Motorists in the Peace Region are being urged to take care and be aware of the potential for wildlife on the roads during the summer months, especially when travelling at night and in conditions with poor visibility.
The caution comes after a collision with a moose sent two people to the hospital last Thursday night on Highway 97 north of Dawson Creek. Emergency crews responded shortly after 10 p.m. after a southbound pickup truck collided with a moose, causing the animal to become airborne and strike the cab of a passing semi truck. The sole occupant of the pickup truck was able to remove herself from the vehicle as it caught fire. The drivers of both vehicles were taken to the hospital to be treated for minor injuries and have since been released.
Biologist Gayle Hesse, who is part of a Wildlife Collision Working Group for northern British Columbia based out of Prince George – which is a collaboration between the British Columbia Conservation Foundation’s Wildlife Collision Prevention Program and ICBC – said motorists here should expect to see animals along and on the roads and drive accordingly.
“People need to drive expecting to see animals, not be surprised when they come upon them,” she said. “It’s a nice place for animals, and they like it there in many cases.”
She said while moose encounters are more common during the winter months, they are still active during the summer, and especially in the late evening hours.
“Right now, at the end of July, is not the most common time to have moose collisions – they can happen any time of the day or any month of the year, but more in December and January – but still, the highest-risk times of the day are evenings up in that neck of the woods,” said Hesse. “Moose are generally active at dusk and dawn, and moose collisions on the Alaska Highway north of Dawson Creek generally occur after 5 p.m., and between 9 and 11 p.m. is the highest risk time.”
She added moose also generally prefer “edge habitats” like highway ditches where they can search for food and water while still maintaining the close cover of the trees.
Hesse said moose and other animals are generally attracted to roads and highways for a variety of reasons and they do not necessarily perceive highways as dangerous in the way we do.
“What exists on the sides of roads at this time of year are what we call muck licks – wet and muddy depressions where a water source has dissolved some of the soils and brought the minerals and nutrients in the soil to the surface. Moose are really attracted to those areas, they like to slurp up the water and even the soil to get to that source of nutrients and minerals.”
She said other animals such as bears, foxes, beavers and rabbits may be attracted for the same reason, or by some other advantage in acquiring food or favourable habitat.
“Sometimes, because animals get killed on the road and there are remains of animals on the road, you’ll get those scavenging creatures that can also get hit and killed as well,” she said. “That can be a threat for birds of prey like eagles, for example, or owls.”
Hesse said obeying posted speed limits is the most important factor in being able to have enough time to react and stop in time to avoid a wildlife collision. She added drivers should always be scanning not just directly in front of their vehicles but in their peripheral, sides and rear to maintain search patterns and not get lulled into not paying attention. She said that is especially important when driving at night on the long and often empty stretches of highway in northern B.C.
“You need to be actively watching for wildlife, not just passively looking in your mirrors and glancing around,” she said. “You’re watching for eyes, you’re watching for dark shapes, you’re watching for movement, that kind of thing,” she said.
“If you happen to see a deer, most particularly, though it does apply to moose, stop looking at it and look behind it, because there is almost always another animal following behind,” she added. “Stop looking at the deer that you can see and start looking for other ones, because they are almost always going to be there.”
Hesse said in the case of a deer or smaller animal where a collision cannot be avoided, it is generally better not to swerve to try to avoid the animal because that might put you in danger of losing control of the vehicle and swerving into oncoming traffic or off the road. She said a moose, however, may be the exception given the sheer size of the animal.
“You don’t really want to hit a moose head on – I’ve had a police officer describe it to me as running head-on into a brick wall. Driving schools will tell you to look where you want the vehicle to go, so try to look at the animals back end. Hopefully, by the time you get there, the animal will have passed. You would be trying to have just a glancing collision if you can, so don’t look at the animal, look in the direction you want the vehicle to go, and brake firmly to try and strike the animal at an angle. The general advice is to let up on the brake just before you hit, so that it raises the front of your vehicle a little bit and maybe gives you a bit more protection from the impact.”
On Friday, Blair Lekstrom, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and Peace River South MLA, said his Ministry is working on a more aggressive brush-removal program along the Peace Region's major highways to improve visibility along right-of-ways and reduce the potential for collisions with wildlife.
Hesse said in the case of a wildlife collision where no person is injured but in animal is, it is important to pull off to the side of the road as soon as it is safe to do so. She said, however, members of the public have no responsibility to euthanize an animal if it is severely injured, because those animals can still be very dangerous and should not be approached. She said the Conservation Officer Service can be reached at 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP).