Connecting wildlife habitat in the Cascades
- Watch a new trailer for Cascades Crossroads, a documentary we’re helping produce about the historic wildlife crossing being built over and under I-90!
Since 2000, through The Cascades Conservation Partnership and the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition,we’ve led efforts to reconnect Washington’s north and south Cascades by protecting and restoring habitat and establishing safe wildlife crossings under and over I-90.
Through our I-90 Wildlife Corridor Campaign and the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition (of which we are the administering organization) and by working with the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT), elected officials and our community allies, we’re focusing on making a critical 15-mile stretch of freeway safer for both people and wildlife.
Four large wildlife undercrossings are already completed and in use by animals big and small. Four more crossings are currently under construction, including the first of two planned wildlife overcrossings or “bridges”. Culverts are also being expanded for fish passage and smaller wildlife species.
A huge thank you to WSDOT, the U.S. Forest Service, Forterra and our other coalition partners who’ve supported this effort, including Sierra Club, The Nature Conservancy, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, American Rivers, The Summit at Snoqualmie, and many other organizations, business, elected and community leaders!
Protecting and Connecting Across I-90
Conservation Northwest has been a leader in getting wildlife connectivity included in the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project.
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.
The I-90 Wildlife Bridges Project
Undercrossings include creek crossings, wildlife-size culverts, and three major wildlife underpasses or stretches of raised highway up to 900 feet long. The following undercrossings are now complete:
- Two undercrossings at Gold Creek east of Snoqualmie Summit at the northwest end of Lack Keechelus. Because Gold Creek Valley “funnels” traveling wildlife north-south, connecting with the east-west landscape of Snoqualmie Pass and Cold Creek valley to the south, it’s a natural migration route and important area for many species in the Cascades including elk, deer, bull trout, kokanee salmon and hopefully soon wolves and wolverines.
- One undercrossing at Rocky Run Creek, to the east of Gold Creek, providing better aquatic connections for spawning bull trout and safe passage for wildlife between Lake Keechelus and thick forest to the north.
- One undercrossing at Resort Creek east of Rocky Run, providing similar benefits for both fish and wildlife.
Overcrossings or wildlife “bridges”
Two fully vegetated, 150-foot-wide overpasses are planned. Construction on the Keechelus Wildlife Overcrossing (formerly called the Price-Noble Wildlife Overcrossing) began in Spring 2015. When completed it will be Washington’s first-ever wildlife bridge over a highway or freeway, and the largest wildlife overcrossing in North America. Construction is scheduled to be complete in late 2018
A second wildlife overpass near Easton is planned and fully funded. Construction will begin in coming years.
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 and excessive and poorly maintained spur roads.
Through our campaign, we donated these lands to the U.S. Forest Service, adding to their already large restoration needs 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 habitat for the watershed and wildlife.
Our Forest Field Program 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.
We also 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 the Gold Creek area near two of the new wildlife underpasses by removing invasive plants and planting native vegetation 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 well over 10,000 plants to date, improving habitat for fish and wildlife and making the wildlife undercrossings more appealing.
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 official agencies and other research efforts in the I-90 corridor and lend our volunteer capacity to further that work. We also work with partners and scientific advisers to organize the power of citizen science to bring a face to this landscape through our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project.
We also lead I-90 Wildlife Watch, a program that was launched to encourage the 27,000 motorists that drive I-90 through the corridor each day to report live or dead wildlife they see from their cars.
These monitoring efforts are important for better understanding the movement of wildlife through the I-90 corridor and the Central Cascades, as well as the effectiveness of our efforts to protect, connect and restore habitat in the Snoqualmie Pass area.
Want to be a part of this important effort? Make a donation or become a member today.
The landscape in Washington’s Central Cascades, spanning Snoqualmie Pass and bisected by Interstate 90, forms an important travel corridor for people, goods and wildlife.