I-90 Wildlife Corridor Campaign
The landscape in Washington's central Cascades, spanning Snoqualmie Pass on both sides of Interstate 90, forms a corridor absolutely crucial for wildlife movement and connectivity.
Connecting wildlife habitat in the Cascades
Since 2000, through The Cascades Conservation Partnership and the I-90 Bridges Coalition, Conservation Northwest has led efforts to reconnect Washington’s north and south Cascades by restoring habitat and establishing safe wildlife crossings under and over Interstate 90 near Snoqualmie Pass.
Protecting and connecting habitat across I-90
From 2000-2004, we administered The Cascades Conservation Partnership to purchase and protect over 40,000 acres of habitat in this corridor. We followed that campaign by launching and administering the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition, which is working to address the 6-lane barrier of Interstate 90 by integrating wildlife crossing structures that provide safer passage over and under the roadway as part of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project.
Currently three wildlife underpasses are fully constructed (2 at Gold Creek and 1 at Rocky Run), all of which have already documented wildlife moving safely under the highway. Restoration within these underpasses has begun and will continue next year. With clear direction from our state's legislature, the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project will use the savings accrued from the first phase of construction to keep the project moving including construction of our state's first wildlife overpass with Phase 2A to begin as snow melts in 2015.
The I-90 Project
The I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project focuses a critical 15-mile stretch of interstate along a busy passage near Snoqualmie Pass in the Cascades, making it safer for people and wildlife.Improvements to the freeway include crossing structures to divert wildlife over and under the freeway.
Underpasses include creek crossings, wildlife-size culverts, and several underpasses, including the crossing at Gold Creek, which is now complete. In 2012-13, scores of volunteers planted a thousand native plants to restore wildlife habitat around Gold Creek.
Two fully vegetated, 150-foot-wide overpasses are planned. Construction on the Price-Noble wildlife bridge is expected to start in 2015. It will be Washington's first-ever wildlife bridge.
Restoring the habitat
The tens of thousands of acres that we protected in The Cascades Conservation Partnership were previously managed for intense timber harvest that included homogenous tree plantations, invasives, and excessive and poorly maintained spur roads. Through our campaign, we donated these lands to the US Forest Service adding to their already large habitat restoration need in the I-90 corridor. Therefore, we now aim to use the same energy that we brought to protecting lands in this critical location to restoring their ecological function for the watershed and wildlife.
Our national forest team is hard at work to restore the habitat within the corridor including on the lands protected during the partnership by thinning forests to promote stand diversity and increase tree growth, while reducing unnecessary road miles fragmenting habitat and decreasing watershed health. With private funding, we have directly decommissioned 8.5 miles of road, which has leveraged many more miles of restoration.
We formed the Upper Yakima Watershed Action Group which brings partners together to coordinate and leverage restoration actions throughout the watershed. This group is the collaborative body helping to provide vision and feedback to the Forest Service's Upper Yakima Restoration Project, which we hope will lay a 60,000 acre restoration blueprint for this area including plantation thinning, floodplain restoration, road closures, recreation management, and more.
Finally, we are engaging volunteers to directly help improve habitat in Gold Creek area where a wildlife underpass is nearly complete by removing invasive plants and planting natives in partnership with both the Mount Baker Snoqualmie and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forests. Hundreds of volunteers have donated nearly 1000 hours each year to weed, mulch, and plant nearly 10,000 natives to date. This fall we return through mid-October with planting parties, check out our calender to get involved. In 2015, we'll build off of these efforts by initiating plantings within the underpasses at Gold Creek as well.
One of the best motivations to keep up our work in the I-90 corridor and to measure our success is the wildlife moving through the area. We support and engage with professional research efforts in the I-90 corridor, and lend our volunteer capacity as necessary to further that work. See our work with the Cascades Carnivore Connectivity Project as an example. We also work with partners to organize the power of citizen science to bring a face to this landscape and record species presence. In partnership with the Wilderness Awareness School and I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition, our Cascades Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project has been recording wildlife in the I-90 corridor for over 6 years.
We also support a program that was launched to encourage the 27,000 motorists that drive I-90 through the corridor each day to report the live or dead wildlife they see from their cars - I-90 Wildlife Watch.