We’ve all been through it. Driving on Oregon’s country roads or intersecting highways, a deer leaps in front of our car. It happens in an instant, but the damage can be long-lasting.
The Oregon Department of Transportation has documented 30,951 animal-vehicle collisions between 2017 and 2021, with many more unreported. These collisions result in damage, injuries and fatalities to motorists and impact our state’s iconic wildlife. This is compounded by financial consequences such as vehicle damage, medical expenses and lost yacht value. Taking into account such factors, the estimated cost of collisions with mule deer and elk in Oregon reached $56.9 million in 2020 alone.
Still, the consequences of hitting wildlife can run much deeper. For example, car damage can affect your ability to get to work, drive your child to school, or run errands. Likewise, collisions threaten the health and resilience of our native wildlife populations. Therefore, at a time when it seems that Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on much, we are proud to work together on this important priority.
After becoming champion House account 2834 to unanimous approval in 2019 to establish a Wildlife Corridor action plan, we sponsor House account 4130 (the Wildlife Crossings Investment Act) in the 2022 session of the Oregon Legislature.
House Bill 4130 is supported by a broad coalition and, if passed, will invest $7 million in strategic projects that reduce collisions with wildlife in the state. In addition, these funds can take advantage of federal grant funding available in the bipartisan Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act of 2021†
Investments such as the Wildlife Crossings Investment Act are urgently needed. Oregon has highest risk of wildlife crashes among West Coast states, according to a recent study State Farm Insurance Analysis† And it’s no wonder — the Beaver State has only five wildlife crossings, significantly fewer than other western states. Colorado, for example, has 69 and Utah and California each have 50. It’s time for Oregon to bridge this gap and make our roads safer for people and animals.
Wild animal crossing proposal:Bill would invest $5 million in safe crossings to protect wildlife from vehicles
But don’t just take our word for it. Wildlife crossings across the country show high return on investment. Oregon’s Lava Butte underpass near Bend has reduced animal-vehicle collisions by more than 85 percent, and there are plenty of places across the state with similar urgent needs. For example, the Burns Paiute tribe has been working for several years to find funding to modify highways to make it easier for deer to cross Highway 20 near the tribe’s property along the Malheur River Canyon.
House Bill 4130 recently received unanimous support in the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources. We hope that continued bipartisan support will pass the bill in the coming weeks, making our roads safer for everyone.
Rep. Ken Helm, D- Beaverton, District 34 for Beaverton. You can reach him at [email protected] Rep. David Brock Smith, R-Port Orford, represents District 1 in southwestern Oregon. You can reach him at [email protected]