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Congress Could Help Wildlife Cross Treacherous Highways

The Washington State Department of Transportation has completed a wildlife crossing on I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass. (WSDOT/Flickr)
The Washington State Department of Transportation has completed a wildlife crossing on I-90 near Snoqualmie Pass. (WSDOT/Flickr)
June 9, 2020

SEATTLE -- The perils of traffic aren't just a human concern. Wildlife advocates say animals need highway crossings to survive.

Mitch Friedman's organization Conservation Northwest was integral in developing a wildlife crossing project on I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass.

"If we don't provide ways for wildlife to get under or over our roads and highways in the places that they need to cross, then we end up with smashed cars, injured drivers and dead wildlife," Friedman said.

As Congress considers a major transportation bill, Friedman said he's eyeing the Wildlife Crossing Pilot Program. It would provide $250 million in grants over five years to states, tribes and local governments for wildlife infrastructure projects.

Friedman noted these projects also would provide jobs at a time when unemployment numbers are high.

Beth Pratt is regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation in California. She's part of an effort to build the largest wildlife crossing in the world over 10 lanes of Highway 101 in Los Angeles.

But Pratt noted crossings have to do more than get animals across highways.

"No matter what site you're using, the animals have to feel comfortable going over it," Pratt said. "They have to feel comfortable approaching it and they have to feel comfortable, obviously, when they get off it that you're leading them into ground that feels safe."

Pratt said without the LA project and others, species such as cougars face a serious challenge crossing highways.

"At worst, [it] could prove not just deadly for one animal but actually hasten the extinction of local populations of wildlife," she said.

Friedman with Conservation Northwest said he used to worry that wildlife crossings would be controversial.

"The public generally supports these things and I've yet to see a backlash against taxpayer investment in providing wildlife crossings to make our highways safer," he said.

Disclosure: National Wildlife Federation contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Endangered Species & Wildlife, Energy Policy, Environment, Public Lands/Wilderness, Salmon Recovery, Water. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA