What is Safe Passage for Wildlife?
In 1903 President Roosevelt established Pelican Island in Florida, the nation’s first national wildlife refuge, to protect egrets and other birds from extinction through plume hunting. However, as a whole, we can see that the fault in this model to protect a species immediate habitat is that animals move. They forage and hunt, they search for mates, and some species migrate seasonally.
Movements for these basic wild animal needs have become more difficult in the face of habitat fragmentation due to human establishment in areas historically used by animal populations as their migration corridor. In Oregon, the crisscrossing roads and highways make that a dangerous and sometimes fatal journey. However, with the help of road ecologists, local and national agencies, and partnering interest groups, we have been able to identify and support effective habitat connectivity projects statewide.
Each year animals travel to their summer range high in the Cascades, returning to the desert in late Fall. As part of this migration, many mule deer will cross busy Highway 97 resulting in high numbers of collisions with vehicles. In this particular migration corridor, vehicle collisions account for 20% of all known mule deer deaths. In partnership with ODOT, ODFW, and other groups, we have been able to spearhead the The Gilchrist Wildlife Undercross in an effort to reduce these wildlife-vehicle collisions for the safety of wildlife and humans.
But wait - our focus is not limited to large mammals.
In Forest Park (near Linnton in NW Portland) an intensive all-volunteer effort to save a remnant population of Northern red-legged frogs, an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species, takes place two times a year when the frogs migrate to a wetland below Highway 30. The strategy Shuttling the frogs across the highway, two local roads, and two sets of railroad tracks to the Harborton wetland to mate and lay eggs. This population was discovered in 2013 when a local resident left home on a rainy, unseasonably warm evening in January and found Harborton Road covered with frogs, many of which had already been squished. A group of volunteers met with ODFW, Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services, and Forest Park Conservancy to determine a plan of action. Biologists recommended catching the frogs by hand and shuttling them to the wetland in safe buckets. The Harborton Frog Shuttle now has over 40 dedicated volunteers and has transported more than 1,000 frogs.
Helping wildlife to connect to their natural habitat could mean the difference between survival and extinction. By restoring and expanding corridors, we are helping wildlife adapt to today’s multidimensional threats.
Proceeds from our Watch for Wildlife license plate are dedicated to projects that provide safe passage to wildlife of all kinds throughout Oregon.