CENTRAL OREGON — Work crews from one of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s (ODOT) contractors have begun building what eventually will become the newest wildlife undercrossing in central Oregon. It’s part of a project that’s adding passing lanes to the busy U.S. 97 that runs north to south, east of the Cascades. There are several other undercrossings on that highway, and these lifelines – along with the new one – are made possible by the generous contributions of community members and organizations.
The Oregon Hunters Association, the Oregon Wildlife Foundation, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and others are providing about $500,000 to help make the project a success.
Community members also contribute, often with physical labor. These undercrossings include extensive fencing, and need the occasional fixing – that’s where volunteers come in. But the team effort is worth it: studies show the other undercrossings on U.S. 97 have reduced wildlife-vehicle crashes by as much as 95%.
“There are a lot of animals that rely on crossing this highway and to funnel them through the undercrossing is going to be wonderful,” said ODFW’s Sarah Gregory.
Mule deer are the primary focus of the project because they need to move from the high country in the Cascades to the high desert in the fall and back again during the spring. But cameras have also caught elk, foxes, raccoons and even bears using the safe passages.
“It’s going to help reduce wildlife and vehicle collisions and that’s a good thing,” said ODOT Wildlife Passage Coordinator Cidney Bowman.
The nearly $12 million passing lanes/undercrossing project is expected to be completed in 2020.