By Vanda Schmockel
“It happened so fast. You’re on top of them before you even know it.”
Last December, Harvey Presber was driving into town to see a hockey game from his home outside Naicam. About three miles from his destination, traveling at roughly 90 kilometers per hour, he hit a moose. The massive animal smashed in his windshield, took out his grill and headlights, flipped over the roof, and mangled the front and back doors on the driver’s side in the process. His car was a complete write-off.
On the bright side, he did walk away with a souvenir.
“I felt something on my lap,” Presber said. “It was a piece of broken antler.”
He’s lucky to be alive, but his close encounter was far from unique. It seems everyone knows someone who knows someone who has had a near miss with a moose – or worse.
This is an increasingly common story in parts of the province that never used to see moose at all. In November and December of 2012 alone, SGI reports there were 98 collision claims involving moose, costing $263,000.
Moose are making themselves known in other ways too – specifically with crop damage.
They now regularly find their way into farmers’ fields – causing fence damage along the way - and have developed a taste for canola, flax, and field peas.
According to Ryan Brook at the University of Saskatchewan, this type of moose activity so far south in the province is a very recent development.
“Historically, moose were considered a boreal forest species, so really they weren’t commonly seen out on the prairie or farm land,” he said. “But just in the last 15 years, there’s been a real dramatic increase in the number of moose in farmland areas.”
So, why are we seeing so many moose on the loose?
“It could be related to climate change,” Brook said. “Certainly, 15 years ago, Saskatchewan was a lot drier than it is now. We’re seeing a kind of wet swing in the last five years, which is going to help with shrubs and wetlands, which moose feed in.”
Brook also pointed out that hunting habits have changed in recent decades.
“I talked to a producer not too long ago who said, on the farm that he and (his family) live on, there used to be 91 people by the end of the 1800s. And all of those people would have had large families – and a lot of people with guns.
“So there are a lot of factors at play. Habitat is changing. And moose seem to be adapting - it certainly shocked me to learn that moose are eating field peas, canola, and flax. That’s quite a unique situation in and of itself.”
Brook and his colleagues at the U of S have recently started a study to track the moose to better understand their patterns of movement. To do this, they’re outfitting the behemoth beasts with special collars that contain very sophisticated transmitters, capable of sending text messages to Brook and he fellow researchers.
“Each collar has a satellite phone built into it, and three times a day it phones us and gives us our data,” Brook said. “This technology is unbelievable. From the satellite collars, we’re also going to get very detailed information on how, when, and why moose are crossing roads and highways. It’s a game changer for us. These collars are giving us one location every hour, 24-hours a day, seven days a week for two full years.”
In the end, the study will give the researchers a better sense of how to manage the influx of moose, and what can be done to keep them off Saskatchewan’s roads and highways.
“We’ll have to have good information before we start talking about what we’re going to do about it,” Brook said. Some of that could include better education of drivers. Brook said, at the moment, too many people see moose crossing signs with speed reductions, but don’t bother slowing down.
“And there are more aggressive interventions to keep moose away from roads and highways – fencing, potential use of salt or mineral block,” he said. “One of the things that’s used a lot on roads is salt, and salt is clearly attractive - especially for moose. They get down on their knees, and basically start licking the roads to get the salt. So putting out mineral may actually help deflect interest in roads. I think if we identify the risk factors, we can start to target our efforts in the highest risk areas, and in the ways that are most likely to have an actual benefit.
“We don’t want anybody getting into any accidents.”