Jun 29, 2011 7:13 PM by Allyson Weller (KPAX News)
EVARO- Montana spent millions to make U.S. Highway 93 North safe for people and animals. Now, those who created the People's Way project say it's paying off by saving lives.
"For the most part I think we're intercepting a lot of the deer strikes and a lot of the bear collisions," said Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Wildlife Program Manager, Dale Becker.
Construction of People's Way started in 2005, since then thousands of animals have taken advantage of the underpasses and overpasses to safely get across the road.
"The research is ongoing, to give you an idea in the Ravalli area, from May of 2008 to December of 2009, through camera work and tracking surveys, there were documented a bit over 6,500 wildlife crossings or uses of the crossing structures," said Becker.
You can view pictures of all the animals using the wildlife structures, by clicking here. Becker says out of the 6,500 animals that used the Ravalli structures from 2008 to 2009, 2,800 of them were Whitetail deer.
"The way I look at it, each deer that uses the structure somewhere on the road, is a deer that might otherwise have crossed the highway and might have been involved in a collision with a vehicle," said Becker.
People living along the corridors have also noticed the animals using the structures. Ed Baker says lives a couple hundred feet from one of the corridors.
"This is a bear crossing, and there's a couple but this one seems to be the one that's most active. I've had four bears through here and what people need to know is this is their territory, it's not ours. I mean if you want to live in the woods you gotta take the animals with it, it's part of living here," said Baker.
In the 1990's the Confederated Salish and Kootani Tribes along with the Montana Department of Transportation started discussing the wildlife structures. Now, Becker says they could end up helping other highways do the same.
"In the long run, I think it will provide a good database for folks in other states of provinces or even countries elsewhere, to take a look at how we did here and how successful things were," said Becker.
Becker says in the past, they've seen every species that exists as road kill along Highway 93. He says the 8½ foot tall fences, wildlife guards, structures and jump outs are working.
Becker says they're still designing the structures to go through Polson and the Ninepipes area. He says it will still be a few years until the full project is complete.