Moose on the Loose
Animal detection systems are put through their paces
By Hollie Deese
You’d think avoiding an elk or moose wouldn’t be so difficult, considering how large these animals are. Of course, when traveling at night on an interstate, those big lumbering creatures sure can surprise a driver. But the damage and high cost of these collisions can be even more surprising.
Marcel Huijser, a research ecologist at the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, notes that the average cost to drivers for every deer hit is $6,600. That number jumps to $17,000 for elk and a whopping $30,000 for moose. And according to a report prepared by the institute for the National Academies of Science, each year about 200 people are killed in wildlife-related crashes that cost more than $8 billion.
So on an isolated airstrip in Montana, Huijser and other researchers are putting various animal detection systems through their paces. The idea is to alert oncoming traffic of animals about to bound into their path.
“Instead of identifying the most reliable system, we identify how each technology will perform in every location,” says Huijser. That could mean some devices will work great in the desert, but not so well in a blizzard.
Currently there are no mandatory minimums when it comes to animal detection systems among the states, and in the next few months Huijser will make some recommendations to government agencies on what their findings suggest.
“It will be much more constructive to work toward minimum norms, and it will be good to have multiple vendors with multiple choices so we don’t have all of our eggs in one basket,” Huijser says.
Huijser and his associates aren’t the only ones trying to find the best way to avoid a road-kill collision. The U.S. Department of Transportation has created Critter Crossings, a website devoted to helping animals and vehicles coexist a little better by exploring projects that help keep wildlife safe from traffic.
But it is really up to drivers to take the next step once they are alerted by any system, and that means slowing down and being more alert overall.
If all else fails and you end up hitting the creature? If you’re in Tennessee a recent law allows you to go ahead and eat it. So grab the salt shaker. It may be the only meal you have that costs more than $6,000.