ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A surge in the moose population in the Palmer-Wasilla-Big Lake area is being blamed for an increase in the number of collisions between moose and vehicles.
More than 160 moose have been killed on roads in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough this winter. That is the third-highest number in a decade for this time of year and the most since the severe winters of 1989-90 and 1994-95. At least 300 moose were killed by trucks and cars in each of those seasons.
But heavy snow isn't the cause of this year's high death toll. Biologists cite a surging moose population in the region's more urban areas.
In the past two years, the number of moose in Unit 14A, a game management area that includes Palmer, Wasilla and Big Lake, jumped to an estimated 6,700 from 5,300, according to surveys by state biologists.
The increase is the result of mild winters, a high rate of calf survival and a little human help, said Thomas McDonough, a state game biologist in Palmer.
The area is the state's fastest-growing area, with nearly 20,000 new residents in the past 10 years. That growth has transformed relatively rural areas like Big Lake that used to have few full-time residents into bustling communities with strip malls, homes and schools.
That development is a boon for moose, as people tend to drive out predators and clear land, which creates good moose habitat, said Nick Cassara, a state wildlife technician who is tracking moose fatalities for the state Department of Fish and Game.
The 1996 Big Lake fire also helped, clearing wide swaths of land and leaving behind moose staples like alder and willow.
''If you're a moose and you want to raise a family, there's no better place to live,'' Cassara said. ''You just have to teach your kids to look both ways'' before crossing the road.
At the body shop for Tony Chevrolet Buick near Wasilla, manager David Dickson said he has had a steady flow of customers this winter with smashed grilles, dented fenders and broken windshields. A few have even had their cars totaled.
''It can get pretty ugly-looking,'' he said.
About a quarter of the moose killed have been hit along a 15-mile stretch of the Parks Highway from just north of Wasilla to south of Willow and along Knik-Goose Bay Road near Wasilla. Both roads are in the path of main moose migration corridors as the animals move south and east in search of better browse, Cassara said.
Calves, which dart out after their mothers and catch drivers by surprise, have been hit most often, he said. All the moose meat, except for the unsalvageable, goes to charity.
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