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Roads and wildlife

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Roadways large and small in the Northwest pose barriers to wildlife on land and in streams and rivers. The solution: minimize the effect of current road systems and plan better for the future.

Elk near I-90. WSDOT
Elk near I-90. WSDOT

A look at our region's landscape quickly reveals that humans are not the only ones needing to move from one point to another. Animals move and connect along pathways searching for food, mates, and shelter. How do we mend the divide in wildlife habitat?

Roads may link people together and to places we value, but they divide wildlife. Large, busy highways such as Interstate 90 in Washington’s central Cascades pose a major barrier for animals, from elk to salamanders. Smaller roads such as those on our public lands fragment habitat and degrade waterways.

Wildlife habitat, movement, and overall health as affected by roads large and small are key concerns to Conservation Northwest's work.  We are deploying a suite of strategies to reduce the negative impacts on roads in high priority wildlife habitats.

Learn more about how we restore old roads on our national forests. 

What we are doing to address roads and wildlife in the Northwest

Better understanding the influence of roads

  • We partner and support research efforts to understand the effect roads have on wildlife behavior and connections. We partner with the Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project to understand how Hwy 20, Hwy 2, and I-90 influence the genetic diversity of species in the Cascades.
  • With I-90 Wildlife Watch, we ask motorists to contribute to sightings of wildlife, both live and dead, along this major barrier to wildlife. We have sponsored and presented at the biannual International Conference of Ecology and Transportation to learn from others around the world.

Advocating for better highway planning and retrofits to make highways safer for people and wildlife

Over 7,000 miles of highway, managed by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), create one of the most significant barriers to wildlife movement between and within habitats throughout the state. We are working statewide with WSDOT's Environmental Office to implement their Executive Order 1031 to protect and connect biodiversity, and identify priority locations for improving wildlife crossings.

Conservation Northwest serves on the steering committee for the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition, working for high-quality wildlife passages in the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project.

We are also working with WSDOT and community groups in Okanogan County to explore underpasses on Highway 97 near Riverside.

And we helped prevent funding and construction of the Cross-Base Highway, an unnecessary road that if built would destroy one of the last and best remaining oak woodland prairies in Washington.

Weighing in on roads built for national forest vegetation management

  • All roads are not the same. Conservation Northwest's staff forester Derek Churchill prepared a summary document for conservation organizations and agencies to use when discussing and analyzing the trade-offs for wildlife and ecosystems that come with construction of temporary roads.

Engaging others to address the backlog of maintenance costs on our road system

  • As a partner member of the Washington Watershed Restoration Initiative, we help direct national road policy for maintaining the "right size" road system on our national forest lands.
  • We work to ensure our state's national forests implement the Travel Management Plan using meaningful Minimum Roads Analyses, and lobby for Congress to adequately fund the maintenance and decommissioning of roads through its Legacy Roads fund.

Using creative partnerships and tools to restore roads that pose problems for wildlife and habitat

  • In the fall of 2007, we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Wenatchee-Okanogan National Forest to coordinate efforts to address priority restoration projects, including roads, on public lands. This partnership allows us to bring volunteer work force and private dollars to leverage public dollars, making a difference on the ground now.
  • To date we've decommissioned roadways in the Wenatchee River and Upper Yakima watersheds, with funding already delivered for restoration in 2013 in the Chewuch and Chumstick watersheds. This work is only possible thanks to our partnership with the Forest Service, and funding from The Mountaineers Foundation, Puget Sound Energy, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and private donors. Each mile we have closed with private dollars has leveraged greater work in both private and public funding.

Learning from our non-profit partners nationally and internationally

  • The community of people and the list of places that are working on road ecology is constantly growing.  The nonprofit organizations working on this issue around the nation are linked by the TransWild Alliance begun by Defenders of Wildlife.
For an informed take on our highway's toll on wildlife, we recommend this piece from the New York Times
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