ODFW’s research with radio-collared mule deer indicates that Hwy 97 near Gilchrist is a major crossing point for migrating mule deer and elk—and a place where big game and other wildlife are extremely vulnerable to vehicle collisions. Because of this, it’s also the site of the Oregon’s latest wildlife underpass project, which aims to create a safe place for big game to pass to and from winter and summer range during their annual migration. Similar projects along Hwy 97 in central Oregon have reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by almost 90 percent and benefit many species of wildlife.
Several weeks ago, the Department of Interior announced a grant to Oregon as part of a larger effort to support big game migration corridors and habitat in Western states. This federal funding will improve upon the current Gilchrest project by covering the cost of nine “deer guards” to help prevent big game from using gaps in the directional fencing so they are instead funneled to a safe underpass.
All federal grants require match. In this case, the Dept of Interior provided approx. $187K and several hunting/conservation groups donated additional funds: Oregon Hunters Association ($113,500), Oregon Wildlife Foundation ($75,000), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation ($20,000) and Mule Deer Foundation ($20,000). The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board provided $85,000 and US Forest Service provided $30,000. ODFW and ODOT also provided funding and staff time while ODOT funds built the undercrossing itself. Finally, Oregon Dept of Forestry cleared trees from the fence line and Oregon Hunters Association has agreed to maintain the wildlife fence once construction is complete.
“This is a win-win for both drivers and wildlife,” said Sara Gregory, ODFW wildlife habitat biologist. “Data shows wildlife underpasses greatly reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions.”
This project is just one of a number of efforts to improve habitat and connectivity between winter and summer range.
“Undercrossings and wildlife connectivity to habitats take many hands, and natural resource agencies and hunting/conservation groups are teaming up to meet the challenge,” said Ken McCall, Oregon Hunters Association. “Many of the same partners supporting funding for the underpass fencing have also teamed up on other projects on both public and private lands in the Fort Rock area.”
“The Oregon Wildlife Foundation is proud to partner with other conservation groups to make this wildlife underpass a reality,” said Tim Greseth, executive director, Oregon Wildlife Foundation. “Safe passage for mule deer and other wildlife, particularly across this section of Highway 97, is badly needed.”
“This is a win for elk in west-central Oregon,” said Blake Henning, chief conservation officer of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with like-minded organizations and salute RMEF volunteers for their part in raising funds to be put back on the ground to benefit this project.”