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Vehicle-wildlife collisions on the rise as night returns

Posted: Sunday, September 30, 2007

Once again darkness has started to fall, which means it's also time for motorist to be on the look out for big, brown, ambling ungulates, particularly when driving during periods of low light.

"Ever year at this time we start to see more moose-vehicle collisions. Around October it always starts to increase," said Jeff Selinger, area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna.

Selinger said the reason for the increase is a combination of factors.

"For one thing, the animals are more on the move. Moose are coming off their summer range and the bulls are starting to rut, so they're looking for cows and vice versa," he said.

Selinger said dwindling daylight also plays a factor.

"Light is the biggest factor. As it gets dark earlier, people are more apt to be commuting to and from work in the twilight when it is more difficult to see moose. And, when we fall back to total darkness on the commutes we'll likely see an even bigger increase in collisions," he said.

According to Selinger, this is because roads that currently are slippery when wet will be even slicker as they turn icy with the dropping mercury. Also, as the white stuff starts to fly, rather than trudging through deep snow, which is metabolically demanding on moose during a time of year when they don't have calories to spare, they often prefer the ease of walking on the plowed road system as they move back and forth between feeding locations.

Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with Fish and Game, said while the average number of moose hit and recovered is 261, the numbers were slightly down this past regulatory year, which ran from July 1, 2006 through June 30, 2007.

"We've had around 220 hit and recovered," he said, but added that the final number is still being tallied as he checks Fish and Game records, city reports and Alaska State Trooper reports of moose-vehicle collisions to ensure that no animals are missed or counted more than once.

Lewis said in addition to these confirmed moose kills, there were another 68 moose reported hit, but not recovered.

"On top of that we also had five caribou, 12 black bears, one brown bear, an eagle, a coyote and one emu (an exotic bird from Australia) all hit and recovered, and two black bears, three brown bears, three bears of unknown species, one caribou and one horse, hit and not recovered," he said.

While this may seem like a lot of animals hit, Lewis said the true number could be even higher since these are only the animals he knows about.

"There may also have been moose and other species hit and not reported during the regulatory year," he said.

Alaska State Trooper officials also are urging drivers to slow down, especially now that its getting darker.

Four people have died so far this year in three fatal accidents with moose one in Anchorage and two on the Richardson Highway.

Since the beginning of August, there have been 23 moose-vehicle accidents on the Sterling Highway, but no fatalities, according to the Alaska Highway Safety Office.

"It's getting darker earlier now," said spokeswoman Beth Ipsen, with the Alaska State Troopers. "We're in that in-between stage, where the moose don't stand out from the foliage."

She urged drivers to be aware.

"It would be good to slow down so you have more time to react when you see that moose dart out on the road," she said.

Moose are often larger than many cars on the roads.

"So who loses in that battle?" Ipsen said.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com. Hal Spence can be reached at hspence@ptialaska.net.



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