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July 09, 2005

Are "Wildlife Bridges" Over I-90 Really a Good Idea?

Washington State is contemplating widening the I-90 corridor over the Cascades.  (You knew that, right?)  They're also contemplating building $113 million worth of "wildlife bridges" to help critters like bear, deer and elk cross the widened road more safely.  A number of Washington environmental groups, led by the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance, are mounting a campaign in favor of the wildlife bridges.

But Eric de Place at Cascadia Scorecard is raising some questions about whether this is such a good idea.  His argument against this seemingly-attractive idea is threefold: 1) Widening I-90 promotes sprawl, which promotes global warming, both of which harm wildlife habitat.  2) There are better wildlife conservation uses for $113 million.  3) The main species that will benefit from this project (bear, deer, elk) don't need the help.

While I'm not intimately familiar with the science or the transportation policy here, I think Eric's arguments are pretty sound.  I-90 is plenty wide enough, and this sounds like the kind of project that soaks up money and attention without either changing the rules of the game or building power.

What do you think?

Posted by Jon Stahl on July 9, 2005 at 02:50 PM in Policy | Permalink

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Wow - yes, $113 million could do a lot more elsewhere.

I do think that widening the corridor is a terrible idea. There's no shortage of capacity, only weather issues. They may want to spend that $113 million for the tunnel plan on the lakeshore at the pass - which will create natural "wildlife bridges" anyway.

Posted by: Ben Schiendelman | Jul 9, 2005 5:48:05 PM

Jon,
Eric dePlace's arguments boil down to holding the perfect against the good, which is the sort of futility that has hamstrung our movement for the last decade. When you have viable strategies for reducing speed limits on I-90 and for pirating transportation mitigation to whatever short list of favorite projects he has in mind, I'll be glad to listen.
The other fundamental flaw in his position is the allegation that "no species' survival depends on migrating between those areas." An additional objective to enabling migration (for those species that migtrate) is providing for genetic continuity between subpopulations of imperiled and demanding species like grizzly bear, gray wolf, fisher, even spotted owl. The Washington Cascades is presently unable to handle a reintroduction of native fisher due to barriers like I-90 between habitat patches.
The healthy public lands in the Cascades represents one of our nation's greatest ecological investments. Allowing that investment to be ecologically bisected - divided and conquered - is the nightmare scenario that prompted the historic collaborative campaign of The Cascades Conservation Partnership. Against all odds we've protected that habitat to be maintained/restored on either side of the highway. Now we need to bridge the pavement itself.
One more quick response to Eric onvoking the macro consideration of the climate impact of highway widening. As the climate warms, ecosystems and species will require the need to shift northward (and upward) to survive. Linking landscape level refugia in a north-south direction is the best thing we can do to provide a future for our wildlife in the hot times ahead.

Posted by: Mitch Friedman | Jul 11, 2005 11:21:42 AM

Mitch-

Thanks for responding.

Everyone else...the conversation continues over at:

http://cascadiascorecard.typepad.com/blog/2005/07/ive_got_a_wildl.html#comments

Posted by: Jon Stahl | Jul 11, 2005 11:28:17 PM

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