Moose and vehicles: Dangerous mix

Increasing darkness ups the chance of drivers hitting wildlife on Alaska roads. Moose collisions present the most common and dangerous hazard, and a few factors are common to most accidents.

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(Photo by Hagerty Ryan, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

University of Alaska Fairbanks geography student Job Noordeloos is finishing up a masters project on moose vehicle collisions in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

”I’m from the Netherlands. I arrived here three years ago in Alaska,” Noordeloos said. “And I was completely scraed of driving on the roads. A lot of people told me about hoe moose just jumped on the road.”

Noordeloos cited 3 Fairbanks area human fatalities resulting from vehicle moose collisions during the study period between and 2000 and 2012. During the 12 year span, vehicle moose collisions averaged about a hundred per year in the North Star Borough. Nordeloos said moose tend to get hit just after sunset.

”They seem to be more active just after sunset and I think drivers’ behavior is also an important factor here,” Noordeloos said. “Because people drive home often tired after a day of work. They don’t really pay attention to things around the road.”

Noordeloos pointed to vehicle speed as another key factor.

”Roads 55 mph are like the worst,” Noordeloos said. 

Alaska Moose Federation executive director Don Dyer agreed with Noordeloos that basic driver precautions best reduce the risk of hitting a moose.

“Clearly, the number one issue with moose collisions is the speed of the vehicles,” Dyer said. ”Be aware of what you’re doing and in places where there’s a lot of rush close to the road, slow down. Have a good set of lights. Pay attention and watch the sides of the roads. Don’t just be tunnel-vision down the highway.”

Dyer’s group is contracted by the state to pick up road kill moose and get them to needy people. He says about 7 hundred moose are killed by vehicles statewide annually, most in the Mat Su, followed by Kenai, Anchorage and Fairbanks. Dyer cautions that moose get creative when trying to cross highways, and cites an Anchorage trouble spot.

”The moose do go across the bridges, say at Minnesota Ave. and I just picked up a huge bull moose there on Sunday night,” Dyer said. “Also, last October that was where there was one fatality accident because the moose did walk down an onramp and go underneath the bridge and a motorcyclist hit it in the dark.”

Dyer and Noordeloos both point to moose collision reduction measures like speed zones, warning signs, roadside fencing, brush clearing, street lighting and wildlife pathways, remedies that have been successfully employed on some Alaska roads.