Be alert for wildlife as temperatures drop

By guest blogger Mike Allende

It’s the time of year we typically find a rise in deer sightings near our state highways and, unfortunately, more collisions with vehicles and wildlife.

Deer crossing

But why? Well, a couple reasons. Colder temperatures in the mountains send more deer and elk wandering down to the lowlands looking for food. It’s harvest season and the animals naturally go where the food is. It also happens to be both mating and hunting season for big game, which means even more movement.

Every year we receive reports of more than 1,100 vehicle collisions involving wildlife, and many others go unreported. A few of these collisions result in human fatalities. Many more leave animals dead; our crews remove an average of 3,500 deer and elk carcasses from our highways every year.
Wildlife fence

When driving, it’s a good idea to be on the lookout for wildlife near the highway. When you see an animal, especially something as large as a deer or elk, slow down and prepare to react. Wildlife behavior or sudden movement is tough to predict and impossible to control. While some parts of Washington see more wildlife movement than others, the reality is animals can appear virtually anywhere in the state, which is why drivers are wise to be alert always.

Taking wildlife into account is a regular step in highway planning at WSDOT. Our Habitat Connectivity policy directs our approach to balancing the state’s transportation needs with its renowned natural habitats. While we can’t completely prevent wildlife from entering the highway, we take steps that reduce collisions and keep highways safe for people and animals alike.

  • We’ve installed 8-foot-tall wildlife fencing in key areas, such as along I-90 in Cle Elum. Fences are effective at separating large animals from the highway, but it’s an expensive option that doesn’t work everywhere.
  • We’ve built several wildlife crossings over and under highways, such as SR 240 near the McNary National Wildlife Refuge, and U.S. 12 at Casey Pond southeast of Pasco. Other crossing structures are under construction on I-90. Here’s a pretty cool short video of some animals using our crossings.
  • This year we’ve built a new bridge on US 97 over Butler Creek about nine miles north of Goldendale. We installed 8-foot-tall wildlife fences to help guide animals to cross underneath the highway rather than across it.
  • We use deer-crossing signs in areas prone to deer and elk collisions. It’s a heads-up for drivers to be on the lookout ready to react accordingly. Some signs have beacons or messages attached for added visibility.
Wildlife Sign
Obviously, we can’t make animals use the structures we build for them, but combining fences with crossings reduces the tendency for animals to go around fences as they learn to use the crossings.

Just as we all need to move around to get to work, school and the store, wildlife need to move to find food, security and adapt to seasonal changes. Sometimes it creates hazards on our roads, but driver awareness of wildlife and cross locations reduces the hazards and makes the road safer for travel on four wheels or four legs.