ANCHORAGE — The death toll is mounting as moose take alternative travel routes this winter on Alaska roads and railroad tracks to escape trudging through deep snow.
As of Jan. 20, 118 moose had been killed on Alaska Railroad tracks since October, according to a spokesman for the railroad. Only 49 moose were struck in the same period last year.
This winter is “well above average” as well for moose kills on roadways in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, home to one of the state’s densest moose populations, according to Tim Peltier, an assistant area biologist for the Department of Fish and Game’s Palmer offices. The last number he’d heard was 269 — one less than the usual season average.
Gary Olson, the executive director of the Alaska Moose Federation, which responds to calls from Alaska State Troopers to remove dead moose from roadways, said the situation is bad. So far this year, the group has delivered at least nine salvaged moose carcasses to charities.
“We don’t want to pick up so many moose off the roads dead,” he told the Anchorage Daily News.
The spike in moose deaths is probably the result of heavy snowfall in Southcentral Alaska this winter, said Jessy Coltrane, Anchorage-area wildlife biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Anchorage has received more than 90 inches of snow since October.
While collisions with vehicles and trains account for a significant number of moose deaths, many die of starvation or other injuries during winter months, Coltrane said.
After the especially harsh winter of 1994, the local moose population dropped from a high of 2,200 to 1,500.
The moose population in the Anchorage Bowl is believed to be about 1,500.
The Alaska Railroad sees lots of moose kills, in part because the cleared tracks tend to be a magnet for moose tired of standing around in 3 feet of snow, said external affairs manager Tim Sullivan.
Spreaders clear snow 25 feet on either side of the tracks in an attempt to give moose somewhere other than the tracks to stand. Conductors try to avoid hitting moose by letting them know the train is coming but sometimes it’s just not possible to stop in time, Sullivan said.
A moose doesn’t do much damage to a train but kills are distressing to train crews and passengers, he said.