Wednesday, April 17, 2024

97A wildlife fence helps reduce vehicle/animal collisions

Another at Tonasket


CHELAN – High summer temperatures and a lack of moisture have been driving mule deer and bighorn sheep down to lower altitudes in search of greener vegetation and that is adding to driving hazards faced by commuters along State Route 97A between Wenatchee and Chelan.

Three weeks ago, on the last day of August herds of bighorn sheep were spotted grazing along the roadside near milepost 210 north of Entiat and just south of Knapp’s Hill Tunnel. Both herds made a least one attempt to cross the busy highway against oncoming traffic. While the mile 210 bunch were frightened back to the west side of the highway where they started, the second group - grazing on volunteer alfalfa along a deer fence protecting an orchard on the river side of the highway – were not as fortunate when they made a desperate dash to cross.

A bighorn ewe was struck and disabled by the lead vehicle in a line of cars and trucks driving north toward the tunnel entrance. The injured animal managed to return to the east side of the highway while the remainder of the herd waited on the west side. After some 30 minutes of rest the injured ewe drug her damaged hindquarters back across the highway in an attempt to rejoin the waiting herd. Once she reached the west side ditch the ewe was unable to climb the steep slope.

A Washington State Patrolman called to the scene was soon joined by an Incident Management vehicle from Wenatchee to deal with the wounded animal.

Parts of 97A between Chelan and Wenatchee have been the scene of scores of animal/vehicle accidents over the years and led to a cooperative effort between public/private group to install miles of wildlife fencing along portions of the road’s west side to help keep mule deer and bighorns away from the highway.

In 2009 the first of two phases of all-metal eight-foot-tall fencing went up. It protected nearly five miles of roadside from Texas Gorge to just north of Spencer Canyon. In 2010 another mile of fence extended from Texas Gorge toward Rocky Reach Dam.

In 2011 the second phase of fencing added 3.5 miles from the south end of the existing fence to below Rocky Reach Dam. Project costs to date amount to about $2.5 million dollars.

The fence, the longest of its kind in the state includes cattle guards on private access roads and escape gates that allow wildlife access ports to get from the highway side back to safety.

Funding from the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), plus contributions from businesses and groups including State Farm Insurance, the Wenatchee Sportsman’s Association and Central Washington Mule Deer Foundation has made the barrier possible.

Earlier this month the first phase of Safe Passage 97 - a project to build a wildlife fence and highway undercrossings along nearly 13 miles of SR97 between Tonasket and Riverside – was completed according to a media release by Conservation Northwest. Spearheaded by Conservation Northwest and the Mule Deer Foundation, the first phase included a wildlife passage under Janis Bridge and a mile of fence on both sides of SR97 from Janis Bridge south to the Carter Mountain Wildlife Area.

Accident statistics show this stretch of SR97 to be among the highest for auto-deer collisions.



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