By Jenny Neyman
Any motorists able to peel their eyes away from the icy, slushy mess area roads degenerated into during the weekend rainstorm might have noticed new numbers posted on the yellow “Moose on Road” caution signs Saturday. As of Jan. 1, 84 moose have been hit on roadways in Alaska.
The signs are placed at areas of high moose-crossing activity to warn drivers to be extra alert for the difficult-to-see hulks that might meander out in front of a vehicle. The central Kenai Peninsula annually contributes a sizable chunk to the statewide moose-vehicle collision statistics, and as such warrants nine signs at particularly dangerous spots:
Kalifornsky Beach Road in front of United Rentals and the Soldotna Sports Center.
- K-Beach at the Cook Inlet Aquaculture building.
- K-Beach a half-mile west of the intersection with Bridge Access Road.
- K-Beach at Mile 12 near the Marathon gas field.
- Sterling Highway at Tustumena Elementary School in Kasilof.
- Sterling Highway at Mile 113 at Blue Ribbon Estates.
- Sterling Highway near the Central Peninsula Landfill.
- Sterling Highway between Fred Meyer and St. Elias Brewing Co.
- Sterling Highway at Kenai Keys Road in Sterling.
For many drivers, the large, yellow, “Give Moose a Break” signs listing the current number of collisions are a good general reminder to increase attentiveness. For Laurie Speakman, with the Alaska Moose Federation, the numbers call to mind much more specific instances of the dangers posed by moose on roads.
As of Saturday, 17 moose had been killed on the central Kenai Peninsula, Speakman said. In Alaska, when a moose is hit and killed as a result of a vehicle collision, the meat is available for salvage by individuals, families and nonprofit organizations registering with the Alaska State Troopers. That used to mean a come-get-your-moose call could come anytime — day, night or weekend, summer afternoon or minus 30 winter night — to whomever was next on the road-kill salvage list.
The recipient would have to go butcher and remove the carcass then and there, wherever the moose was hit. At times this created safety hazards for the salvagers and drivers, especially at night and in poor visibility and driving conditions, sometimes requiring troopers to stay on the scene after dealing with the collision.
Starting last year, with the help of $700,000 in funding from the state, the nonprofit Alaska Moose Federation became responsible for all moose road-kill removals. Federation volunteers stationed around the state now get the call — day or night, winter or summer — and respond with their heavy duty flatbed trucks equipped with extra lights, safety equipment and winches. They load up the moose and deliver it to the designated recipient, significantly reducing the amount of time spent at the accident scene.
On the central Kenai Peninsula, Speakman is the most active federation volunteer. She’s responded to 12 collisions just since Jan. 1, and another local driver responded to another five, she said. The position requires careful record-keeping, with all information reported to the state. As of January, the information-handling portion of the task took on an extra layer of responsibility, when local federation volunteers and members of the Kenai Peninsula chapter of Safari Club International agreed to take over the duty of updating the moose collision signs each month throughout the year. Doing so made obvious sense to Speakman.
“Fish and Game called and asked if we would volunteer to do the numbers on the signs. Of course I jumped on it and said, ‘Sure.’ But then I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I should probably be calling (the director of the Alaska Moose Federation) first,” she said.
Gary Olson, federation executive director, endorsed the idea, so Speakman next talked to her dad, Tom Netschert,
board member of the local Safari Club chapter, about drumming up some volunteers to help.
“Come to find out SCI sponsors several of the signs, so that was perfect,” Speakman said.
They all are well aware of the importance of being moose aware. One of the SCI sign-updating volunteers Saturday, Keith Phillips, had actually hit a moose on his way to the SCI meeting in which Speakman asked for assistance. The moose darted right out in front of him, he said. It was night and with the lights of oncoming traffic, Phillips said that he just didn’t see the moose until it was too late.
As if the crew needed any more firsthand reminders, Speakman had just responded to two moose collisions Friday night, before meeting Saturday morning to update the signs. One was a bull calf at Mile 119 of the Sterling Highway, and one was a moose cow in front of the Soldotna Sports Center.
“That one just devastates me. She’s the one out by the road eating all the time. We all see her every day,” Speakman said.
Come the next morning, Speakman, her husband, Terry, parents, Tom and Spencie Netschert, and Phillips were out hanging the number 84 on signs around town, including the one in front of United Rentals, where the cow had been hit.
“It almost broke my heart. I had just seen her that morning,” Speakman said.