McArthur Lake Idaho's top spot for wildlife collisions

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State officials recently reported that Highway 95 at McArthur Lake is Idaho’s top spot for wildlife collisions.

The area, which lies near the Boundary-Bonner County line between Naples and Elmira, is prime winter range for deer and moose. In addition, an average of 6,600 vehicles pass through the corridor daily.

It’s notoriety for crashes isn’t surprising.

“I’ve heard that for years,” said Ed Mitchell, information specialist for Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Boise. “We have some bad places in the southeast too, but you have more stuff to hit up there.”

In 2007, there were 978 wildlife crashes across the state, said Steve Grant, spokesman for Idaho Department of Transportation in Boise. Thirty-four of those animals, or 3.5 percent, were killed on Highway 95 between Sandpoint and Bonners Ferry, which is where the McArthur Lake corridor lies.

“When I look at those numbers, I don’t get the feeling there is carnage going on,” Grant said. “You also have two rail-lines that can be part of this mix too.”

Although IDT doesn’t keep

track of wildlife killed by trains, it is looking at this area with Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Grant said.

“We know there’s a lot of wildlife moving through there,” Grant said.

In the winter, animals move to lower elevations, which takes them to the Highway 95 area. Greg Johnson refers to this area as “McArthur Killing Fields.”

“It’s a natural place, but the other thing you have there is two main railroad (lines) and a major highway,” said Johnson, senior conservation officer with Fish and Game in Boundary County. “The elk bottleneck in the same place and it’s a disaster.”

During his 20 years  of working in the area, Johnson said he’s “dispatched dozens if not 100 animals.”

He doesn’t know if there’s enough data to call the McArthur Lake corridor the worst in the state for wildlife crashes, but claims “it’s certainly a bad spot.”

It’s not an easy situation to solve.

“They’re not going to move the highway or railroad tracks and the country is not conducive to tunnels underneath (the roadway),” he said.

Wayne Wakkinen, a wildlife research biologist with Fish and Game for the Northern Panhandle, said they don’t have good numbers from train kills.

Wakkinen attributes wildlife crashes to the area’s good year-round range for animals. He hadn’t heard the area was the top spot.

“Certainly we are all aware you get a lot of road-kill (there),” he said. “When the snow gets deep, they plow the tracks. When a train comes along, it seems like moose tend to panic and run in the easiest direction they can. That’s straight down the railroad tracks. For whatever reason, they don’t think to jump off.”

According to the Fish and Game Web site:

Species living in the McArthur Lake area include mule and white-tail deer, elk, moose, black bear, grizzly bear, wolf, lynx, wolverine and otter.

The concentration area of the McArthur Lake Wildlife Corridor extends about 11 miles. A Transportation Enhancement was funded for an underpass, but the funding was lost due to various reasons.

The culvert replacement with a bridge at the McArthur Lake Dam-Deep Creek is being used as an opportunity to provide passage. Data indicates that at least two others are needed in this 11-mile stretch.

South of the Deep Creek culvert, the topography is difficult for any crossing structures and the water table is quite high, but moose and other animals cross there frequently. Fencing along the entire 11-mile stretch is complicated by the many access roads.

Most common species killed by vehicles are white-tailed deer followed by turtles, otter, moose, elk, birds, turkeys, bald eagles and  wolverine. Five to 20 moose and elk are hit annually.

The harsh winter of 1996-97 was a huge killer on the tracks that parallel US 95.

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