SALEM, Oregon (KTVZ) — Travelers and wildlife are always on the move. Unfortunately, those paths often cross in tragic ways. Each year in our state there are more than 6,500 reported accidents involving wildlife, and one in five known deaths from mule deer is caused by a vehicle.
The collisions affect not only wildlife, but also cost millions to car owners struggling with claims, insurance, and doctor visits — not to mention the loss of life.
But there is hope for a safer passage for wildlife. the Oregon Department of Transportation said in a press release Monday, which continues in full below:
The Oregon Legislature recently passed a bill that allocates $7 million in public funds to ODOT to invest in wildlife corridor projects. This is a special one-time allotment that is used directly to keep cars and wildlife on segregated paths.
In recent years, the Oregon Department of Transportation has had great success with wildlife crossings. So far, five intersections have been built in the state, all on US Highway 97and have shown a huge reduction in collisions with wildlife: about 86%.
Other states in the West have also had great success with wildlife transit programs and infrastructure. California and Utah both have 50 wildlife transit structures, Nevada has 23, and Colorado leads the pack with 69.
Cidney Bowman, wildlife passage coordinator for ODOT, already has ideas on how to put this new money to good use. Bowman says there are many ways to help wildlife and reduce accidents.
“Wildlife undercrossing is an option, but the money could also help fund studies, adapt existing structures and pay for research into new technology for detecting wildlife,” Bowman says. “It’s great. This money is what we’ve been asking for for a long time.”
While ODOT has recently focused its efforts on Central Oregon, Bowman says ODOT wants to contribute to projects across the state, including supporting one the Burns Paiute Tribe is already in the works.
Improving security on US 20
Calla Hagle, director of Natural Resources for the Burns Paiute tribe, has overseen a feasibility study on how wildlife travels along Highway 20, which winds through the tribe’s traditional homelands.
“In 2016, we were prompted by a large number of mule deer-vehicle collisions and a declining mule deer population to begin researching and collecting data on mule deer movement, habitat use, road crossings, and vehicle collisions,” Hagle said. the feasibility study. “It’s one of the worst hotspots for deer-vehicle collisions in the state.”
The study describes options such as modifying existing structures such as culverts and bridges to make them available to mule deer for passage.
Mule deer are important to the tribe, both for their intrinsic cultural value and as an important source of game. Mule deer populations are declining across their range,” Hagle says.
Not only are mule deer important to the tribe, but Hagle says the cost of doing nothing is high.
“Oregonians spend millions of dollars every year on vehicle repairs and possible injuries,” Hagle says. The feasibility study estimates that $16 million has been spent on Highway 20 in the past 12 years in Malheur County alone.
Sustainable financing in the future
While this new funding will go a long way toward making our highways safer, the ultimate goal, says ODOT’s Bowman, is to have yearly dedicated funding for wildlife passage, similar to how the state funds its fish-passage program. .
Hagle pointed to a recent report from the Oregon Action Team on Ungulate Migration that identifies $22 million to $35 million in direct funding needs for wildlife crossing projects in the state.
“We anticipate that this additional funding from the Oregon Legislature will help directly fund wildlife transit projects as well as, and perhaps more importantly, an investment critical to financing infrastructure investment and jobs law.” Hagle says.
With more consistent money coming in for the wildlife passing program and a potential match in federal government subsidies, Oregon is moving towards safer roads — for drivers and animals alike.