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Maine Moose Collisions Spark Calls for Hunting Regulation Changes
10/05/2012   Reported By: Jay Field

Two accidents this week in Aroostook County involving vehicles and moose - including a fatal collision - are contributing to calls on Facebook for less restricive regulations for hunting the large, lumbering animals. A woman in Fort Kent was killed Monday when the car she was riding in struck a moose. And on Wednesday, an ambulance transporting a patient hit a moose in Van Buren. But a state biologist and a sportsmen's group say the current hunting rules work well and don't need to be changed.

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Maine has around 76,000 moose, according to a recent aerial survey by state biologists. A majority of them are in western Maine and up in Aroostook County, where Lisa Saucier lives. "And I live in Eagle Lake, up on a hill. It's a little bit in the woods. They walk up my driveway. That's how much there are."

There's no love lost between Saucier and the towering trespassers. But it's not because they just saunter up her driveway at will and hang out. "I never thought twice about a moose until I hit one," she says.

It was dusk, around 12 years ago. Saucier and her husband were driving along Route 161. A woman flashed her brights to warn them.

"The flashing of the light blinded my husband. The moose stepped right in front of us and brought the top of the car down on top of me," she recalls. "I was out of work for six weeks in a cast. They picked glass out of my feet for three hours. I had moose hair in my teeth - no lie. My husband was picking it out of my hair."

Saucier says she gets angry when she hears about accidents like the ones that happened this week in Fort Kent and Van Buren. She's one of 262 people to recently join a new Facebook group: Open Season on Loose Moose.

Here in Maine, hunters can apply for a limited number of permits, handed out via lottery, to shoot a single moose in one of 25 wildlife management districts, covering 21,000 square miles.

Saucier says state wildlife managers, at a minimum, ought to increase the number of permits in areas with the highest concentrations of the animal. Many others in the Facebook group say it's time for a completely open moose hunting season.

"You know, we've looked at that north country," says biologist Lee Kanter. "We've flown that country. And we can say that in some of those areas, we're at our targeted objective and where we should be."

Kanter, a wildlife biologist and the state's moose and deer specialist, says the recent moose survey shows the population is larger than in past studies. But Kanter says that doesn't mean there are actually more moose out there - wildlife managers have simply refined their counting procedures. Kanter says the improved data is helping officials come up with more accurate permit allocations for moose hunting.

"You know, we've also tried to deal with some of the more localized, negative impacts, whether it be the damage to crops up in eastern Aroostook County and/or vehicle collisions, by having an actual special moose hunt, which has never occurred in the state, to target a finer resolution of where moose are in that area," Kanter says.

Since 2005, Kanter says there's been a 39 percent decrease in the number of moose collisions on Maine roadways. The data comes from the Maine Department of Transportation. Duane Brunell, who works in the safety office at DOT, says fatal crashes, like the two that have happened so far this fall, can stoke unfounded fears that the overall number of moose collisions are on the rise. Still, Brunell is urging drivers to be vigilent.

"Many collisions occur during dusk to dawn hours," he says. "So any twilight to full dark times are when moose are out traveling most. And this sometimes is the time where people feel more comfortable with exceeding the speed, thinking that there's not going to be any problems out there."

Brunell's advice? Back off the accelerator, to give yourself the best possible chance to take evasive action should an unwelcome guest lumber onto the road.


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