Elk NetworkRMEF Assists with Oregon Wildlife Underpass Construction

Conservation | May 28, 2020

A federal grant from the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced earlier this year will be matched with funds raised by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and other hunting/wildlife conservation groups to make migration safer for big game and other wildlife in central Oregon.

“This is a win for elk in west-central Oregon,” said Blake Henning, RMEF chief conservation officer. “We appreciate the opportunity to partner with like-minded organizations and salute RMEF volunteers for their part in raising funds to be put back on the ground to benefit this project.”

ODFW’s research with radio-collared mule deer indicates Highway 97 near Gilchrist is a major crossing point for migrating mule deer and elk—and a place where big game and other wildlife are extremely vulnerable to vehicle collisions. It’s also the site of the Oregon’s latest wildlife underpass project, which aims to create a safe place for big game to pass to and from winter and summer range during their annual migration. Similar projects along Highway 97 reduced wildlife-vehicle collisions by almost 90 percent and benefit many species of wildlife.

The DOI previously announced a grant to Oregon as part of a larger effort to support big game migration corridors and habitat in Western states. This federal funding will improve upon the current Gilchrest project by covering the cost of nine “deer guards” to help prevent big game from using gaps in the directional fencing so they are instead funneled to a safe underpass.

All federal grants require match. In this case, the DOI provided approximately $187K and several hunting/conservation groups donated additional funds: Oregon Hunters Association ($113,500), Oregon Wildlife Foundation ($75,000), RMEF ($20,000) and Mule Deer Foundation ($20,000). The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board provided $85,000 and US Forest Service provided $30,000. ODFW and ODOT also provided funding and staff time while ODOT funds built the undercrossing itself. Finally, Oregon Department of Forestry cleared trees from the fence line and Oregon Hunters Association has agreed to maintain the wildlife fence once construction is complete.

This project is just one of a number of efforts to improve habitat and connectivity between winter and summer range.

(Video Source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife)