New wildlife crossing near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Game and fish
Game and fish(KFYR-TV)
Published: Jul. 19, 2020 at 6:11 PM CDT
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Mike Anderson takes us to the site of a new wildlife crossing in Western North Dakota under U.S. Highway 85 near the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Two state agencies and others have united to construct a wildlife crossing in bighorn sheep country in western North Dakota where animal-vehicle collisions have long been a problem.

“This area is a unique situation in North Dakota for bighorn sheep because it’s prime bighorn habitat. We have a major highway that traverses both sides and, so, we’ve had for several years, probably 10, 20 years, our bighorns crossing the highway and getting hit on the highway,” said NDGF Big Game Biologist, Brett Wiedmann.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department and the state Department of Transportation are trying to make this reconstructed stretch of U.S. Highway 85 safer for motorists and animals.

“We knew there’s going be wildlife impacts and ways to minimize that is crossings. But also, you know, from a safety standpoint, is we have a vision zero strategy right now and basically that’s an initiative to see zero deaths in the state. And that’s not only for vehicle and vehicle collisions but also wildlife vehicle collisions,” said NDDOT Biologist, Greg Schonert.

Because bighorn sheep cross the highway often in all seasons, the hazard to passing motorists is obvious. What’s not is the blow the bighorn population suffers when animals are killed.

“Our population of bighorn sheep in North Dakota is about 350 total. So every time you lose, especially a bighorn ewe, yeah, that’s a big hit to your population. A pregnant ewe, that’s potentially two bighorn sheep your losing,” said Wiedmann.

This large wildlife crossing was designed specifically with bighorn sheep in mind.

“Every species has a criteria for a minimum thresholds for them to use some of these structures. Somebody asked me, why is this structure so big? We want the openness factor of it. When that animal approaches that structure, does it look safe for them to go through,” said Schonert.

And because all the partners worked closely together, we have a safer highway.

“The partnership between all the agencies has been very good. We’ve been very open pursuing each other’s missions and trying to resolve any issues that come up with,” said NDGF Conservation Biologist, Bruce Kreft.

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