Data-driven collisions — Fish and Game seeing changing trends in wildlife-vehicle accidents

File photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A bull moose draws a crowd as it prepares to cross the road.

File photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. A bull moose draws a crowd as it prepares to cross the road.

By Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Tourists and Alaskans alike often enjoy seeing moose, but never so up close that one of the 1,200-pound animals is crashing through their windshield. Yet that inevitably happens every year, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

“To be exact, we had 154 moose that were hit, killed and reported on the Kenai Peninsula from July 1, 2014, to June 10, 2015,” said Larry Lewis, a wildlife biologist with Fish and Game.

Those numbers are actually trending downward when compared against the averages for the past 28 years, Lewis said, which is how long records of moose-vehicle collisions have been kept by Fish and Game, compiled from their own reports as well as from Alaska State Troopers, Kenai and Soldotna police and the Alaska Railroad, since moose stepping onto railroad tracks are occasionally hit by trains.

“When you look at the data from 1985 to ’86 up to 2013, the mean number of moose hit comes out to about 248 animals, and 154 is obviously well below that,” Lewis said.

While the number of moose killed has started to come down in recent years, Lewis said that the number of moose that run off into the woods after being hit is trending upward.

“I’m not sure if it’s lighter vehicles now versus the old tankers, or if it has something to do with how people are driving, but last regulatory year we had reports of 79 hit and not recovered. We only started keeping track of this since 2000, but just since that time the average is 73,” he said.

As high as both these numbers are — 233 combined — Lewis said that the numbers still don’t paint a clear picture of how many moose are actually hit on the peninsula.

“These are just the ones we know about. By law, collisions with moose are supposed to be reported, but every year some are found dead on the roadside,” he said.

From some of these animals, based on the trauma, it’s clear they were hit, but especially in the winter it can be tougher to tell if the animal was struck or succumbed to the elements and just happen to die along the roadway, Lewis said.

The time of year for collisions might be changing, as well. In the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 regulatory years, the highest numbers of moose hits happened in July and August, but historically the most moose-vehicle collision have been in the winter months.

“Taking 2003-04, for example, there were 75 hit in December, followed by 50 in January. These were the two highest months, and that makes sense since everyone is driving to and from work in the dark, and it can be tough to see with oncoming headlights,” he said.

Plus, the roads are often icy, making braking difficult, and more moose may be on the roads as it is less metabolically demanding to walk on a plowed surface trudging through deep snow.

Fast forward to this regulatory year.

“In July 2014 we had 20 hit, followed by 28 more in August, but only 14 moose hit in December and 10 in January,” Lewis said, attributing the mild snow season to the possible decline in winter collisions.

Lewis said that most of the collisions occur in areas with high numbers of vehicles and a lack of illumination from streetlights, such as between Kenai and Soldotna and between Kenai and Nikiski on the Kenai Spur Highway, between Soldotna and Sterling on the Sterling Highway, on Kalifornsky Beach Road toward Kasilof, and along Bridge Access Road where caribou frequently cross, possibly more than moose.

“Moose aren’t the only species hit. Last year we had 11 caribou hit, killed and recovered, and two brown bears,” Lewis said. “We also had two caribou, three black bears, three brown bears hit and not recovered, and two bears hit and not recovered that the driver couldn’t tell if they were brown or black.”

One coyote was also hit and not recovered, according to Lewis, but no avian species last year, such as geese, eagles, owls or even, as has happened once, an emu.

“There was nothing weird like that this year,” he said.

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Filed under moose, public safety, transportation, wildlife

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