Update on I-90 Wildlife Crossings
Conservation Northwest / Feb 04, 2020 / Connecting Habitat, I-90 Wildlife, Work Updates
From elk and coyotes to otters and porcupines, wildlife undercrossings and a new overcrossing are providing safe passage for thousands of animals on I-90.
By Laurel Baum, Central Cascades Conservation Associate
If you’ve driven I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass in the last year, you’ve likely noticed the large wildlife overpass near the east end of Keechelus Lake—arching above six lanes of traffic, it’s hard to miss. Construction was completed in late 2018, and after vegetation is planted on and around the overpass during spring and summer of this year, this phase of the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT)’s I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project will finally be complete.
For more than a decade, we championed the inclusion of wildlife crossings in the project through our I-90 Wildlife Corridor Campaign, including through the administration of the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition.
Read more about recent work on this project in this blog from our partners at WSDOT! Or learn more about future phases of construction and planned wildlife crossings on this webpage. Or check out our Cascade Crossroads documentary film.
While the Keechelus Lake Wildlife Overcrossing isn’t officially finished, that hasn’t stopped wildlife from using it to safely cross the interstate. In 2019, dozens of animals were documented using the structure, including coyotes, deer, hares and raccoons. Experts expect wildlife use of the overcrossing to increase in the years ahead as revegetation work moves forward, and animals become more used to the bridge as part of their seasonal migration routes.
And the crossings on the overpass pale in comparison to those on completed undercrossings nearby. Wildlife including deer, elk, raccoons, porcupines, coyotes, otters and hares used the structures thousands of times last year.
In 2019, coyotes used the new wildlife bridges east of Snoqualmie Pass to safely cross under and over the busy freeway more than 205 times, with 1,928 crossings by mule deer, 71 by elk, and hundreds more by various smaller mammals ranging from beavers to bobcats.
With the several habitat restoration events we hosted adjacent to these undercrossings during the summer, we’re glad to know that wildlife not only have safe passage in this area, but they also have plenty of food sources and healthy habitat on both sides of I-90.
We’ll have more information on 2020 habitat restoration events in partnership with WSDOT and the U.S. Forest Service soon. Thank you to all of our volunteers who planted native vegetation, removed weeds and picked up garbage near I-90 with us this summer!
Check out this video of wildlife using I-90 undercrossings during 2019 from WSDOT:
Get more photos, videos and updates on our I-90 Wildlife Watch Facebook page!
I-90 snow tracking season begins
Another important part of our I-90 Wildlife Corridor Campaign is research around wildlife movement in the Snoqualmie Corridor. During the winter, our Citizen Wildlife Monitoring Project volunteers conduct snow tracking transects from near North Bend west of Snoqualmie Pass east to Easton to look for tracks, sign, carcasses and other evidence of animal presence. This citizen-science data adds to the monitoring photos from WSDOT, together informing nearby wildlife crossing projects.
At our recent training for this season, we were so excited to see almost 40 volunteers heading out into the field between January and March. We already have 33 surveys scheduled with our teams for the upcoming season, and with snow dumping in the Cascades, we’re eager to get out and conduct our transect surveys.
Follow a CWMP team on a snow tracking journey in this blog!
I-90 wildlife crossings closure order
The U.S. Forest Service recently announced a wildlife closure order in habitat along I-90 after documenting use from both motorized and non-motorized recreation on the Keechelus Lake Wildlife Overcrossing and nearby undercrossings. The wildlife crossings are closed to human use, as human presence may deter wildlife from using the crossings.
Please do not enter into the wildlife corridor closure area. Signs have been posted and enforcement will be patrolling these areas.
The CWMP team has made adjustments to its winter snow tracking transects to abide by the wildlife closure while still gathering useful scientific data. As more and more animals become comfortable using these crossing structures, we’re looking forward to all of the species we’ll document in nearby habitat this season!