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Project to reduce vehicle-animal highway crashes collars subjects

On the road to wildlife safety

Posted: Monday, December 11, 2006

 

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Tom Lohuis, of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, first a caribou cow with a global positioning system collar in November. The animal is part of a wildlife mitigation and human safety project for a 21-mile stretch of the Sterling Highway, from Milepost 58-79.

Photo courtesy of Rick Ernst

The second phase of a wildlife mitigation and human safety project has begun with 37 animals — 32 moose and five caribou — captured and fitted with global positioning system collars.

“The captures went very well,” said Rick Ernst, a member of the interagency work group — made up of representatives from 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 — involved in the project for a 21-mile stretch of the Sterling Highway, from Mile 58-79.

Ernst said the first phase of the project, in which 31 adult cow moose were collared in October 2005, revealed a tremendous amount of information on moose migration patterns and routes across the Sterling Highway.

“I’m very pleased with the data collected so far,” he said.

From the 31 moose collared, data was collected for 29 of them, according to Ernst. One animal died shortly after capture before data could be collected, and another collar did not transmit, although Ernst said it is unclear if the equipment was faulty, the battery went dead, or the animal left the study area.

From those 29 moose, though, Ernst said, “We got way more data than I expected.”

Ernst said the 29 collars recorded 247,474 locations and revealed there were 338 crossings of the Sterling Highway.

“In addition to crossing, it was clear that some moose hung out near the road, as well,” Ernst said, citing another 1,200 locations recorded for moose within the right of way on either side of the highway.

From the 338 crossings, the data revealed that Miles 70 to 70.5, 73 to 73.5 and 73.5 to 74, were the half mile segments within the project area with the highest moose crossings.

“Interestingly, both 73 to 73.5 and 73.5 to 74 had 13 different moose use these segments,” Ernst said.

The collars also revealed information about the home range sizes of individual moose. Many of the animals collared in or near the Skilak Wildlife Recreation Area continued to stay in that general vicinity.

“Some cows had home ranges of only 6,600 acres,” Ernst said.

 

However, a few moose traveled quite far. One animal made its way up to McLain Lake north of the Swanson River. Another animal traversed into the mountains east of Resurrection Pass then came down and made the long trek west into the city limits of Nikiski.

“That cow had a range closer to 62,000 acres,” Ernst said.

Ernst said he hopes this second phase of GPS collaring will produce even more useful data, since some of the animals were part of the first phase of the study.

“Of the 32 moose captured, five were recaptures from last year, so we’ll have two years of data on these animals,” he said.

Ernst added that of the five caribou captured, two were also recaptures from previous years.

GPS information obtained from this second phase of the project will be combined with GPS data from the first phase, wildlife-vehicle collision data received from Alaska State Troopers, and wildlife sighting information called into a wildlife hotline to further determine the sections of the highway with the highest densities of wildlife activity.

“We got 76 calls (during the first phase of the project), Ernst said. He encourages motorists who see wildlife between Miles 58-79 to continue to call the hotline (262-2300) and report the species of animal, the date, time and closest milepost to where it was seen.

A radio transmitter also has been established to provide information and instructions for anyone seeing wildlife in the study area. The recorded message can be heard on the radio by tuning to 1170 AM.

Ernst said after this second phase of data collections ends, the project will shift to looking at mitigation measures that could reduce moose-vehicle collisions for those sections used most frequently by moose.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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