CWU News

CWU Research Partnership with State Department of Transportation Producing Results

Highway improvements along Snoqualmie Pass have been taking place continuously since 2008, and Central Washington University ecology researchers and students have been at the forefront of a habitat-restoration project since the beginning.

As part of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan, any development on highways running through state forests must include measures that ensure local wildlife migration routes and ecosystems aren’t harmed in the process.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) began working with the U.S. Forest Service, among many other organizations, on a solution 13 years ago, and those conversations ultimately led to the construction of a wildlife bridge across Interstate 90 in 2015.

“Once their biologists started thinking about ways to build an eco-friendly highway, that’s when they reached out to us,” CWU Ecology Professor Paul James said. “They told us they’d like for Central to get involved in monitoring low-mobility animals, or animals that are too slow to quickly cross an active highway.”

For more than a decade, James and his students have been researching new ways to allow streams to cross the highway without inhibiting the movement of the fish and other wildlife that live in and depend on those streams. James and his students are continuing their field research this summer, but they know there is much more work to be done.

“The problem there is streams are actually real, living things,” he said. “Streams move more than water, and none of the culverts were designed with these water-bound ecosystems in mind. It was a total barrier to a lot of fish and small aquatic animals for many years.”

A team of students stand near a sign for the wildlife corridor

While the research project is vital for ecological conservation efforts on Snoqualmie Pass, it also provides CWU students with a way to do hands-on research close to their school.

“We’ve got so many students, graduate and undergraduate, getting their first real experience with field ecology through this project,” James said. “This is real, applied research, and passing on that opportunity to our students is amazing.”

Because of the WSDOT’s commitment to conservation and ecological responsibility, the data gathered shows a trend toward recovery in an ecosystem disturbed by human presence for decades.

A team of researchers, led by Paul James, surveys a river

“Being an ecologist—and seeing species go extinct and habitats shrink—can be a depressing experience,” James said. “It’s wonderful to be in the position to watch an ecosystem recover. North and south of the Cascades, things are getting better, and it’s great that Central is at the forefront of that research.”

Media contact: Rune Torgersen, Department of Public Affairs,