By Ann Briggs
They’re big, beautiful and majestic, but when they wander onto high-speed highways the results can be deadly; we’re talking about elk. Weighing in at more than 500 to 700 pounds, elk pose a serious safety risk for drivers and passengers in vehicle-wildlife collisions.
As part of an ongoing project, we’ve been studying wildlife crossings under Interstate 90 since 2010 in the North Bend area, where the number of elk-vehicle collisions has been increasing. On average, 16 elk-vehicle collisions have been recorded in this area each year over the past five years. In addition to tracking a growing urban elk herd, during this research we learned that one of two wildlife crossings in this area had the highest black bear use documented for any highway crossing structure in North America.
We’re developing plans to install an 8-foot-high fence along I-90 in the North Bend area. While a fence is an effective way to prevent collisions, it also blocks normal wildlife migration and may interfere with their access to habitats and food needed for survival. We use motion-triggered cameras at bridges and culverts to learn what species use these safe passages to cross under the interstate and how frequently. The information is vital to developing an effective project design that allows for safe wildlife crossings and addresses fencing needs.
All was well until Nov. 10, when we discovered that nine cameras in three locations had been stolen. The value of the stolen cameras, along with their protective steel boxes, media cards, rechargeable batteries and shielded padlocks, is estimated at $7,000. This is one of the biggest losses the program has experienced. Unfortunately, it’s brought our monitoring of structures in the North Bend area to an end; we’ve taken down all remaining cameras to prevent further loss to taxpayers.
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In the meanwhile, we’ll use the data we’ve gathered so far to move this important safety project forward. The fencing project is currently unfunded.