A sign warning of crossing moose is seen on Kalifornsky Beach Road in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, Jan. 9, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Study analyzes moose-vehicle collision risks, with results that could be used to improve road safety

Now a new study has quantified collisions and produced statistical analysis

  • By Yereth Rosen Alaska Beacon
  • Monday, January 9, 2023 10:43pm
  • NewsState News

By Yereth Rosen

Alaska Beacon

Moose-vehicle collisions are a constant problem in Alaska. Each year, there are probably more than 800 such collisions in the state, though many go unreported, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game estimates.

Now a new study has quantified collisions and produced statistical analysis that might help motorists and transportation managers better plan around risks.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, analyzes the relationships between moose movements, snowpack and traffic patterns in Alaska and areas of western Canada.

“Collisions with moose can be absolutely catastrophic for both humans and moose. We hoped to understand the processes that increase the risk of collisions in order to reduce the societal and environmental toll,” University of Washington researcher Calum Cunningham, the lead author, said by email.

The factors that are most likely to produce moose-vehicle collisions, the study found, are evening darkness, winter and snow adjacent to the road that is less than 120 centimeters deep, or about 4 feet deep.

While it may not be surprising that risks are highest in the dark winter months, the study puts some numbers to those risks. In Alaska, collisions with moose are 5.7 times as frequent in the December-to-February period as in the least collision-prone time of the year, the late spring.

Within those winter numbers is a revelation: Collisions are much more numerous in the evening-commute hours than in the pre-dawn morning-commute hours, even though both periods are dark.

To coauthor Kyle Joly, a National Park Service biologist, the reason is not clear.

“Is it a person thing, or is it a moose thing?” he said.

To Cunningham, it is likely a people thing. Typically, vehicle traffic is heavier in the evening than in the morning, he said.

Another difference revealed was Alaska’s more accentuated seasonal pattern for elevated collision risks. In British Columbia, which is farther south and therefore subject to less midwinter darkness, the likelihood of vehicle-moose collisions was less than half that in Alaska during the December to February period, the study found.

The study used data from 113 GPS-collared moose in five study areas in Alaska and Canada’s Yukon Territory and the provinces of British Columbia and Alberta. That data was collected over several years, from 2001 to 2013; in Alaska, the tracking data came from collared moose in the upper Koyukuk region.

The study also used analysis of snow patterns over four decades in 2.2 million square miles of Arctic-boreal habitat, motor-vehicle traffic statistics from Alaska and the Canadian regions and statistics on known collisions. It takes a broad view of collisions across a large geographic region. Though it includes information about collisions within Anchorage, it does not specify whether there are differences between the state’s biggest city and other regions, Cunningham said.

Moose responses to snow varied somewhat according to vegetation type, but generally a depth of 100 centimeters, or just under 40 inches, was the threshold at which they flushed out of higher elevations to lower and more developed areas where roads are more plentiful, the study found.

Moose are moving away from areas that are getting deep snow, “and that gets them into trouble,” Joly said.

But when snow was especially deep in areas near roads, collisions were few because moose were generally unable or unwilling to go to those areas, the study found.

Policy responses could include reduced nighttime speed limits from December to February, enhanced driver education and lighting improvements for both roads and vehicles, the study said.

Climate change may also affect moose movements and vehicle-collision risks in the future, the study said. Very cold areas are expected to get increased snowfall, while warmer areas of the far north are expected to wind up with shallower snowpacks as more of the winter precipitation falls as rain.

The study was funded by NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment, or ABoVE.

This article originally appeared online at alaskabeacon.com. Alaska Beacon, an affiliate of States Newsroom, is an independent, nonpartisan news organization focused on connecting Alaskans to their state government.

Yereth Rosen came to Alaska in 1987 to work for the Anchorage Times. She has been reporting on Alaska news ever since, covering stories ranging from oil spills to sled-dog races. She has reported for Reuters, for the Alaska Dispatch News, for Arctic Today and for other organizations.

More in News

House District 6 race gets 3rd candidate

Alana Greear filed a letter of intent to run on April 5

Kenai City Hall is seen on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai water treatment plant project moves forward

The city will contract with Anchorage-based HDL Engineering Consultants for design and engineering of a new water treatment plant pumphouse

Students of Soldotna High School stage a walkout in protest of the veto of Senate Bill 140 in front of their school in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
SoHi students walk out for school funding

The protest was in response to the veto of an education bill that would have increased school funding

The Kenai Courthouse as seen on Monday, July 3, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Clam Gulch resident convicted of 60 counts for sexual abuse of a minor

The conviction came at the end of a three-week trial at the Kenai Courthouse

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly meets in Seward, Alaska, on Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (screenshot)
Borough awards contract for replacement of Seward High School track

The project is part of a bond package that funds major deferred maintenance projects at 10 borough schools

Kenai Peninsula Education Association President LaDawn Druce, left, and committee Chair Jason Tauriainen, right, participate in the first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Four Day School Week Ad Hoc Committee on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
4-day school week committee talks purpose of potential change, possible calendar

The change could help curb costs on things like substitutes, according to district estimates

A studded tire is attached to a very cool car in the parking lot of the Peninsula Clarion in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Studded tire removal deadline extended

A 15-day extension was issued via emergency order for communities above the 60 degrees latitude line

A sign for Peninsula Community Health Services stands outside their facility in Soldotna, Alaska, on Monday, April 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
PCHS to pursue Nikiski expansion, moves to meet other community needs

PCHS is a private, nonprofit organization that provides access to health care to anyone in the community

Jordan Chilson votes in favor of an ordinance he sponsored seeking equitable access to baby changing tables during a meeting of the Soldotna City Council in Soldotna, Alaska, on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna OKs ordinance seeking to increase access to baby changing tables

The ordinance requires all newly constructed or renovated city-owned and operated facilities to include changing tables installed in both men’s and women’s restrooms

Most Read