further reconnect habitat while keeping wildlife off the road and reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions. WSDOT proposes that the most effective way to reduce deer-vehicle collisions in this high collision highway segment is through installation of fencing, underpass culverts, escape ramps, and cattleguards at intersecting roads.

In spring 2022, WSDOT received $2.7 million from the Washington State legislature to continue to construct 1-2 underpasses and wildlife fencing along the most dangerous 13 miles of Highway 97. So, work on phase one will continue as WSDOT and partners determine prime locations for structures and begin constructing more fencing to funnel animals off the road and to the completed structures.

Following this initial first phase, additional planning to ensure safer passage throughout the full highway corridor will continue to guide additional measures in coordination with the community and learning from the success of the initial phase.

For more information contact us at info@safepassage97.org