Schwartz is the Oregon program manager at Wildlands Network. This organization specializes in protecting wildlife’s ability to move across interconnected landscapes. He lives in Portland.
I will never forget the night I was able to hit a full-sized deer. I had driven this rural road hundreds times, but as I came to a turn, my headlights revealed a majestic animal froze in the middle of the road. I slammed the brakes, bracing both emotionally and physically for the inevitable impact. But it was too late.
We are fortunate to live in a state filled with wildlife, but unfortunately, many Oregon drivers don’t know this. According to the Oregon Drivers Association, Oregon has the highest probability of hitting an animal in West Coast states. Data from State Farm. The Oregon Department of Transportation reported nearly 6,000 wildlife vehicle collisions in 2020. The vast majority of these were recorded by deer and other elk. These collisions can be traumatic, expensive, and dangerous.
Wildlife crossings are a win-win solution that protects both drivers and wildlife. The Lava Butte wildlife overpass, built in 2012 between Bend, Sunriver, and the state’s capital, is one of five. Deer collisions in the region have been reduced by 85%Oregon is far behind other western states when it comes to implementing wildlife crossings. California and Utah each have 50 wildlife crosses, while Colorado and Nevada have 69 and 23 respectively.
Oregon now has the chance to catch up. Recently, the House Interim Committee on Environment and Natural Resources hosted a hearing on solutions to improving wildlife corridors and reducing collisions. Include a bill to allocate$5 million for specific wildlife crossing infrastructure. This is exactly the amount Oregon needs to realize its potential in safer roads.
Although it is true that wildlife crossings require substantial funds, they are quickly paid for by the reduced damage costs. In Oregon, A legislative analysisEstimated the cumulative cost of wildlife colliding with deer and/or elk to be 2020: $56.9million. This includes vehicle repairs and towing, emergency crews, hunting and carcass disposal, as well as human injuries and deaths. We can save lives and reduce costs by drastically reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions.
Wildlife crossings offer significant environmental benefits, in addition to their safety and economic benefits. Roads are a formidable barrier for wildlife trying to migrate, find food, shelter, or water. For decades, the Oregon muledeer population has been steadily declining. Their migratory corridors are vital to their health and resilience. This is especially true as changing climates may force them to travel outside of their existing corridors. Our infrastructure is more resilient to climate change, extreme weather events like flooding, and updating culverts and bridges allows wildlife passage. This makes infrastructure investments more long-term sustainable and saves taxpayers money.
These wildlife crossings sound fantastic! Let’s do more! You’re not the only one. A recent poll For Pew Charitable Trusts86% of Oregon voters support more wildlife crossings and 75% support increasing funding. Momentum is building to expand wildlife crossings across Oregon and the U.S. There are several projects that are ready for funding in the state, including crossings along I-5 near the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, I-84 near Meacham, and Burns Paiute Tribe land, Malheur County, where Highway 20 crosses the winter range for muledeer. These crossings have great cultural importance for the tribe.
There is strong support for Oregon increasing the number of wildlife crossing structures. I strongly urge Oregonians to support the new legislation, which invests $5million in making Oregon’s roads safer for drivers, wildlife, and communities.
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