A new law that seeks to cut down the number of wildlife-vehicle collisions on roads and highways was widely cheered by conservationists and sportsmen’s groups, although questions remain over a lack of guaranteed funding for future wildlife passage projects.
The Wildlife Corridor and Safe Road Crossing Act — House Bill 2834 — was signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown on Friday and requires state transportation and wildlife officials to jointly develop a plan to help animals complete migration routes. While the act will bring together different sources of data on animal crossings, it does not require any agency or organization to fund the wildlife crossings.
The act requires the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to work with the Oregon Department of Transportation, and other state agencies, to map the migration corridors.
“ODFW will develop the wildlife corridor map and ODOT will use it to address identified areas when highway projects coincide with a known wildlife corridor,” said Cidney Bowman, wildlife passage coordinator for ODOT.
Wildlife crossings under and over highways — and the fencing required to funnel wildlife to them — have drastically reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions in several Western states. The first wildlife crossing in Oregon, located near Lava Butte, reduced collisions by 85% since completion in 2012.
“Passage of HB 2834 is a great step forward. Unfortunately it doesn’t come with any funding. Identifying a stable source of funding support for wildlife passage projects is the next step,” Tim Greseth, executive director for the Oregon Wildlife Foundation, said in an email.
Without guaranteed funds to build wildlife crossings, government agencies and nonprofits are getting creative on funding upcoming projects, said Karl Findling, conservation director for the Oregon Hunters Association.
“The funds could come from a number of places, both federal and regional,” he said.
One option is matching dollars raised by the Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937, which created an excise tax to provide funds to manage animals and their habitats, Findling said. This act, often referred to as the Pittman-Robertson Act for its sponsors, took over a preexisting 11% excise tax on firearms and ammunition.
Funding for a wildlife crossing to be built near Gilchrist next year could be a model for upcoming projects.
ODOT is planning to spend $750,000 for a wildlife undercrossing below U.S. Highway 97. Fencing, expected to cost $929,000, is being raised by a consortium of nonprofit and government organizations, including the hunters association, Oregon Wildlife Foundation and ODFW.
The carbon cap bill as a possible funding source
Oregon’s proposed carbon cap-and-trade policy, House Bill 2020, is another source of potential funding for future wildlife crossing projects, said Rep. Ken Helm, D-Beaverton, one of the five chief sponsors of HB 2834.
“House Bill 2020 recognizes that wildlife corridors increase the resilience of our ecosystems in the face of climate change,” Helm said in an email.
According to the bill, money deposited in the Climate Investments Fund can be put toward protecting and restoring wildlife ecosystems and migration corridors.
“We worked hard to ensure that the initial research and coordination required by the bill can be performed efficiently within existing agency budgets,” said Helm.
Other states have funded their wildlife crossing initiatives through taxes, including a world class project to redesign a 15-mile stretch of I-90 in Washington with multiple wildlife undercrossings, overcrossings and culverts.
The Washington State Department of Transportation received $457 million to design and construct the first phase of the project from a 2005 gas tax package, according to Meagan Lott, WSDOT spokeswoman. The department received another $426 million from the Connecting Washington funding package, a $16 billion investment that was also funded primarily by a gas tax increase, she said.
Bears, cougars, wolverines, elk, coyotes, bobcats, beavers and raccoons are a few of the animals that have used the wildlife passages along I-90, said Lott, adding that the U.S. Forest Service and Central Washington University are partners in the project to monitor wildlife.
Oregon currently has just four large wildlife crossings. By comparison, Washington has an estimated 39 large wildlife crossing structures statewide that have been built (or planned as part of the I-90 project) on its highway system, according to Barbara LaBoe of WSDOT. This number includes structures correcting fish passage but large enough to benefit other wildlife.
According to ODOT, 3.4% of vehicle collisions statewide last year involved wildlife, a percentage that is higher than California and Washington combined.
When ODOT plans new road widening and repair projects it looks for ways to include crossings in the overall plan, as is the case with a road widening project on Highway 97 between the Sunriver interchange and Vandervert Road, due to start next year.
The $30 million project entails widening a six mile section of road from two lanes to a four-lane divided highway. One wildlife crossing will be built as part of the first phase of the road widening project, according to project leader John Ostendorff.
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