This week will mark a first for Washington, as the state breaks ground in construction for their inaugural animal overpass.
Interstate 90 in the Northwest cuts through the forests and mountains of the region, having long proved dangerous and fatal for wildlife. Now, the Department of Transportation will begin building a 150 foot-long structure freeway overpass designed specifically for all animals to endure safe passage, set to open in 2019.
“This is really a remarkable effort,” said Patricia Garvey-Darda, a biologist for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. “The goal is to connect all the species and all the habitat.”
This is only the beginning in creating animal-friendly land in the high traffic area. A 15-mile stretch of interstate is part of a project that all told, will feature more than 20 underpasses and overpasses to facilitate the movement of local wildlife.
While this is the first overpass, four underpasses are already open, and cameras have documented the transit of deer, coyotes, and otters, among others. It is presumed that all animals will look to the overpass, including black bears, cougars, and elk – though perhaps not at the same time. Two more overpasses are in the plans and perhaps more if there is enough money.
Such structures have proven successful elsewhere, as more than 20,000 crossings a year from 30 species has been documented in Montana. Banff National Park in Canada has an extensive working of animal crossings, as seen above.
Of course, these animal safeguards come in conjunction with a plan to widen the interstate from four lanes to six. The highway has been blamed for limiting the habitats of larger predatory, isolating species, and hindering recovery.
“I-90 has a tremendous impact on wildlife in the Cascades,” said Jen Watkins, of Conservation Northwest and the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition. “Animals fundamentally require the ability to move on the landscape, and if we prevent them from doing that we can block their ability to find food and mates and new habitat when conditions change.”
Renovations at a bridge at Gold Creek have shown triumphant as deer are seen using a now wider underpass. It allows a stream to flow freely, where trout and other fish can swim through. This, like the other avenues, will be populated with natural vegetation in the hopes of a seamless transition.