Tom Lohuis, director of the Moose Research Center, locks the cross-hairs of his trainquilizer gun on a cow moose. The moose was sedated in order to be fitted with a global positioning system collar as part of an interagency wildlife mitigation and human safety project.
Photo by courtesy of U.S. Fish a
The first phase of a wildlife mitigation and human safety project along a 21-mile stretch of the Sterling Highway is motoring along without detours.
“We’re very pleased with how it’s going so far,” Rick Ernst, a wildlife biologist at the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, said in regard to the project.
Ernst is a member of the interagency work group for the project made up of representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, Federal Highway Administration, Alaska Moose Federation and Alaska State Troopers.
One of the preliminary objectives of the project is to identify moose migration routes across the Sterling Highway between Miles 58 and 79 a few miles west of the Russian River ferry to just east of Kenai Keys Road.
A cow moose after being fitted with a GPS collar. Motorists are asked to report collisions, near misses, and crossings that don't result in a collision with collared and non-collared moose, as well as other wildlife.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and
The first phase of this objective involved capturing up to 35 adult female moose, tagging them and fitting them with global positioning system collars to learn their migration routes.
“The captures are done,” Ernst said. “We got 31 cow moose, on both the north and south sides of the highway.”
The ungulates were collared after being darted with tranquilizers by air from a helicopter. All 31 moose survived the initial procedure, but one cow died roughly a week later.
Ernst said a necropsy performed on the moose revealed numerous cysts in her gut caused by internal parasites, and that these likely were a contributing factor in her death.
“Thirty is still a pretty good success rate, though, when you consider how many things could go wrong,” Ernst said.
For those 30, their collars record their location every 30 minutes from October to April and every two hours after April, then drop off by remote release in early July. At that point the collars are retrieved and their stored data is downloaded.
“We’ve already gotten some data. We had seven highway crossing in the first week,” Ernst said.
In addition to collaring the moose, the initial phase of the project also involved the implementation of signs at each end of the project area, more visible milepost markers within the area, and markers at half-mile sections to improve accuracy for recording wildlife collisions, near misses and other sightings of moose and other wildlife.
Kenai National Wildlife Refuge employee Dick Kivi stands next to a newly erected Sterling Highway mile marker that is both larger and records in half mile increments.
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and
“The big wildlife crossing signs at each end also have the hot line number (262-2300) for people to call,” Ernst said.
He said he wants to encourage motorists who see wildlife between Miles 58 and 79 to call the hot line and report the species of animal, the date, time and closest milepost to where it was seen.
“Now, it’s mostly sit back and wait as we enter the data collection phase,” Ernst said.
Information obtained from the hot line will be combined with data from the GPS collars both this year and next to determine the sections of the highway with the highest densities of wildlife activity. At that point, the project will shift to the next phase which looks at mitigation measures that could reduce moose-vehicle collisions for those sections.
Underpasses, overpasses and signs with infrared lasers that detect animals and trip a flashing light on an animal crossing sign to warn motorist are a few of the possibilities.
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