Moose fencing doesn't mean you don't need to watch for moose, biologist warns
Moose and deer manage to get through fence near CFB Gagetown in same week
Drivers, don't let wildlife fencing fool you.
You could hit a moose any time, anywhere in New Brunswick — even within sections protected by fences designed to keep large animals off the highway, warns a wildlife biologist.
"Don't let your guard down," said Gerald Redmond, who worked for the Department of Natural Resources when the first fences were installed in New Brunswick almost 20 years ago.
"In fact, when you see fencing, that really means that that is a potentially dangerous area. And the fencing is there to provide some security to the folks that are using it."
Fencing is "effective, but it's not foolproof," he said.
So many things can go wrong. A strong windstorm like the one that blew through Fredericton last weekend could bring down trees and topple the fence, Redmond said.
And, "sometimes people cut holes in the fence because they want to access it with ATVs or snowmobiles, things like that."
Fences eventually end, so animals can get around and venture onto the highway that way, too, he said.
"Once on the wrong side of the fence, they have to make their way back somehow and that's where the one-way gates come in," said Redmond.
"They tend to be followers, so they will follow the fence, because that's a barrier to them, until they see an opening, and these wildlife one-way gates allow them to escape or get back into the woods. So that's what they're designed to do. How effective they are is another question."
While normally effective, moose do still escape the fence, said Redmond.
For example, on the same stretch of Highway 2, between Upper Gagetown and Oromocto, a dead moose was observed on the side of the road not far from where a deer was spotted running along the fence two days later.
Redmond stressed that drivers can encounter moose and deer anywhere.
Driver walks away unscathed
It was the fall of 2017 when Shaun Murphy successfully swerved to avoid hitting a moose standing on the highway in front of him not far from his home in Melrose, located between Port Elgin and the Confederation Bridge.
The second moose wasn't so lucky.
Murphy was so focused on the first moose that he didn't notice the other one until a split second before his Toyota Matrix hit it broad-side at about 90 km/h.
He managed to pull over to the side of the road before getting out to inspect the damage.
The large cow moose was lying dead on the side of the road and the first moose was nowhere to be seen.
He was able to drive the vehicle back to his house before it overheated and quit in his driveway.
His wife drove him to work where he completed his school bus run that morning. After returning home in the light of day, Murphy took one look at his crumbled Matrix and realized how lucky he was to walk away without a scratch or bruise.
"The hood is caved in, the windshield is smashed. It's kind of like a V-shape in the front where the moose has just rolled over the car. The car is just filled with little splinters of glass on the inside. It's everywhere."
He's still not sure how he survived unscathed.
"I now know the meaning of divine intervention," he says.
While some may feel protected by the stretches of fence, Murphy becomes hyper vigilant.
"Those fences are there because there are a lot of moose in that area, and I know that it doesn't always stop them," he said.
False sense of security?
But people may feel a false sense of security in areas with fencing and reduce their vigilance behind the wheel as a result, says Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at the University of Toronto.
And that could lead to more collisions.
"It does make us feel like, 'OK, it's not so likely it's gonna happen,' and so probably we are not attending very well to the external environment as well as we should."
Joordens, who grew up in the Oromocto area and is familiar with the province's moose problem and wildlife fencing, said there are likely "trade-offs" to having fences.
"Because I assume if you look at the statistics, there must be fewer moose being hit. But it is probably the case that if a moose gets through that fence, it's probably at a very high chance of being hit."
400 collisions annually
According to the province's website, there are about 400 moose-vehicle collisions every year. "Most of these collisions happen between dusk and dawn when visibility is reduced and moose are the most difficult to see."
And most happen between May and October, according to the website.
Lee Kantar, a moose biologist with Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said part of the reason is that moose moms chase off their yearlings around this time after having new babies.
Moose also search out salt and vegetation to make up for a winter of nutritional shortcomings.
Kantar has done a lot of work tracking moose movements with the use of GPS collars. He said moose normally have a relatively small territorial range of about 240 square kilometres, but they'll often travel outside that area, as much as 50 km, in search of food at this time of year.
Just last week, he tracked a female moose from Maine to Quebec — a journey of about 240 km. He said the GPS indicates that the cow is now on her way back home.
Kantar said Maine's moose-vehicle collisions largely mirror New Brunswick's experience, with incidents peaking in the late 1990s.
In 1998, for example, there were 858 collisions reported. Twenty years later — the latest statistics available — that number dropped to 256.
Similarly, figures released by the New Brunswick government showed 500 injuries and 20 deaths linked to collisions with moose between 1995 and 2000.
At the time, governments were pressured to install fences in the province's hot spots. Eventually, sections of highway were flanked by heavy-duty electric fencing in northern New Brunswick and wildlife fences in hotspots like Highway 7 between Saint John and Fredericton, and Highway 2 between Upper Gagetown and Oromocto.
The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure recorded no moose collisions between 2015 and 2019 along Highway 2 between Upper Gagetown and Oromocto, according to department spokesperson Jeremy Trevors.
"This portion of Route 2 is managed by the Maritime Road Development Corporation and [they] are required to regularly monitor and inspect all highway assets, including wildlife fencing."
Trevors said fences are sometimes damaged by falling trees, accidents, or vandalism, and "MRDC is required to complete repairs."