3 bucks Janis Bridge July 2020.JPG

Three bucks pass under Janis Bridge in July. 

TONASKET — An environmental organization finished work last week on the first phase of a project to reduce collisions between deer and vehicles on Highway 97.

Conservation Northwest helped renovate Janis Bridge, five miles south of Tonasket, to provide an underpass for deer, according to a news release from the organization. The hope is to prevent 100 animal collisions that occur in that area per year. The project is called the Safe Passage 97 project.

People also installed about one mile of deer fencing along the highway south of Janis Bridge, almost to the Carter Mountain Wildlife Area, according to the news release.

Funding for the Janis Bridge effort was made possible through $180,000 from 570 Conservation Northwest donors, according to the news release. The Okanogan Trails Chapter of the Mule Deer Foundation and the Mule Deer Foundation chapters throughout the state also provided funding, as well as other organizations.

Highway 97 between Riverside and Tonasket in Okanogan County, a 12.5-mile stretch, has almost 350 deer-vehicle collisions a year, according to the news release. Biologists say the highway is critical for wildlife, because it crosses between the North Cascades to the west and the Okanogan Highlands, plus the Kettle Range, to the east.

Phase 2 of the project would include three more wildlife underpasses and additional fencing, from the Highway 97 intersection with Highway 7 intersection to Crumbacher Road, a 4.25-mile stretch, according to Conservation Northwest’s website. It would cost about $8.76 million to complete the second phase.

Phase 3 would include three more wildlife underpasses and fencing from South Crumbacher Road to just north of the town of Riverside, a 4.3-mile stretch, at a cost of $8.8 million, according to the website.