Moose present challenge to motorists
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Colorado's growing moose population is not only providing the public with enhanced wildlife viewing and hunting opportunities, Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials say it is also creating new challenges for motorists. Because moose are increasing in number, motorists need to be aware that the chances of encountering moose along Colorado's mountain roadways are also rising.
Wildlife managers in Summit County report that at least six moose have been involved in serious car accidents in that area so far this year, including a recent collision that resulted in the death of a New Castle resident. The 31-year-old-woman was a passenger in a vehicle that collided with a cow moose on I-70 near Frisco. Because there was a bull moose nearby, wildlife managers believe rutting behavior, which is typical at this time of year, may have caused the animal to run onto the interstate.
"That accident was a tragic reminder that a collision with a moose can be very sudden, and very serious," said Summit County District Wildlife Manger Shannon Schwab.
Schwab said that although collisions with any large animal is potentially dangerous, she is especially concerned about moose and cautions that the size and characteristics of these animals creates a unique set of warning criteria that motorist should heed.
"Every year, we probably lose six to ten bears, several lions, and about five to eight adult moose on our major Summit County roadways," continued Schwab. "But, because moose are so tall and heavy, any increase in the number of collisions with them is one of our biggest concerns."
Schwab says that because moose are relatively new to Colorado, driving among them is a new experience for most motorists in this state. She adds that we can learn safe driving tips from other states, and countries, with large moose populations that frequently cross highways and roads.
A Northern British Columbia website, wildlifeaccidents.ca, refutes a common myth that moose eyes do not reflect light like other animals. According to information posted on the site, moose eyes do reflect light, but because they are so tall, headlights beams do not usually hit the eyes and reflect light back to motorists. The site also warns motorists that moose fur is very dark and blends into the surroundings, making them especially difficult to see at night.
According to seniortravel.about.com, if you see a moose in the road, stop your car if it is safe, turn on your hazards and flash your headlights or honk your horn to warn other drivers. The site recommends that drivers should not swerve to avoid the moose because the animal may move into your new path. They advise waiting for the moose to move out of the road and give it time to walk away from the shoulder before resuming travel.
The New Hampshire Game and Fish website reminds its state's motorists that moose are typically six feet tall at the shoulder and a vehicle's headlights usually reveal only their legs. They also warn that because of their height, it is common for the bulk of the animal to land on a vehicle's windshield and roof when the animal is hit, a major cause of serious injuries and deaths.
"At every moose collision that I responded to this year, the vehicle was totaled," said Breckenridge District Wildlife Manager Sean Shepherd. "People should take this seriously, and not underestimate how damaging hitting a moose can be."
A commonly held belief by some drivers is that if a collision with a moose is unavoidable, accelerating will allow you to drive through its legs and "under" the moose. The theory was tested on the popular Discovery Channel reality series Mythbusters, and was proven an actual myth on the show. The experiments they conducted instead showed that slower speeds resulted in less damage to vehicles.
Shepherd reminds drivers that swerving at high speeds to avoid any collision is dangerous, and he advises moderate speeds will help keep your vehicle under control if you need to take evasive action.
In Summit County last year, a teenage girl was killed after she swerved and lost control of her vehicle as she attempted to avoid a collision with a mule deer.
Because collisions, and near collisions, with wildlife continue to cause serious financial losses, injuries and deaths, the Colorado Department of Transportation - in cooperation with Colorado Parks and Wildlife - is attempting to reduce the number of incidents by lowering night time speeds in areas where collisions are common. Areas with frequent animal crossings and collisions are marked with silhouette animal signs, as well as flashing roadside signs. Other methods to reduce the number of collisions have been recently completed throughout the state, including the use of wildlife fencing, median crossovers and wildlife escape ramps along interstates and highways.
"There were signs warning of wildlife crossings near the location of the recent fatality on I-70," said Shepherd. "We can only hope that this tragedy reminds everyone to stay alert and watch the road closely."
Schwab adds that because moose are in the rut, they are especially active and aggressive and are not only a concern for motorists. In a recent incident in Summit County, a resident walking their dog off-leash reported that was chased and stomped by a moose. The dog was eventually euthanized by a veterinarian due to the severity of the injuries.
Every year, several dogs are injured or killed in encounters with moose, and in almost every case, the dog was off leash. Schwab advises people to pay attention to their surroundings and strongly recommends that they keep their dogs leashed at all times. Moose do not differentiate dogs from wolves, its natural predator, and will often aggressively chase and try to kill a dog.
"It's just instinctive behavior and is almost always the result of a dog chasing or agitating the moose first," said Schwab. "There is a responsibility that comes with living around wildlife and that starts with keeping pets under control to protect both wildlife and the pet."
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde reminds Colorado motorists that as the weather turns colder and the days get shorter, there will be more vehicles on highways near dawn and dusk, when moose are most active and most collisions occur. To stay safe, he advises that drivers should slow down, read roadside signs, watch the sides of roads carefully, do not get distracted, and above all become educated about driving in moose country.
For more information about moose in Colorado, please visit: http://wildlife.state.co.us/WildlifeSpecies/LivingWithWildlife/Mammals/Pages/MooseCountry1.aspx