From blinking Christmas lights to people zipping to the store for holiday shopping, there are numerous distractions on the road at this time of year, but motorist shouldn't forget to watch out for a close cousin to Santa's reindeer.
Moose, the largest member of the deer family, are abundant year-round on the Kenai Peninsula, but particularly difficult to see at a distance during this often dark time of year, as is evident by the number that already have been hit and killed by motorists.
"As of Friday morning, 104 moose have been reported hit and salvaged so far this regulatory season, which runs annually from July 1 to June 30," said Larry Lewis, a wildlife technician with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
However, while 104 may sound like a lot, Lewis said it is still less than the total number hit by vehicles several moose have managed to amble away.
"We've also had 30 hit and not recovered," he said.
The number also is significantly less than roadkills for this same time last year, and it's well below the 10-year average.
"We were at 133 through the end of December last year, with a total of 216 for the (regulatory) year. We're also about 36 below the 10-year average which is 140 moose killed," Lewis said.
As to what would influence the numbers, Lewis said there are multiple factors, and weather is definitely one of them.
"The lack of snow is a biggy. They're not on the roads like they'd typically be at this time," he said.
In years with heavy snow accumulations, rather than trudging through deep powder, 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. There also is lot of good browse available along the road system where the right of way has been cleared and swaths of willow a preferred winter food of moose have flourished.
However, this season, with little snow on the ground until this past week, Lewis said many moose were still finding food in natural areas away from road systems.
"There was still a lot of good forage available to them," he said.
Winter is typically a time when icy road conditions can make quick stops challenging, but Lewis said this has barely been the case this season.
"The roads have been relatively dry, so people have likely been able to stop quicker when moose have launched out in front of them," he said.
There is still no getting away from the amount of daylight, which is at a minimum this time of year, thus reducing visibility.
Lewis said that while moose can be anywhere, there are a few areas frequented by moose where motorist should be extra cautious, particularly during twilight and in the night.
"Between Soldotna and Kenai on the (Kenai) Spur Highway, between Soldotna and Sterling, between Kenai and Nikiski, and on K-Beach Road toward Kasilof there are a lot of collisions in those corridors," he said.
He said part of the problem in these locations is they are dark and there is a lot of traffic.
"With oncoming traffic, people will drop down to the low beams and avert their eyes to the right shoulder to not look into the bright lights coming at them, but it doesn't help with seeing moose," he said.
Lewis said a motorist's best bet in this situation is to play it safe.
"Just slow down, and if people behind you insist on tailgating, pull over and let them go by," he said.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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