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Oregon wildlife advocates push feds for more highway crossing funds

Mule deer uses Highway 97 wildlife undercrossing ODOT
Mule deer uses Hwy. 97 wildlife undercrossing; they may have played role in fewer reported wildlife collisions

By Eric Tegethoff, Oregon News Service

PORTLAND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Highway undercrossings have come to play an integral role in keeping drivers and wildlife safe.

Wildlife advocates want the U.S. House of Representatives to include more funding for these projects in its transportation bill.

The Oregon Department of Transportation reports about 7,000 vehicle-wildlife accidents each year.

Mike Leahy, director of wildlife, hunting and fishing policy for The National Wildlife Federation, says biologists and transportation managers have found wildlife crossings are effective, as seen with two installed on U.S. Highway 97 in the Bend area and a third one underway near Gilchrist.

"Figuring out how to maintain wildlife movements while minimizing wildlife-vehicle collisions, and now the issue is: getting enough funding to address the concern and to target the areas where we see the most conflicts with wildlife and with fish," he states.

The Senate included the Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program, which would provide $250 million in grants over five years for wildlife infrastructure projects. However, it isn't part of the bill in the House, which is sponsored by Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon.

Leahy says crossings on U.S. highways 97 and 20 in Oregon could benefit from the grant program.

Crossings can help fish as well.

Chris Hager, executive director of the Association of Northwest Steelheaders, says culverts allow water to pass under highways, which are a serious impediment for salmon and steelhead.

"It adds a barrier to their travel or to their migration corridor, and can significantly affect that year's spawning, if they can't reach their spawning grounds," he explains.

Hager says these crossings can improve infrastructure.

"You're also investing in whoever is going to be using those roadways as well when you're strengthening those culverts," he points out.

A recent poll from The Pew Charitable Trusts found 86% of Oregonians believe protecting wildlife migration routes is important.

Article Topic Follows: Wildlife

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