(New Undercrossing Near Lava Butte | Photo courtesy of Oregon Wildlife Foundation)
Wildlife advocates are sounding the alarm about a return to pre-pandemic activity levels that increase the likelihood of wildlife-vehicle collisions during the busy spring migration season. Around this time last year, weekday traffic in Oregon had dropped 29 percent due to COVID-19 lockdowns. A positive outcome of reduced traffic volume was a likewise decrease in wildlife-vehicle collisions. However, this year, as the weather improves and government officials loosen restrictions, the probability of increased deadly accidents returns as traffic reaches pre-pandemic levels and spring migration puts wildlife on the move. Adding to the challenge, particularly in western Oregon, is altered wildlife migration routes resulting from last year’s record wildfire season. Oregonians may experience deer and elk on and near roads in areas where they had not previously been seen.
Over the last three years, Oregon’s mule deer population has declined almost 40 percent in Central Oregon. The primary cause? Increased human development, putting more cars on the roads and more people in wildlife habitat than ever before. Fully 20 percent of mule deer mortality in Central Oregon is attributable to collisions with vehicles, and wintertime disturbance causes animals to move more than necessary, burning critically important fat stores they need to survive cold weather and less plentiful food opportunities. According to ODOT, there are approximately 7,000 reported collisions involving animals in Oregon each year. The actual number, however, is estimated to be at least three times higher than the number that’s reported. For instance, some freight trucks routinely traveling through areas more populated with deer and elk are equipped with bumper and grill guards to prevent damage from collisions with wildlife. The truck driver may not even know they’ve hit an animal. Meanwhile, passenger vehicles don’t fare as well. Wildlife-vehicle collisions result in more than $44 million in vehicle damages, 700 personal injuries and two human fatalities, on average, each year.
Despite these concerning trends, there is something every Oregonian can do right now to help reverse these statistics and conserve our wildlife.
Oregon Wildlife Foundation addresses wildlife migration issues through specialty license plate
As spring migration rolls on, Oregon Wildlife Foundation (OWF) is appealing to all Oregonians to join them in their campaign to get Oregon’s next specialty license plate approved by Oregon Driver and Motor Vehicles. Your purchase of a “Watch for Wildlife” specialty license plate voucher raises funds needed to put this new plate into production. OWF has already sold 2,000 vouchers and only needs to sell 1,000 more to put the Watch for Wildlife license plate into production. To learn more and purchase your own voucher, redeemable for this beautiful plate once it’s available, go to myowf.org/watchforwildlife. Proceeds from the future sale and renewal of the Watch for Wildlife license plate provide dedicated funding support to wildlife passage and habitat connectivity projects across Oregon to enable animals of all kinds to move more safely around Oregon’s highways and roads.
OWF is a sponsor, funder, or coalition partner for various wildlife passage and movement projects that would benefit from the additional funding that the Watch for Wildlife license plate will provide. These include:
- Gilchrist Wildlife Underpass Project: Located just north of the town of Gilchrist on Highway 97 in Central Oregon, this project will install ten miles of fencing to funnel animals toward the dedicated wildlife underpass constructed by the Oregon Department of Transportation last summer. Approximately 1,000 deer and elk are struck and killed while crossing Central Oregon roads and highways each and every year. This particular stretch of Highway 97 is considered quite deadly for wildlife, with 267 animals killed in collisions with vehicles between 2010 and 2017.
OWF and partners have raised just over $830K toward their funding goal of $959K, with fence construction slated for summer/fall this year.
- Highway 20 Wildlife Passage Project: with leadership from the Burns Paiute tribe, Oregon Wildlife Foundation is a partner in their emerging coalition to support the retrofit of existing bridges and culverts and the construction of new passage structures for mule deer on highway 20 in Eastern Oregon near the town of Juntura.
The highest priority is simple retrofits, followed by new crossing projects and complex retrofits in areas with the highest rates of wildlife-vehicle collisions. The action plan for this newly emerging partnership is in the final stages of development.
Video/Visuals and Interview Opportunities
Oregon Wildlife Foundation would like to invite you to learn more about wildlife passage and some of the projects it supports that would benefit from dedicated funding support:
- An underpass on Highway 97 built in 2012 near Sun River in Central Oregon. Cidney Bowman, Wildlife Passage Coordinator, Oregon Department of Transportation, and Sara Gregory, Habitat Wildlife Biologist, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, can speak on-site about the Lava Butte underpass and how it has improved passage for deer and elk.
- What started as a dissertation for Leslie Bliss-Ketchum, a Portland-area Wildlife Biologist, became a 13-year project known as the Boeckman Road underpass project in Wilsonville. Bliss-Ketchum spent years monitoring animal crossing patterns near the road, which has provided thousands of safe passage events for resident wildlife, including deer, red-legged frogs, mink and salamanders. She is available to speak on-site in Wilsonville or Portland.
- To see interactive maps and supporting images of the threat to wildlife by region, go here.