Veterans Ecological Trades Collective and Cascades to Olympics partnership

Veterans Ecological Trades Collective and Cascades to Olympics partnership

Conservation Northwest / Feb 05, 2021 / Cascades to Olympics, Connecting Habitat, Wildlife Crossings, Wildlife Monitoring

Conserving wildlife and wildlife corridors while training veterans in conservation and habitat connectivity.

By Brian Stewart, Cascades to Olympics Coordinator

Through our Cascades to Olympics Program, we’re working to connect wildlife populations in southwest Washington long separated from their natural habitats by development and major highways like I-5. One area of interest along the I-5 corridor identified through our research is a section of the interstate that starts a few miles south of Prairie Creek and ends a few miles north of Scatter Creek near Grand Mound, known to us as the northern linkage. This location shows up in numerous connectivity mapping efforts, and the associated area occasionally has wildlife-vehicle collisions.

VETC property in orange located within the “northern linkages” that intersect I-5, which our shown in the purple box. Linkages represent “naturalness”. Map: Data basin. Click to enlarge.

Within our northern linkage sits 120 acres of former industrial agricultural land abutting I-5, now owned by the Veterans Ecological Trades Collective (VETC), a non-profit focused on training veterans and allies in conservation, agriculture, forestry and ecological design. VETC works to provide veterans and allies with opportunities for lifelong career networking, recreation, and community building while serving their local community with opportunities for food security and habitat conservation. Last year when VETC reached out to me about seeking solutions (like wildlife bridges) for connecting wildlife that bottleneck on this piece of land, such as the herd of elk that frequent this property, our exciting new partnership in the Cascades to Olympics program began.

Photo of a bull elk taken on the eastside on the VETC’s property.

Wildlife-vehicle collisions cost taxpayers an average of $6,500 per incident, not to mention the often fatal harm done to wildlife and sometimes people. The most obvious solution to the problem of wildlife populations fragmented by roads is constructing wildlife bridges, and with these collisions prevented, the structures tend to pay for themselves as well as create green infrastructure jobs.

However, with limited funds, the current state of infrastructure funding in general, and the existence of other priority areas in the state, getting these types of critical wildlife infrastructure built can be difficult. And not to mention, there needs to be evidence of the importance of a specific location to local wildlife populations in order for a wildlife crossing to become a reality.

Fortunately, our Community Wildlife Monitoring Project has been collecting data on wildlife presence in the form of trail cam photos for nearly 15 years, including data that informed successful crossings through the I-90 Wildlife Corridor Campaign. Furthermore, community science presents a great opportunity to train veterans in data collection, methodologies, wildlife monitoring, and conservation while contributing to a statewide scientific effort. Whether or not a wildlife bridge or underpass is constructed in this area, this effort can help guide and inform local scientific endeavors and wildlife management in the future.

A mature black-tailed deer buck in the middle of the VETC property.

In fall of 2020, I approached the Evergreen State College with the concept of bringing on Masters of Environmental Studies students to work as interns as we get the project setup for veterans to take over in the future. Our intern Garrett Brummel, who has recently been promoted to our volunteer project lead, had some great successes in capturing wildlife and building a foundation for the project. Going forward we will look to bring in more volunteers and interns through our relationship with Evergreen State College, with the goal of building the project into a self-sustaining staple of our partnership with VETC.

Partnerships are key to successful on-the-ground efforts focused on improving habitat connectivity, and such close ties with stakeholders have the potential to not only improve habitat and wildlife, but to engage, educate and support entire communities.

We believe we have developed such a partnership with VETC, an excellent nonprofit pursuing a noble mission, as we find opportunities to improve habitat connectivity across I-5 and wildlife corridors between the Cascades to Olympics.

Read more about this partnership from the perspective of our Cascades to Olympics Intern Garrett Brummel, or visit our Cascades to Olympics program page.