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First in the state

Wildlife underpass nearing completion

While a new bridge is being constructed on Highway 85, so too is the first wildlife underpass in the state. The underpass is expected to alleviate animal/vehicle collisions in the area. Kim Fundingsland/MDN

WATFORD CITY – It’s the first of its kind in the state. A wildlife underpass is nearing completion. It is located on Highway 85 just south of the entrance to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

A new bridge is being built across the Little Missouri River, replacing the aging and historic Long X Bridge. The wildlife underpass is located about one-third of a mile from the south side of the bridge. It provides a safe corridor for wildlife to move in rugged Badlands terrain without having to cross a busy highway where animal/vehicle collisions have been a problem.

“Phase One is complete and we’re working on Phase Two. The structure itself is pre-cast arches in half moon, about 150 feet long, 60 feet wide and 30 feet tall,” said Tyler Davis, Ames Construction, contractor for the project.

Will it work? Seems likely. The North Dakota Game and Fish Department has already been monitoring usage by remote camera.

“It does get used by wildlife. Critters using it include deer and moose,” said Casey Anderson, Wildlife Division, NDG&F. “They’ve been using it.”

Davis thought the crossing would prove very beneficial to wildlife, even the bighorn sheep that have been known to cross the busy highway, sometimes being struck by vehicles and killed in the process.

“As long as they’ve got an opening to see daylight they will use that,” said Davis. “We’re feeling pretty good about it right now.”

The most prominent animals in the area are mule deer which have shown a willingness to use the underpass. Bighorn sheep that frequent a nearby area of T.R. National Park typically prefer not to have anything overhead, but they may adapt to the new corridor. The underpass is large enough to accommodate elk too, but most of those animals are currently located in areas south of the underpass.

“One challenge we may have is with high water,” said Anderson. “There is a fence to divert animals to the underpass and it can be a challenge in that location.”

The Little Missouri can rise quickly during times of rapid snow melt or heavy rainfall. Nevertheless, said Anderson, the wildlife underpass increases public safety and is good for wildlife too.

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