Habitat connectivity at Snoqualmie Pass

Habitat connectivity at Snoqualmie Pass

Conservation Northwest / Jun 04, 2015 / Connecting Habitat, I-90 Wildlife

Side view of the Gold Creek wildlife undercrossing.
By Chase Gunnell, CommunicationS Manager

In an age of changing climate and people and wildlife on the move, it’s not enough to simply preserve fragmented wildlands like those around I-90 in Washington’s Cascades. Governments, organizations and businesses must work together to protect, restore and connect landscapes at the scale of greater ecosystems.

Doing so advances habitat connectivity and forest resilience, and has widespread benefits for wildlife, people and local economies.

Thanks to efforts like Conservation Northwest’s I-90 Wildlife Corridor Campaign and The Cascades Conservation Partnership, as well as those of our allies like WSDOT, the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition, the Sierra Club Washington State Chapter and The Nature Conservancy in Washington, that’s exactly what’s happening around Snoqualmie Pass.

Lean more about the exciting “changes for forests and animals east of Snoqualmie Pass” in this detailed article from Daniel Jack Chasan reporting for Crosscut.com.

And stay tuned for more big news from the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project and our I-90 Wildlife Corridor Campaign next week!

What does “connectivity” look like?

The term “wildlife connectivity” may seem wonky and complicated. But it’s really fairly simple. In this usage, “connectivity” means interconnected habitat that allows for the movement of wildlife, such as between seasonal ranges or habitats.

But what does that look like on landscapes fragmented by highways, habitat loss and human development? These pictures from biologist Josh Zylstra at WSDOT are a perfect example:

Shown is the Gold Creek wildlife undercrossing at I-90 just east of Snoqualmie Pass. It’s a typically busy Memorial Day Weekend, with many thousands of cars and trucks traveling east-west through the Cascades. And right underneath the highway are deer, moving safely through connected habitat because of the new wildlife undercrossings.

Before the wildlife crossings were installed, deer and other animals like elk and black bears had to play a deadly game of “frogger” if they wanted to cross the interstate in hopes of reaching the new homes, food and mates that might be found on the other side of the freeway.

Many did not make it, leading to countless animal deaths as well as a serious threat to motorists traversing Washington’s busiest mountain pass.

As our I-90 Wildlife Corridor Campaign coordinator Jen Watkins said in our video about the project, “I-90 has a tremendous impact on wildlife moving throughout the Cascades because it’s carrying 27,000 vehicles a day bisecting the Cascades.”

“If we prevent them from moving, we’re blocking their ability to find food, we’re blocking their ability to find places to live when conditions change, like the large fires we saw this year, and we’re also blocking their ability to find new mates and have some genetic diversity in the population.”

We can’t (nor should we) entirely reduce or remove the barriers that major highways and freeways like I-90 present for wildlife. But because of work by Conservation Northwest and our partners, habitat connectivity is coming to the Cascades around Snoqualmie Pass.

And efforts to protect and restore habitat at either end of these new crossings and in the surrounding Snoqualmie Pass corridor are increasing the benefits for wildlife and people.

Today, with several new wildlife undercrossing structures completed as part of WSDOT’s Snoqualmie Pass East Project, deer and other animals (hopefully soon including wolves and wolverines) can safely and easily cross under I-90 as cars and trucks whiz by overhead. And truckers and motorists can drive assured that the chances for potentially deadly wildlife collisions have been reduced. Next up: I-90’s first wildlife overpass.

There’s still much work to be done to reconnect Washington’s north and south Cascades, but photos like these are proof that habitat connectivity and wildlife crossings work.

And evidence that the bigger goal–connected wildlands and resilient forests benefiting both people and wildlife–is possible when stakeholders with bold visions work together for a wilder Northwest.

Rendition of the proposed Price Creek Wildlife Overpass. Photo: WSDOT
Rendition of the proposed Price Creek Wildlife Overpass. Photo: WSDOT