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The Southern Oregon Wildlife Crossing Coalition (SOWCC) is a broad-based partnership advocating for improved wildlife movement and increased safety for motorists in the Siskiyou Summit region of I-5 between Ashland and the California border.  To accomplish this goal, we are working for the creation of a network of safe wildlife crossings.  We support state and federal efforts to increase ecological connectivity and wildlife corridors while reducing dangerous wildlife-vehicle collisions.

who we are

The SOWCC is composed of state and federal agencies, land trusts, hunting conservation organizations, environmental organizations, Southern Oregon University, and other local stakeholders.

see the Coalition Members

what we're doing

The immediate goal of the SOWCC is to identify and establish one or more safe wildlife crossings along I-5 between Ashland and the California border as part of a future network of dedicated over and undercrossings in the area.

how we're doing it

The SOWCC engages in education, outreach, coordination, and fundraising in partnership with our primary nonprofit partner, the Oregon Wildlife Foundation.

What's the issue?

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Interstate 5 in southern Oregon is a vital part of our state’s transportation system. And because it passes through one of Oregon’s primary wildlife migration corridors, it can also be dangerous.

 

Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions (WVCs) are increasing and causing extensive property damage and endangering  human life. This is a critical public safety issue and a wildlife tragedy. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) collects data on vehicle collisions with large animals. There are approximately 7,000 such WVCs in Oregon annually.

 

Each WVC involving deer averages $6,617 for emergency response, towing, repairs and medical expenses. For elk, each collision averages $17,483 for repair costs and injury expense. Significant portions of this stretch of  I-5 are in ODOT’s high-risk “red zones” for WVCs.

 

About the project

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More than 17,000 vehicles travel I-5 south of Ashland each day. A huge volume of goods move north and south by truck and trailer, and people travel the highway to work, to school, on vacations, and to go  camping and skiing. Collisions with wildlife are an all-to-common occurrence. ODOT regularly removes  carcasses of deer, elk, bear, and cougar from this stretch of highway. Many injured animals die unseen,  while smaller roadkill species are never recorded. These already-high levels of WVCs will only increase  in the future, as the ecological disruptions of climate change drive deer, elk and other wildlife to  undertake large-scale movements in search of better habitat.  

Interstate 5 represents a significant barrier to wildlife movement, slicing through this part of southern  Oregon from north to south, dividing east from west. Indeed, it cuts right through the Cascade-Siskiyou  National Monument, which was established in recognition of the unique importance of this area as an  ecological crossroads between the Klamath-Siskiyou, Cascade, Coastal and High Desert regions.  

Fortunately, we can make travel on I-5 safer for wildlife and the traveling public alike. The barrier posed  by I-5 is narrow. The Southern Oregon Wildlife Crossing Coalition envisions carefully-designed  overcrossings and undercrossings for wildlife along I-5 between Ashland and the Oregon-California  border, along with funnel fencing to help guide wildlife to crossing locations. The effectiveness of  wildlife passage projects has been proven in many places around the U.S. On US-97 in central Oregon,  WVCs have decreased 90% where wildlife crossings are in place.  

Working with Coalition partners ODOT, BLM, and ODFW, we have identified seven sites with high potential  as effective wildlife crossings in this stretch of I-5. Our next step is to undertake a feasibility study and  preliminary design for the most practical and effective sites.

 
 

Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions and Crossing Facts 

See full report courtesy of Wildands Network here

Human Safety

Oregon drivers face a 1 in 180 chance of hitting an animal, which is the highest rate of West coast states.

In 2020, ODOT recorded 5,997 collisions with large-bodied wildlife, with deer and elk collisions accounting for the vast majority, and for every recorded collision, there are likely 2 additional collisions that go unreported.

From 2014 to 2018, ODOT reports that wildlife collisions caused an average of 2.2 casualties and 453 injuries per year.

Economic Costs and Benefits

In 2021 dollars, the average cost of a deer collision is $8,530 and an elk collision costs $22,539, accounting for vehicle repairs, injuries, towing and emergency crews, value of the animal, and carcass removal and disposal.

With this average cost, deer and elk collisions in 2020 in Oregon cost roughly $53.4 million.

The Lava Butte Wildlife Crossing Project on Hwy 97, saw an 80% reduction in deer collisions within its first year. Studies show that wildlife crossings that guide animals over or under highways reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions by up to 97%.

Environmental and Climate Resilience Benefits

Oregon mule deer populations have been in a steady decline for years, and while many factors contribute, reducing collisions and increasing wildlife movement can help alleviate pressures mule deer face.

The Cascade-Siskiyou is renowned for its biodiversity and provides ecological connections among the Coast Range and Klamath Mountains to the west, and the Cascades and High Deserts to the east.  Wildlife crossings along I-5 would restore the ecological connections currently severed by the freeway. 

Expanding culverts and bridges to allow for aquatic and terrestrial passage not only benefits wildlife, but also makes our infrastructure more resilient to climate change and extreme weather events, such as flooding.

Oregon Support for Wildlife Crossings

2020 polling found 75% Oregonians support additional public funding for wildlife crossing infrastructure.

86% of Oregonians support building wildlife overpasses and underpasses in concentrated migration areas, with 57% strongly supporting, and maintaining open corridors for wildlife to migrate is supported by 88% of Oregonians.

Oregon lags behind other western states in constructing wildlife crossing infrastructure, and making state funding available can be leveraged to make Oregon projects more.

Meet the Feasibility Study Sites

Seven sites are proposed for further investigation as potential wildlife crossings across I-5 between Ashland, Oregon (Mile Post 14), and the California Border (Mile Post 0).  In their existing conditions, some sites provide limited wildlife crossing opportunities, but all could benefit substantially from fencing, habitat improvements, reengineering or replacement of existing culverts and bridges. Two sites are potential overpass locations.  The sites are described below, from north to south.

 
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Wall Creek
Mile Post 8

This site consists of two potential wildlife crossing opportunities, a railroad bridge overcrossing and a small culvert undercrossing. Wall Creek is a small but perennial stream that provides habitat for coastal tailed frogs, a state of Oregon Conservation Strategy Species. An important wildlife area, Ogden Hill (Rogue River-Siskiyou NF), is immediately to the west of this site. Currently, the existing approximately 4-ft wide Wall Creek culvert is gated by a series of rail sections, presumably to prevent debris accumulation at the culvert entrance. The railroad bridge owned by the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad is lightly used by trail traffic and appears to have numerous wildlife trails leading to and across the bridge.

Mt. Ashland Exit
Mile Post 6

This exit allows vehicle access to a ski area and resort via undercrossing of bridges on north- and south-bound interstate lanes. The bridges also likely provide wildlife undercrossing opportunities. It is unknown to what extent wildlife crossing could be improved by habitat plantings and fencing to funnel wildlife under the interstate via the existing bridges.  Current wildlife-vehicle collisions in this area are in the “green zone” indicating lower collision rates.

 Bear Gulch
Mile Post 2.5

A large culvert, 6-8 foot diameter runs under I-5 with good line of site to other side.  Currently used as undercrossing by coyotes and bobcats.  Functional crossing but could be improved.

Neil Creek  
Mile Post 10.4

This is a combination of a small box culvert that Neil Creek flows through and under I-5; as well as a small bridge undercrossing that provides road access (Neil Creek Road) to private homes and Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest lands west of the Interstate.  Under many flow conditions, Neil Creek Culvert currently provides a velocity barrier to fish trying to ascend the creek. Steelhead, cutthroat trout, sculpin, and potentially, coho salmon occur seasonally in Neil Creek and utilize upstream portions of Neil Creek on the national forest for spawning. The box culvert was modified in 2018 by placing baffles in the culvert bottom to disrupt flow and increase the likelihood of fish passage during spring and summer. It is unknown to what extent wildlife currently use the adjacent bridge undercrossing.

Steinman Creek
Mile Post 6.5

Flows in Steinman Creek are highly variable and decrease to zero during dry conditions.  An existing, small culvert, with light visible from one end to the other, carries Steinman Creek beneath I-5.  Current wildlife use, if any, is unknown.  The Interstate is relatively narrow from Ashland to this site and tends to expand with a wider median as the highway proceeds south to the California border.  Improvements could include culvert replacement or bridge overcrossing construction.

Siskiyou Summit
Mile Post 5

A slightly larger, but still small (approx. 5-ft diameter) existing culvert under the interstate likely provides some wildlife crossing opportunities (with light visible from one side to the other), which presumably could be improved with a larger culvert or bridge overcrossing and fencing. This site is being monitored by BLM for wildlife use.

Mariposa Preserve
Mile Post 1.5

A larger, but still relatively small culvert, approximately 5-ft diameter, carries perennial water under I-5 at this location. The stream and existing relatively dense riparian vegetation attracts wildlife but the existing culvert is likely too long and too narrow for their use. In addition to deer, bear, and other large animals, this area is frequented by elk.  The creek has been identified by BLM as a high priority beaver reintroduction site and an improved undercrossing could connect significant portions of the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which is located both to the east and west of the interstate.

Coalition Members

The Southern Oregon Wildlife Crossing Coalition includes representatives from Oregon Department of Transportation, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish & Wildlife Service, Office of Representative Pam Marsh-HD 05, Southern Oregon University, Oregon Hunters Association, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Soda Mountain Wilderness Council, Southern Oregon Land Conservancy, Pacific Forest Trust, Trout Unlimited, Rogue Valley Audubon Society, KS Wild, Wildlands Network, Selberg Institute, SC Wildlands, and Oregon Wildlife Foundation.