Wildlife appear to be adapting to tunnel crossings

Evaro, Montana (AP) October 2010

 A family of deer crosses under
U.S.Highway 93. Photo courtesy
Wildlife are learning to use special crossings to safely get to the other side of U.S. Highway 93 as it passes through the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana, a biologist with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes says.

Whisper Camel said surveillance cameras in 41 tunnels have shown grizzly and black bears, moose, whitetail and mule deer, elk, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, beavers, badgers, river otters, skunks and weasels passing under the road. “My favorites are of the females with their young,” Camel told the Missoulian. “I’m seeing them all the time.”

She said they remind her of humans teaching their children to safely cross the street.

“It’s mostly deer and black bears,” she said. “Sometimes the does will lie down in the culvert, and their fawns will run back and forth through it. They’re definitely learning and teaching.”

Camel said it will be several years before all the data is in and analyzed, but anecdotal evidence indicates there are fewer collisions between motorists and wildlife on the road.

“In one structure north of Mission we’ve already had 6,000 occurrences of deer” using the passage, she said. “That’s not to say deer aren’t still occasionally hit on the road. But we appear to have large numbers using the crossings.”

There are 40 crossings, mostly culverts, on the 56-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 93 on the reservation. There’s also a $1.88 million overpass north of Evaro that allows animals to walk over the highway.

The wildlife crossings also includes 8.3 miles of fence on each side of the highway in three sections to funnel animals toward the crossings.

And all the crossings have “wing fencing” to guide animals to the tunnels.

“There is a learning curve for wildlife,” Camel said.