Thursday, May 4, 2023

Sign of spring: Stay alert for migrating deer on Blewett Pass

By Lauren Loebsack

We use the road to get to work, the store, school and everywhere else we need to go.  Along the way, our roads cross paths with the routes wildlife use in their everyday activities – accessing water, food and nesting grounds. Unfortunately, when those two activities intersect it leads to vehicles hitting, or striking, animals on the roadway.  

Often, the animal is killed in the crash. In addition these crashes are very dangerous to the driver and other passing motorists. We often see costly damage to vehicles, injuries to drivers and passengers and even fatalities.

That risk of injury and fatalities is why we use a variety of tactics to reduce these impacts, including wildlife fencing and dedicated wildlife crossings – but not every tool works in every location.  This month we’re using a flashier version of a wildlife crossing sign on the east side of Blewett Pass to alert motorist and help keep both people and animals safe.

If you’re taking Blewett Pass in the near future, you’ll see electronic highway sign messaging about deer near our maintenance shed south of the Big Y and the junction of US2/US97.

Electronic highway signs help us spread the message of the temporary deer migration near the roadway to help drivers stay alert and help prevent crashes.

The signs will be on through mid-May as the deer complete a short spring migration near the highway. It’s a quick, simple and cost-effective way to let drivers know to be on alert and one we hope helps reduce crashes in the area.

Tracking migration patterns to prevent crashes

Of course, wildlife can’t tell us when they’re on the move, but our partners at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife have helped pinpoint the expected dates.

When deer are on the move – like these were near one of our buildings in Wenatchee  – we need drivers to be extra alert to help avoid crashes that are dangerous for everyone on the roadway.

Using GPS collars on mule deer on the east slopes of the Cascades for several years they’ve recently been able to identify short spring and fall migration patterns on or across the roadway east of the Blewett Pass summit. The spring move is underway and in fall we’ll see another roughly 20-day migration starting in mid-October. (This also matches up with an increase in deer carcass removal our crews have tracked during the same time periods).

This chart shows the times that the times of year we respond to the most animal carcasses on Blewett Pass coincides with the migration pattern the
Department of Fish and Wildlife has tracked.

We don’t have the standard yellow deer crossing signs at this location because for most of the year they’re not an issue near the roadway. That’s where the electronic signs come in – letting us display the message when needed and returning to other messaging the rest of the year.

We’ve used highway signs before to help protect drivers and wildlife alike – including alerting drivers of big horn sheep migrations on US 97A between Entiat and Wenatchee, where a big horn sheep herd ranges for over 20 miles near the highway.

After observing a similar seasonal spike in wildlife strikes through that corridor, we’ve had some solid success reducing those numbers by messaging during the peak times they’re near the roadway.  Where seasonal warning signs are deployed, there is up to a 50% reduction in wildlife collisions. We’re hoping to see the same good results with the deer signs.

Stay Alert – and keep everyone moving

While we’re on the topic – we’d also like to remind drivers  not to stop on or near the highway to take pictures or feed wildlife when they’re in the area.

This creates additional safety concerns, from increasing the chance of collision with another vehicle to drawing more animals to the roadway in search of snacks.  It’s best to let wildlife go on their way with as little interaction with people and roads as possible. 

Hitting a deer, elk, sheep or other wildlife can ruin your day, damage your vehicle and cause injury.  It can also be detrimental to wildlife populations.  Taking a little extra care, looking for warning signs and keeping alert for our wild neighbors can keep everyone moving on to their destination while also saving lives.