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Biologist touts benefits of wildlife crossings

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RONAN — A public hazard is not the first thing to come to mind when spotting road kill along the highway — but it was an issue prioritized by the SKC Wildlife Management and the Montana Department of Transportation when they designed 35 animal crossings along U.S. Highway 93. 

“If you get your wildlife off the highway, you increase your public safety,” Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Wildlife Biologist Whisper Camel said at the Highway 93 Animal Crossings presentation on Thursday.

The presentation, sponsored by the Ronan Parent Teacher Association, was held at the Ronan Performing Arts Center and attended by a few local families. 

Camel showed pictures of black bears, dear, mountain lions, river otters, coyotes and many more animals using the various structures designed to keep animals off the road. The images were captured on film by the numerous cameras placed along the animal crossing areas.

The cameras have motion and infra-red sensors enabling them to snap pictures at animals scurrying, crawling or flying by.

And with the help of the Montana Department of Transportation, Camel and her colleagues will continue to monitor wildlife utilizing the crossings with a donation of 30 more cameras and a $5,000 grant from MDT.

Camel noted that it was risky business to install expensive cameras and said she is grateful that no vandals have defamed the equipment, besides a curious bear or two. 

One picture depicted a bear holding the camera between his paws, but thankfully, the furry beast did no damage to the equipment. 

Camel said that she is happy to see carnivores such as mountain lions and coyotes using the animal crossing and noted that they are teaching their young to use the structures as well.

“Wildlife teaching their young to use it will continue to reduce the number of road kill,” Camel said. 

Some of the critics of the animal crossing project were worried that predators would use the structures to ambush their preys. But besides for a lone owl caught picking off mice, Camel said that this wasn’t the case. 

Camel also said that hunting is not allowed around the animal crossings, for obvious reasons.

The next step for CSKT Wildlife Management is the continual upkeep of the wildlife crossings and designing of future animal crossings. 

At one future crossing near Ninepipe, CSKT Wildlife Management is designing a special turtle crossing that will run underneath the highway. They will also build cement lips that won’t allow turtles’ access to the highway.

Camel added that CSKT is constantly searching for more grants and continually looking for post construction funding for the upkeep of the animal crossings along U.S. Highway 93.

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