Wildlife winning due to Highway 97 safe passage project

Wildlife winning due to Highway 97 safe passage project

Conservation Northwest / Feb 17, 2022 / Connecting Habitat, Wildlife Crossings

Almost two years after the first phase of renovating the most dangerous stretch of Washington highway for vehicle-deer collisions, we are proud to see data proving the Safe Passage 97 project as an undeniable success.

According to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), there has been a 91 percent reduction in wildlife-vehicle collisions at Janis Bridge on Highway 97 after the Aug. 2020 installation of one mile of deer fencing. Additionally, there were 2,200 pictures of mule deer and other species crossing under Highway 97 at the Janis Bridge underpass over the first year, averaging six deer per day.

The initial project included renovation of the Janis Bridge Wildlife Undercrossing, two cattleguard installations, and deer fencing for one mile south nearly to the Carter Mountain Wildlife Area in north-central Washington’s Okanogan Valley.

The first phase of the project was achieved through a partnership between community members, businesses, non-profits, Tribal Nations, and local and state government agencies.

But the work isn’t done, funding is still needed to complete six additional underpasses over 11 more miles.  Conservation Northwest just secured the first state funding ever, $2.73 million, to complete the next underpass, and critically, to help our state compete for federal funds under a new wildlife crossing program created in the federal infrastructure law.

This funding will prevent tragic collisions between vehicles and wildlife, approximately 350 deer were hit annually on this stretch of Highway 97. Investment in these projects doesn’t only save lives, WSDOT estimates these collisions cost the public $2.5 million every year in this short span on Highway 97 alone.

While we work towards the next phases of this project, we would also like to recognize the efforts of those who have gotten us this far especially the Okanogan Trails Mule Deer Foundation Chapter supporters, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Okanagan County Commissioners Jim DeTro, Andy Hover and Chris Branch, WA Senator Shelly Short, WA Representative Joel Kretz, WA Representative Jacquelin Maycumber, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and WSDOT.

photo of deer fencing along Highway 97
Deer fence completed along Highway 97 at Janis Bridge. Photo Jay Kehne