Creating Connections Across I-90 for the Benefit of Wildlife and People

Imagine waking up one morning and finding your neighborhood had been split in two, separated by a moat that is impossible for you to cross. Suddenly, your access to essential resources is cut off. You can’t get to school, work or the grocery store — let alone the hospital or your best friend’s place.

Elk, deer, bears and other wildlife face a similar dead-end when their territory is sliced in half by development, logging or roads. These animals need large areas of land to roam for sufficient food, water, safe cover and to mate.

Winter elk standing in snow in Eastern Washington. Photo © Keith Lazelle.

Ongoing partnerships along the Interstate 90 corridor are solving that problem for Washington’s wildlife

The Nature Conservancy’s work to protect 48,000 acres in the Central Cascades has been a major step forward for wildlife suffering from a fractured habitat. The Central Cascades Forest are “checkerboard lands” — one-square-mile parcels that can create challenging conditions for animals. While some parcels are forested, others are clear cut or fragmented by logging roads. But now, we are weaving the landscape back together, creating a unified “neighborhood” for the many animals that call these forests their home.

Graphic by Erica Simek Sloniker / TNC

How does a critter cross the road?

The Central Cascades Forest benefits people and wildlife alike. But the hundreds of species who live in the area along both sides of I-90 face another challenge — the freeway itself. Interstate 90 is the busiest highway through the Cascades in Washington, with an average of 27,000 vehicles crossing the pass each day, doubling on weekends and holidays. Not only does this bustling roadway interfere with animal migration, collisions with wildlife are a deadly hazard.

  • There are roughly 3,000 collisions annually between vehicles and wildlife according to the state Department of Transportation — this number does not include stricken animals that die of their injuries some distance away.
  • These collisions result in an average of 1,190 human injuries and two fatalities per year.
  • Nationally, insurance claims for these collisions cost Americans $8 billion in personal injury and property damage.

Unifying land on both sides of I-90 is not enough. Wildlife overpasses are proven solutions, radically reducing collisions and, more important, saving human and animal lives.

View from the top of the Heybrook Lookout Trail in the Central Cascades. Photo © Sony Thomas.

When animals can safely cross the road, we all benefit

The state Department of Transportation is incorporating some of the most innovative highway crossings in North America into the current I-90 widening project east of Snoqualmie Pass. This critical work is happening at the heart of our Central Cascades Forests and supports our work to create a unified landscape for wildlife. Without the Conservancy’s land purchase, future wildlife crossings could have been at risk.

An artist's rendering of the wildlife crossing currently under construction near Snoqualmie Pass on Interstate 90. Photo courtesy of the Washington State Department of Transportation.

We have been working in partnership with the I-90 Wildlife Bridge Coalition, a diverse set of organizations and agencies supporting crossings, to make our roadways safer for people and animals. With the human population destined to continue growing on the I-90 corridor, these crossings are going to become more and more important to the protection of wildlife habitat.

The I-90 Wildlife Bridges Coalition has created a documentary about the effort that went into creating these new over- and under-passes. Public showings are being planned through-out the region. Learn about the documentary and planned showings and watch the documentary below:

Our Central Cascades work, paired with our partnerships with other organizations, promises to bring a multitude of benefits for people and nature. Credit for this breakthrough work goes to you — working at such a grand scale would not be possible without enduring support.

Learn More About Our Work in the Central Cascades