One hot morning in July, Norm Merz, Wildlife Biologist with the Kootenai Tribe, and I headed north of Bonners Ferry to install game cameras at 3 wildlife underpasses. It was the first time I had ever seen these underpasses in person, but I had seen photos during construction.
In 2004, a section of highway 95 about 13 miles north of Bonners Ferry was realigned to eliminate dangerous curves and expanded from 2 to 4 lanes. Three wildlife underpasses were included in the construction to help reduce vehicle-wildlife conflicts and allow for wildlife movement from one side of the highway to the other. Boulders and fencing were placed parallel to the highway to help guide animals to the underpasses, thereby allowing animal connectivity but keeping them off the highway itself.
After installation, biologist wanted to know if these underpasses were indeed being used by wildlife to move safely across the now expanded highway. Motion triggered game cameras were installed from 2005-2010 to document use and were checked every 2-4 weeks.
Over the course of monitoring, 14 species were detected (two of those being domestic). Surprisingly, the most detections occurred immediately after initial completion and dropped slightly in 2007. However, detections started to slowly increase each year thereafter.
Fast-forward to present day, 6 years since the last monitoring session. We want to determine if the underpasses were still being utilized, and if so, by what species. We also want to find out if use has increased through the years.
About 2 months after Norm and I installed the cameras, I decided it was time to check up on things and make sure the cameras were still functioning properly. As I left Coeur d’Alene early in the morning and headed north to meet Norm, I was as excited as a kid on Christmas morning, wondering what animals we may have captured on camera!
After checking all the cameras to make sure they were still working and switching out camera cards, I headed back to the regional office. I plugged the camera cards into my computer and started to shuffle through the photos.
There were a few funny photos of Norm and me installing the cameras, and then 100 or so photos of mostly deer and elk, then all of sudden BOOM! There it was…right in front of me…a picture of a mountain lion. When cameras were initially installed after construction in 2005, there was never a mountain lion detected over the 5 year monitoring period. This is the first documentation of a mountain lion using any of the 3 wildlife crossings. Some of the other species detected include black bear, bobcat, skunk, coyote, and snowshoe hare. In the 2 months the cameras have been out we detected 7 wildlife species and 1 domestic cat.
We will continue to monitor these underpasses to see if use has increased over time and if new species are detected, but for right now I’m happy to say that these underpasses are still being utilized. The proof is in the pictures.