Dispatch from Omak: a local’s perspective on wildlife crossings

Dispatch from Omak: a local’s perspective on wildlife crossings

Conservation Northwest / Oct 05, 2018 / Connecting Habitat, Sagelands, Wildlife Crossings

Based in Omak and working with local groups and leaders, Jay Kehne shares why Highway 97 wildlife crossings are so important for his community.

By Jay Kehne, Sagelands Program Lead

Just north of my home outside the city of Omak, there’s a stretch of highway where my wife and many of my neighbors have been in a traumatic collision with deer. More than 350 are killed on this stretch of Highway 97 each year, and our community has long been looking for a solution.

Our Omak-based staffer Jay Kehne during a pygmy rabbit release in Central Washington’s sagelands. Photo: Chase Gunnell

Back in 2014, a few friends, neighbors and I founded the Okanogan Trails Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation to help shine a local spotlight on the need for safe passage. Working with elected leaders, businesses and groups including Conservation Northwest and the Colville Confederated Tribes, our goal was to build, encourage and generate local support for wildlife crossings, including through the Safe Passage 97 website.

Now, four years later, we’re witnessing a groundswell of support, and Conservation Northwest is moving forward with the Okanogan Wildlife Crossing Campaign to raise funds to purchase the first undercrossing at Carter Mountain Wildlife Area in partnership with the Mule Deer Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

There isn’t anyone I know who hikes, watches or appreciates wildlife, hunts or travels this 12-mile stretch of road that doesn’t agree something has to be done to stop this total waste of life, and to prevent the countless deer vehicle collisions that cost everyone so much and some day may result in a fatality.

My wife has hit and killed a doe and a fawn while traveling this road to work. Everyone you talk to has a story of the “kill zone”, as it’s called. I talk to and hear from hundreds of local residents and travelers who all say, “We have to fix this!

Most of Washington’s mule deer migrate from summer range in the mountains to winter range in the valleys. In Okanogan County, Highway 97 cuts right through their migration path. Photo: WSDOT

As the lead for Conservation Northwest’s Sagelands Heritage Program, for which the Okanogan Valley is a critical landscape at the northern edge of our program area, I can’t think of a better way to truly show an appreciation of the wildlife and respect for community and traditional values than to listen to the people and “fix this” problem.

We know the right solution, but need your support to get there.

Stopping the senseless slaughter of wildlife along Highway 97 fits perfectly with our larger strategic goals and will make a big difference in my community. I can’t wait to drive this road and not see the blood patches from the latest vehicle-deer collision.

It’ll take a dedicated group of folks like you to make all the difference for our neighbors, our community and the migratory mule deer and other wildlife that call our valley home.

Will you join us in making this future possible?

With gratitude from the Okanogan Valley,

Jay Kehne

You can be a part of making safe passage possible by contributing to our campaign. Simply select “Highway 97 Wildlife Crossings” in the dropdown, and take pride in supporting the safety of people and wildlife!