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CWU opens exhibit on I-90 crossings – April 17th

Cougar.  Credit:  WDFW

Cougar. Credit: WDFW

Central Washington University’s Museum of Culture and Environment will host an opening reception for its latest exhibit, How did the Cougar Cross the Road: Restoring Wildlife Passages at Snoqualmie Pass, at 5:30 p.m. April 17.

Refreshments will be served as visitors explore the brand new exhibit that tells the story of wildlife connectivity corridors linking animal populations formerly divided by Interstate 90. Follow in the footsteps of native fauna over a recreated wildlife overpass and discover how the cougar crosses the road, and how humans are helping.

A series of speakers including Yvonne Prater, author of Snoqualmie Pass: From Indian Trail to Interstate; Al Aronica (Kittitas Band of the Yakama Nation), Brian White (WSDOT), Jason Smith (WSDOT) and Patty Garvey-Darda (USFS) will discuss their knowledge and research concerning the history of Snoqualmie Pass and its wildlife passages. For more information, go to www.cwu.edu/museum.

The Museum of Culture and Environment is at CWU on the first floor of Dean Hall, 1200 N. D St., in Ellensburg. The museum is open 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday. Parking is free on the CWU campus after 4:30 p.m. and on weekends. For more information, email Museum@cwu.edu or call 963-2313.

Press contact: Sarah Jane Johnson, Central Communication Agency, 253-350-7322253-350-7322, johnsonsar@cwu.edu

Press: I-90 underpasses already producing results

Researchers conducting monitoring along I-90.  Credit:  Yakima Herald

Researchers conducting monitoring along I-90. Credit: Yakima Herald

The Yakima Herald featured an article showing how the wildlife underpasses constructed as part of Phase 1 of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project are already showing results for fish and wildlife.

Craig Broadhead of the Department of Transportation is quoted in the article stating, “To me, one of the key things is that we’re not just focusing on the big animals. We’re going down to the small stuff….We’re trying to connect populations for everything, not just the big things that can move pretty well.”

Click here to read the article.

Cascade Mountain School offers award to winner of our scholarship contest

cascademtnschoolKicking off the new year the Cascade Mountain Institute has offered additional incentives for statewide highschool juniors and seniors to enter our 2014 Bridging Futures Scholarship contest – a free week of exploration and learning at Mount Hood.  As we announced in December, our 2014 scholarship contest co-hosted with the Washington Department of Transportation asks students to bring their ideas to solving a need to create safer passage for motorists and wildlife just east of Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90.  The winner of this contest will receive a $1500 scholarship award for higher education, as well as a complimentary course to experience the outdoors while learning through Cascade Mountain School.  The runner up this year will receive a $500 scholarship award.

The Cascade Mountain School, a project of the Mt. Adams Institute, believes students should be given a real-world context for their learning and be pushed to analyze and synthesize information to understand the world around them. They offer a dynamic learning environment, one in which senses are enlivened and academics become relevant to daily life.  The Mount Hood Mountain to Mouth Camp runs July 20-25, 2014 and combines science learning with outdoor adventure.  it provides everything you would want in a summertime excursion: backpacking, biking, kayaking, and traveling on snow and ice.  It starts at close to 8,000 feet on Mt. Hood and attendees make their way downstream to the Columbia River through the Hood River Valley. Along the way attendees will meet with local stakeholders and scientists to investigate glaciers, climate change, fisheries, and conservation. If the Bridging Futures contest winner is unable to attend the Mt Hood Mountain to Mouth Camp week, they can work with the Cascade Mountain Institute to arrange attending another program as possible at a comparable cost.

Cascade Mountain School Director, Emily Goodwin, is “thrilled to partner with the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Competition and offer this year’s winner a week of experiential science and multi-sport outdoor adventure around Mt. Hood.  We can’t wait to meet this year’s winner!  The type of students who are inspired to create solutions to our most pressing environmental problems are just the type of students who thrive at Cascade Mountain School, an outdoor summer science program based in the Columbia Gorge.”

So, if you or your students were waiting for one more reason to create solutions to an important wildlife and transportation issue in our state – it has arrived.  Learn more about the contest and view resources to help in preparing your entry.  Entries must be postmarked by May 2, 2014.

Sophomore year of scholarship program for high school junior and seniors is launched

Sketch of potential I-90 overcrossing.  Credit:  WSDOT

Sketch of potential I-90 overcrossing. Credit: WSDOT

The Washington State Department of Transportation and the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition are kicking off the second year of the Bridging Futures scholarship program, asking students: “How should our future highways protect animals?”

Washington high school juniors and seniors interested in engineering, the environment or art should bring their ideas forward and apply for this scholarship.

“WSDOT is making some very high-tech advances in environmental design,” said Charlie Raines, I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition director. “We hope this scholarship program will inspire future engineers or environmental advocates.”

The student that best illustrates and explains their idea will receive a $1,500 scholarship toward college from the Wildlife Bridges Coalition. The runner-up receives a $500 scholarship.

The scholarship application needs to include a model, blueprint or graphic of a wildlife crossing over a six-lane highway and an essay explaining how the model demonstrates the importance of wildlife crossings within the I-90 corridor. The essay must be no less than 500 words and may not exceed two pages. Applications must be postmarked by May 2, 2014.

Students can download applications from Washboard.org and search for 2014 Bridging Futures, or on the 2014 Bridging Futures Scholarship contest webpage.

Winners will be announced in early June 2014.

WSDOT engineers are designing the first wildlife crossing in the state, which will be built in 2015. The structure will be located 10 miles east of Snoqualmie Pass as part of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project.

“Winners from our 2013 scholarship contest were from Spokane and Seattle, and brought innovative design ideas for the Price-Noble wildlife overpass to the table,” said Jen Watkins of the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition.  “We are really looking forward to what new ideas emerge this year.”

Hyperlinks in this news item:

•    I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East – Hyak to Keechelus Lake project Web page:
www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I90/SnoqualmiePassEast/HyaktoKeechelusDam/
•    I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition Contest web page: www.i90wildlifebridges.org/bridging-futures-2014
•    WashBoard.org Web page: www.washboard.org

 

Tell legislators to fund completion of I-90 project

Map of phases within the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project.

Map of phases within the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project.

Discussion this fall of a special November session of the Washington State legislature to address transportation priorities provides an opportunity to fund completion of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project.

The transportation project is a 15-mile transportation improvement package to Washington State’s most important east-west transportation corridor. Some 27,000 vehicles—freight, commuters, and tourists—cross daily over I-90 and Snoqualmie Pass through the Cascades.  This east-west economic lifeline, moving goods and people, bisects one of our state’s most important north-south wildlife corridors, easing travel of animals from elk to wolverines, in the Cascade Mountains. The innovative design of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project contributes to Washington’s economy and ecology.

The legislature has already funded design and construction of the project’s first 6 miles (Phases 1 and 2A), recognizing the I-90 project’s importance to our state. The portion of the I-90 project currently under construction has come in both on time and under budget—not a common theme in transportation mega-projects these days. But $390 million is needed to complete the final 9 miles.

From 9/17 to 10/15/13, leaders from the Washington Senate Transportation Committee are holding listening sessions around the state to hear people’s concerns and suggestions for transportation and priorities. Let Washington’s legislators know that you have put $390 million for I-90 and wildlife on your wish list this year.

Volunteers Needed: I-90 habitat restoration projects

Volunteer planting natives at Gold Creek in fall 2012.

Volunteer planting natives at Gold Creek in fall 2012.

Volunteers are needed for habitat restoration in the I-90 corridor this summer and fall.  Come get your hands dirty and help improve wildlife habitat in this critical landscape.  Click on the opportunities below to learn more.

August 15th:  Weed pull and chip spreading party at Gold Creek

August 17th:  Amabilis Mount invasive plant removal

September 28th:  Native planting party at Gold Creek

Look at the Conservation Northwest Flickr gallery to see the difference volunteers have been making this year and last restoring native vegetation at Gold Creek just north of the two wildlife underpasses constructed in the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project.

 

Creative ideas for Snoqualmie Pass wildlife crossings win scholarships for 2 high school students

Brydon Eakins's winning computer design for an overpass submitted to the 2013 Bridging Futures contest.

Brydon Eakins’s winning computer design for an overpass submitted to the 2013 Bridging Futures contest.

A first place tie means two Washington high school students are earning green for college in a scholarship contest focused on Interstate 90 wildlife crossings.

Brydon Eakins, a senior at University High School in Spokane and Elaina Thomas, a junior at Garfield High School in Seattle, both received a $1,000 scholarship from the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition today.

In our 2013 Bridging Futures scholarship contest, statewide high school junior and senior students were asked to provide concepts that tackle the same problem Washington State Department of Transportation engineers are solving: building a wildlife crossing over I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass. The crossing had to be designed for the same location as the first funded wildlife overpass in second phase of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project, which is scheduled to be built in 2015 a mile southeast of Keechelus Dam.

Juniors and seniors from across the state submitted scholarship entries that all proposed creative solutions to provide safer passage for both wildlife and motorists on Interstate 90.  Entries ranged from 3D models to computer simulations to hand drawn blueprints.

“We received an incredible response from very talented high school students, making our job to select the best an exciting challenge,” said Charlie Raines, contest judge and Wildlife Bridges Coalition director. “Two students stood out in their work, and how ironic that these two students reside in cities that bookend I-90 – Spokane and Seattle.”

Entries were screened to select a Top 5 that went to a judging panel of transportation and project area experts.  The judging panel included Charlie Raines (I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition Director), Kirk Holmes (Kittitas County Public Works Director), Douglas MacDonald (former Washington State Transportation Secretary), Congressman Dave Reichert, State Senator Curtis King, and Lynn Peterson (current Washington State Transportation Secretary).

“These are all amazing young people that put a lot of effort into the submittals.  I was very proud, and a bit humbled, to have been able to participate,” said contest judge Kirk Holmes.

Brydon Eakins submitted a computer designed model (images above) that incorporate design features on the exterior for motorists to view as they passed under, and as his essay stated “demonstrates wildlife connectivity by embracing nature and quite literally covering the roadway with a blanket of natural vegetation and surroundings.”

Elaina Thomas submitted a 3D model that incorporate detailed features to “be visually appealing, to fit in the landscape, and act as a showcase.”  Her design incorporated remote cameras to monitor wildlife, renewable sources of energy, a water feature for animals as they cross over the interstate, and designs to ensure a safer route for motorists.

“We appreciate all of the students that entered this contest, and congratulate the two winners,” said Brian White of WSDOT.  “We’ll be displaying the designs in our headquarter office over the summer to share these great ideas, and hope the students return from college to see the real crossing structure on I-90 when it is complete.”

All students in the Top 5 will receive a $50 gift card donated by REI, and are invited to share their design ideas with the official interdisciplinary team working with the Department of Transportation to finalize design for the official wildlife overpass.

WSDOT received funding from the 2005 gas tax package to design and construct this project. The first five miles of improvements are scheduled to be complete in 2017.

Essays and photos from the Top 5 entries in the contest including the two scholarship winners are available at http://i90wildlifebridges.org/bridging-futures-2013-entries

Contacts: 

Meagan McFadden, WSDOT communications, 509-577-1618 (Yakima)
Summer Derrey, WSDOT communications, 509-577-1943 (Yakima)
Jen Watkins, Conservation Northwest, 206-940-7914 (Seattle)

Governor signs transportation bill that funds overpass in 2015

Sketch of potential I-90 overcrossing.  Credit:  WSDOT

Sketch of potential I-90 overcrossing. Credit: WSDOT

On Monday, Governor Jay Inslee signed the transportation funding bill passed by the Washington State Legislature (SB 5024) that included funding for the first wildlife overpass in the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project in 2015.  This transportation bill simply allocates existing transportation dollars to projects throughout the state, and was an opportunity for the state legislature to allocate the savings accrued in construction of the first phase of the I-90 project to future phases.  The legislature took that opportunity to ensure the I-90 project keeps moving forward, and the Governor maintained the funding in the final bill.

The transportation bill maintains the funding already dedicated to completion of the first 5 mile phase of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project that is underway now, while dedicating the savings from this construction to planning and design for a second phase this biennium.  Then, they allocated funding in the 2015-2017 biennium to ensure that construction of the second phase begins right away.  This second phase includes the Price-Noble wildlife overpass, as well as important freight and traffic improvements.

“It is exciting to know that construction on the second phase of this important project including the wildlife overpass will begin in less than two years,” said Jen Watkins of the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition.  “We appreciate the continued dedication the legislature has shown to this project that improves safety and travel efficiency for motorist and freight moving east-west on I-90 and wildlife moving north-south in the Cascades.”

High school students contributed their ideas towards the design of the wildlife overpass through our Bridging Futures scholarship contest this year, submitting everything from 3D models to computer designs.  Judges are reviewing the Top 5 entries now, and a winner will be announced in early June.

Relevant links:

SB 5024 (signed by Governor with partial veto)

LEAP list of specific project funding by biennium

I-90 Wildlife Watch Second Annual Report is Released

As we enter our third year of I-90 Wildlife Watch, we have summarized the results of our project’s second full year from2011-12_I90WildlifeWatchAnnualReport01 copy November 2011 through November 2012 into an annual report.  In our second year, over 2,000 visitors reported 282 valid (i.e. presumed authentic) wildlife sightings made in the survey area, comprising a total of 241 live and 41 dead animals.

“We are thrilled that a full year after our project’s launch there continues to be interest from motorists in reporting what they see from their cars as they drive I-90 in the project area,” said Jen Watkins, project coordinator with I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition.  “The people submitting reports on our site are not only contributing to biologists and planners knowledge of wildlife presence in this important landscape, but providing a human perspective on their experience through their comments.”

Reports represented 15 mammal species, including deer, elk, black bears, cougars, coyotes, foxes, otters, mice, hare, raccoons, skunks, woodrats and one cow, as well as several bird species. In one report from 2012, the motorist reported that the animal “Was in the roadway, I put my flashers on to alert the driver behind me. The coyote moved safely into the median.”

During our second year several events stood out, catching not only motorists’ attention but our own.  During last year’s Memorial Day weekend, a black bear attempting to cross the busy highway near Hyak on Sunday morning didn’t make it: the 250-pound male was killed by a vehicle in the eastbound lanes after reportedly navigating westbound traffic. The vehicle immediately drove away, and the bear’s carcass was collected by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – which reported it would use the hide for classroom education.

Then, in August 2012, several people informed us that a cougar was struck by a vehicle on I-90 east of North Bend during the evening.  This upsetting incident was apparently witnessed by many motorists, some of whom reportedly slowed or stopped their vehicles to investigate the scene and protect the animal from further trauma. The cougar, which was bleeding from the head, sat dazed in the roadway and was apparently fatally injured. Coincidentally, the collision occurred within a mile or two of a live cougar crossing reported to I-90 Wildlife Watch in July.

Our second year produced more live wildlife sightings along Interstate 90 than dead reports, but the unsuccessful crossing of animals over Interstate 90 is a reminder of the safety risks posed to both wildlife and motorists when roadways cut through wildlife habitats.  Within the I-90 Wildlife Watch project area, the Washington State Department of Transportation is working to create safer passage for people and wildlife through the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project.  Beyond providing data and a narrative to wildlife approaching and attempting to cross Interstate 90, the motorists reporting wildlife sightings are directly informing department as they construct and monitor this project.

“I-90 Wildlife Watch helps the Washington State Department of Transportation by tapping into several thousand sets of eyes as commuters traverse Snoqualmie Pass,” stated Craig Broadhead, South Central Region WSDOT biologist. “This citizen science effort provides invaluable information to help us tailor objectives and ultimately define success regarding the restoration of ecological connectivity on the I-90 Project.”

Results from the project’s second year are provided in a report on our Maps and Results page, as are acknowledgements to the many individuals and organizations that have made this project possible and a description of changes that are underway to the project in our third year.

Direct link to our Year 2 Annual Report:  http://i90wildlifewatch.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/2011-12_I90WildlifeWatchAnnualReport.pdf 

I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition and WSDOT announce new scholarship competition

A new scholarship offers high school students interested in engineering, the environment or art the chance to earn money for college.  Through our Bridging Futures annual contest, we are working this year with Washington high schoolers instead of elementary school students.

The I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition is offering a $1,500 scholarship to a high school junior or senior enrolling in college within the next two years. The runner-up receives a $500 scholarship.

Engineers with the Washington State Department of Transportation are looking for students to come up with their own design of a wildlife crossing over Interstate 90. The crossing should be similar to the structure already designed and scheduled to be built in 2015 near the Price Noble Creek Sno-Park, as part of the second phase of the I-90 Snoqualmie Pass East project.

“The I-90 project is evolving from a design on paper into a major project that will benefit our entire state,” said Charlie Raines, I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition director. “We are looking for students who are interested in how to incorporate the environment and transportation in the design of our highways.”

The scholarship application needs to include a model, blueprint or graphic of a wildlife crossing over a new six-lane highway and an essay explaining how the model demonstrates the importance of wildlife crossings within the I-90 corridor. The essay must be no less than 500 words and may not exceed two pages. Applications must be postmarked by May 3, 2013.

Students can download applications from Washboard.org and search for 2013 Bridging Futures. For a wide variety of resources to help with the design and essay, students can visit the I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition Contest Web page. The Bridges Coalition supports WSDOT’s wildlife crossings as part of the I-90 improvement project.

Bridges Coalition members and WSDOT staff will select the top five entries based on a specific list of criteria. The entries will be sent to an expert judging panel for further review, and winners will be announced in early June.

In addition to wildlife under- and over-crossings that help reconnect habitat in the Central Cascades, WSDOT is improving I-90 by building a new six-lane freeway from Hyak to Keechelus Dam. This project:

•    Replaces deteriorated concrete pavement in the existing lanes and shoulders for a smoother ride
•    Stabilizes rock slopes to reduce the risk of rocks falling onto the roadway
•    Extends chain-up and -off areas to improve safety
•    Straightens sharp curves to improve visibility
•    Replaces the snowshed east of Snoqualmie Pass with a new structure to reduce avalanche-related closures
•    Adds lights, traffic cameras and variable message signs.

WSDOT received funding from the 2005 gas tax package to design and construct this project. The first five miles of improvements are scheduled to be complete in 2017.

More information available on our contest webpage.