The population of mule deer, one of Central Oregon’s iconic wildlife species, has declined by more than 50% in recent years. Efforts to reverse the decline include installing safe wildlife passages to reduce the number of animals hit and killed by cars.
The fifth wildlife crossing under Highway 97 is nearing completion.
The fences aren’t up yet to funnel animals through but some are already using it. We found deer prints in the dirt leading through the under crossing.
“We are almost finished with our new wildlife under crossing. It’s just north of Vandevert Road on Highway 97,” said Kasey Davey, Oregon Dept. of Transportation. “This is part of a larger project where we have a divided highway and we’ve got some fencing to funnel all the deer and wildlife into this new under crossing.”
The average cost of vehicle repairs after colliding with a deer collision is $9,086. An elk collision is $24,006 on average.
The cumulative cost of collisions with these two species for Oregon drivers totaled $56.9 million in 2020.
“We have done other crossings. One near Lava Butte. It has shown a huge reduction in wildlife crashes, something like 90%. Along with under crossings we have the area fenced so it funnels all the wildlife under here. And it’s not just deer… elk, coyotes, turkeys, rabbits. Pretty much everything uses these to get across the road,” Davey said.
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There are simple things any one can do to prevent killing Oregon’s wildlife including:
- Not driving distracted.
- Slowing down, particularly in marked deer-crossing zones and at dawn and dusk when mule deer are on the move.
- Being aware of seasonal mule deer migrations when they try to cross roads where there are no protected under crossings.
“The more animals we have under here, the less we have on the highway,” Davey said.
Perhaps the old rhetorical question should be revised to “Why did the deer cross under the road?”
The answer remains the same.
Oregon, with only five wildlife crossings, significantly trails other western states in addressing this problem. Colorado has 69 wildlife passage structures, Utah and California each have 50, and Nevada has 23 crossings for large mammals.