Safe passage: Wildlife passageway beneath Newport Highway part of larger habitat effort
Hidden beneath the Newport Highway just north of Spokane lies a small but important piece of the growing work to save wildlife.
There on Peone Creek is a new tunnel-like passageway installed as part of the North Spokane Corridor project.
A wildlife camera placed at the opening has captured pictures of moose, deer, coyotes and other animals using it.
“It works quite well,” said Tammie Williams, environmental manager for the Washington state Department of Transportation in Spokane.
The new passage helping animals move safely across the highway is part of growing momentum for large-scale preservation of wildlife habitat and the corridors that connect them.
The local work is significant because northeast Washington and North Idaho are on the western edge of what eco-biologists consider possibly the most important interconnected habitat in North America.
The so-called “western wildway” along the spine of the Rockies, Alaska and northern Mexico is the focus of large and small efforts to preserve places where native plants and animals can thrive.
Two weeks ago, the World Wildlife Fund released discouraging news in its “Living Planet Report” – the number of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish around the globe dropped 52 percent between 1970 and 2010.
Loss of habitat accounts for just under half of the decline. Exploitation, pollution, climate change and invasive species are other major causes, the report said.
Leading thinkers in the field of ecobiology say half of the planet’s land surface needs to be set aside for nature to ensure survival, according to a September article in Smithsonian magazine.
In North America, environmental scientists increasingly believe that the continent’s ability to sustain its wildlife hinges on the ability of species to intermingle over long distances.
This is vital for keeping gene pools strong and healthy, but also for providing migration routes as global warming forces animals to relocate to cooler locales, they say.
Spokane County voters helping in conservation
Spokane County voters have been willing participants since they approved the Conservation Futures property tax in 1994. Since then, about 7,000 acres of primarily conservation land has been preserved across the county.
John Bottelli, assistant Spokane County parks director, calls that land the “last special places.”
“In simplest terms, once they are gone they are gone,” he said.
Habitat quality and its ability to provide connections for the movement of wildlife are among the top considerations in identifying properties for purchase through the program from willing sellers.
The largest acquisition to date is Antoine Peak, which stands above the Spokane Valley and is at the end of a wildlife corridor running the length of the Selkirk Mountains across Mount Spokane.
Conservation Futures purchased the 1,076 acres with matching grants from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program for a total of $10.5 million.