A lot of wildlife finds its way across Highway 89 north, and often that ends badly for both drivers and the animals.
Prime wildlife habitat and a deer migration corridor runs along a 20-mile stretch of Highway 89 north, making animal-vehicle collisions inevitable.
“I would guess that one-third of your readers have run into deer,” said Sandra Jacobson, a wildlife ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service. But a group of nine different entities known as the Highway 89 Stewardship Team is trying to reduce collisions to preserve wildlife and protect drivers and their vehicles.
“We want to reduce wildlife mortality from vehicles, enable animals to cross the highway, reduce deer-vehicle collisions, increase safety for the public and take the lessons learned and apply them to the broader global community,” said Jacobson, who specializes in transportation ecology.
On the ground, this means studying animal movement patterns and behavior, then building undercrossings for deer, bear and other animals to cross safely without going into traffic, she said.
Construction will begin on the first undercrossing at Kyburz Flats, north of the Sierra County line on July 8, Jacobson said, and should take about 45 days.
Caltrans and Sierra County have teamed up to foot the $732,000 price tag, which Jacobson said will pay for itself in reduced property damage, injury and death from collisions along the highway.
But the difficult part will be directing wildlife to take the undercrossing, as animals in the area cross the highway at many points along its length, without any one particular geographic feature guiding them.
“We are going to be looking at a lot of different ways to try different fencing approaches to keep animals off the road and direct them where we want to go,” Jacobson said.
Kyburz Flats was picked because a “carcass database” kept by Caltrans indicated a higher number of crossing collisions, said Jeff Brown, station manager at Sagehen Field Station.
“Most critters work on the edge of something, and this is on the edge of a forest and a meadow, so that’s why we think they move through here,” Brown said.
While there is already a culvert under the road in the area planned for the undercrossing, flowing water for most of the year prevents wildlife from using it.
As funding becomes available, the stewardship team will work on fencing, create additional undercrossings and monitor wildlife movement, Brown said.
Another part of the program is education, Jacobson said.
Members of the group are working with students of Sierra County schools to help in the field and learn about ecology, she said, and training will also be made available for professionals dealing with similar issues around the country.
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