Potential good news for deer and drivers in Northcentral Washington: Both the state House and Senate transportation budgets include $18 million for a project to make busy Highway 97 safer for both.
If signed into law this session, the funding would add six wildlife underpasses and 11 miles of deer fencing to a stretch between Riverside and Tonasket, the intersection of highly trafficked north-south vehicular and east-west critter corridors.
“After more than five years of work by the local community, Okanogan Trails Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation, Conservation Northwest, Colville Tribes, WSDOT and other partners, including installing the first mile of deer fencing and renovating Janis Bridge to serve as a wildlife crossing, it’s so gratifying to see the Safe Passage 97 project fully funded in the state transportation packages,” said Jay Kehne of CNW in a press release.
It would also build on work at Janis Bridge that was completed last year by volunteers, paid for through private donations and immediately put to use by mule deer and more.
According to Kehne’s organization, it is estimated that that initial part of the project will prevent 100-plus deer-vehicle crashes a year, and this larger chunk would help fend off 244 collisions involving wildlife and cars, trucks, semis and other vehicles.
It has strong support from the area’s lawmakers, with Sen. Shelly Short (R-Colville) and Rep. Joel Kretz (R-Wauconda) requesting funding this year, and Kretz along with Rep. Jacquelin Maycumber (R-Republic) doing so last year.
“Most everyone in my community has a story about hitting a deer on this stretch of Highway 97,” said Kehne, who lives in nearby Omak and previously served six years on the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission. “And whether they’re a local landowner, hunter, tribal member, city or county councilmember or state legislator, the Okanogan Valley community fully supports this project to improve motorist safety and end this needless loss of life. We’ll be pulling together to ensure the $18 million for Safe Passage 97 ends up in the final budget this session, and we hope you’ll join us in sharing support with your state senator and reps.”
Hunters and others are being asked to voice their support for the project to ensure it passes the Legislature and is signed by Governor Inslee.