Heavy snows cause 'moose emergency'
Anchorage - Heavy snows in parts of Alaska are taking a deadly toll on moose as deep snowdrifts force the animals into hazardous detours on ploughed roads and railway tracks, prompting one group to seek declaration of a 'moose emergency'.
State and local officials said the ambling animals are being killed in increasing numbers in rail and road collisions.
In the Matanuska-Susitna Borough north of Anchorage, 315 moose have been killed by vehicles so far this winter, said Tim Peltier, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The average is roughly 270 for the winter, he said.
The state-owned Alaska Railroad faces similar problems, with 131 moose killed so far this winter by trains, railway spokesperson Tim Sullivan said. That number is already higher than a yearly average of about 100 for the past three years.
"The moose like the clear areas on the tracks. We do everything we can to keep them off the tracks, but sometimes it's impossible," he said.
The large number of collisions this winter prompted the Alaska Moose Federation, a non-profit group associated with sport hunters, to ask Governor Sean Parnell to declare an official emergency.
Such a declaration would it easier for the group to get permits to cut trees and otherwise clear paths for the moose to escape roadway dangers, said Gary Olson, executive director of the organisation.
"We still have 10 weeks of winter," Olson said. "The emergency request is to get all the agencies to the table to make sure the next 10 weeks are not as bad as it could be."
Moose in town
The Alaska Railroad was already employing some precautions to avoid moose collisions, Sullivan said. In some areas, workers can use a special plough to clear an extra 7,6m on each side of the tracks, giving the animals room to escape oncoming trains.
The railway has also ploughed about 80km of trail for moose to use to lead them away from the tracks, he said. Hitting a moose is traumatic for railway employees as well as deadly for the animals, Sullivan said.
"Nobody likes it. Nobody gets used to hitting a moose on the tracks," he said.
In Anchorage, total moose fatalities from vehicle collisions were not yet available, said Jessy Coltrane, a regional Fish and Game biologist. But she believed the tally for Alaska's largest city will be significantly higher than the annual average of 155, she said.
"There are a lot of moose in town," she said. "Most of the moose have come in from the mountains because the snow is so deep."
Anchorage has received 233cm of snowfall so far this winter, said John Stepetin, a specialist at the National Weather Service, far more than the average of 190cm recorded for entire winters in the past.