New Website Lets Drivers Track Wildlife Along Stretch Of I-90 - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

New Website Lets Drivers Track Wildlife Along Stretch Of I-90

FROM THE SEATTLE TIMES: The next time you drive up to Snoqualmie Pass, you may want to keep your eyes peeled for more than impending snow.

A new website devoted to tracking wildlife has been launched with the goal of having drivers who see any wildlife on the stretch of Interstate 90 from North Bend to Easton to log those sightings online.

No animal is too small for the website, www.i90wildlifewatch.org, and its organizers want any sightings — dead or alive. Animals around the area include deer, elk, black bears, cougars and coyotes.

"Roughly 28,000 pairs of eyes are traveling through this corridor on a daily basis," said Paula MacKay of the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University. "We want to take advantage of what these people are observing."

On the website, drivers can log public animal sightings, identifying where they saw the animal or roadkill. After a year, the data will be examined to better understand how the highway affects animals in the Cascade Mountains, MacKay said.

Until now, most of the sightings have been sporadic, and they are geared toward larger animals and tend to include roadkill, not wildlife crossings, said Jen Watkins, outreach coordinator for the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition, which focuses on wildlife movement across the highway.

The institute and the coalition have partnered with other nonprofits and government agencies such as the state Department of Transportation for the website project.

Highways not only are deadly to animals but also are barriers to their natural movement, MacKay said.

"It's really important to get a better sense of how habitats are connected and whether those connections are being interrupted by roads, and we can take measures to restore that connectivity," she said.

Over the summer, for example, a motorist reported seeing black objects on the side of the road. The animals were found to be five river otters, Watkins said.

"That kind of information is huge for us to know that we're suffering fatalities of a species and where it's happening," she said.

The state DOT has a project under way for I-90 construction and expansion from Snoqualmie to Easton, including building multiple wildlife underpasses and bridges over the 15-mile stretch.

The DOT project has funding for five miles from Hyak to Keechelus Dam, including one wildlife underpass at Gold Creek, Watkins said.

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