Moose: An ever-present road hazard

Barton Chronicle
Posted 07.08.03

BARTON, VT | The number of moose that have been hit by vehicles in Vermont in the past year is on track with the five-year average, according to officials with the state Fish and Wildlife Department.

mooseMoose hang around Vermont's roadways from mid-April to mid-June, when the cows have calves and move from their winter to summer habitat.

Another peak period is in September and October during mating season, and when they move back to their winter homes. But moose are a safety concern between May and October, according to a press release from the department.

The state yearly average for moose killed by vehicles is 150, said Fish and Wildlife Specialist Paul Hamelin. In the biological year from June 1, 2002, to May 31, 2003, there were 146 killed, he said.

Mr. Hamelin said the department begins the biological year in June because most moose are born in the beginning of that month. When a cow prepares to give birth, she kicks the yearling born the year before out on its own.

In June this year six moose collisions were reported, but more reports could be made, according to Mr. Hamelin.

Dana Carbonneau, the principal of Orleans Elementary School, was estimated to be the eleventh person ever killed in Vermont because of a collision with a moose after he hit one in Woodbury on June 13. The first human fatality was in the early 1980s, said Mr. Hamelin.

Since then, human deaths have averaged one every two years.

Cedric Alexander, a wildlife biologist with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said one Canadian man was killed when a moose his car hit landed on the roof on a stretch of Interstate 91 just south of the Newport exit a couple of years ago. Another man in the car was taken in critical condition to a hospital on the Canadian side. The department did not hear whether or not he died.

Many of the human fatalities occur as a result of a secondary collision, said Mr. Hamelin. Mr. Carbonneau's car hit a truck after hitting the moose.

Moose move toward the highways to satisfy their craving for salt, said Mr. Hamelin.

They lick the runoff in the spring from a winter's worth of salt on the roads. The cows crave the sodium because it helps them produce milk as they prepare to give birth. The young bulls use the sodium for bone development and it helps their antlers grow.

In 1992 traffic engineers put up signs on highways to increase public awareness, Mr. Hamelin said. But, he added, most people ignore the signs.

He said the signs are placed in areas where there have been the highest number of collisions. Eighty percent of the collisions occur between the signs.

Drivers should reduce their speed to allow more time to see moose on or near the road and to react.

"The best thing is not to be in such a hurry," said Mr. Alexander.

The Quebec government is conducting a study to see how best to keep moose off highways, according to a recent news story. The study will look at electric fences along highways and salt licks, among other things.

In the 1990s Vermont considered several strategies to help safeguard motorists from moose collisions, said Mr. Alexander. But, he said, fencing was not considered.

It was estimated that a six-foot high reinforced fence would cost $100,000 per mile to build, according to Mr. Hamelin.

The state considered rebuilding some sections of the Interstate to bridge moose travel ways, said Mr. Alexander.

Mr. Alexander said Ontario has tried diversionary salting, but it could not compete with highway salt.

There are no alternatives to putting salt on Vermont highways in the winter, said Mr. Hamelin.

"There's no other safe way to keep ice from the roads," he said.

Different states are experimenting with different procedures to try to keep the big animals away from roads.

New Hampshire is digging ditches to drain water and the salt away from the roads, said Mr. Hamelin.

Maine is trying a laser beam four feet off the ground along the shoulder of the road, running parallel to the road, Mr. Alexander said. If the beam is broken by a large animal passing through it, it would trigger amber flashing lights to alert motorists.

That effort is funded by a federal highway grant, said Mr. Alexander. He added that Vermont might also look into it.

Vermont has a moose population of 4000, Mr. Alexander said. The state will issue 440 moose hunting permits this year, 200 in Essex County.

For the first time in history, the moose harvest last year exceeded the number killed on Vermont roads, he said.

Moose eyes do reflect light as deer eyes do. But vehicle headlights are not high enough to shine into a moose's eyes. The animals are dark and hard to see at night, says the press release from the Fish and Game Department.

Moose average 1000 pounds, four times the size of a trophy white-tailed deer, a Fish and Wildlife facts sheet says. They are six feet tall at the shoulder. Car hoods fit underneath the belly of a moose. When a moose is lifted up, the full weight is thrown against the windshield.

The press release says moose are unpredictable and drivers shouldn't assume a moose will wait until a car goes by before crossing the road. When threatened, a moose might run away from danger or stand his ground.

Moose cross the road randomly, not just where there are moose crossing signs, says the report. The signs simply warn motorists that there is a higher frequency of moose crossings in a particular area.

Drivers should be aware that moose are more active at dusk, throughout the night until about an hour after dawn, according to Mr. Hamelin.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife recommends that motorists be aware of the danger, particularly if they see a moose sign along the highway. Drivers should drive defensively, and not overdrive their headlights. If they see a moose, drivers should slow down or stop, rather than trying to speed past it before it can move.

According to the press release, the sections of Vermont roads where most moose are seen are Route 105 between Island Pond and Bloomfield, Route 114 from East Burke to Canaan, Route 2 from Lunenburg to East St. Johnsbury, Interstate 91 at Sheffield Heights, Interstate 89 from Bolton to Montpelier, and Route 12 from Worcester to Elmore.

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