07/06/2011 12:08 EDT | Updated 09/05/2011 05:12 EDT

Moose Collisions: Newfoundland Government To Spend $5M In Prevention


THE CANADIAN PRESS -- ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Newfoundland and Labrador is launching a $5-million pilot project to implement measures including fencing and warning detectors along highways in an effort to reduce the number of collision involving moose.

The proposals announced Wednesday come weeks after a judge supported certification of a class-action lawsuit against the province led by moose-vehicle accident victims.

The Progressive Conservative government is also preparing for an Oct. 11 election — a fact not lost on those who said the measures should have been introduced sooner.

"It's something that was needed 10 or 12 years ago," lawyer Ches Crosbie, representing the class-action plaintiffs, said of the pilot project.

"I think they're doing the bare minimum they think they can get away with and not suffer the wrath of voters in the election in October. So far they don't think that requires them to make any financial amends for the people who've been injured in the past."

Police estimate there were about 800 incidents involving vehicles and the lumbering animals last year alone, including two fatal accidents.

The effort announced Wednesday includes a 15-kilometre "test section" of moose fencing to be built along the Trans-Canada Highway by this fall.

Transportation Minister Tom Hedderson said the exact location will be based on a review of moose accident data. Piles of rock boulders will be placed at either end of the fence to deter moose from the roadway.

The pilot project also includes infrared detection systems set high enough to trigger warning lights if big animals pass by. And the province will add $1 million to the $2 million it already spends a year cutting roadside brush.

These efforts are on top of an expanded hunting season and the addition of more than 5,000 extra moose hunting licences this year, bringing the total moose quota to 33,440 for the island.

It's estimated the moose population has soared to between 120,000 and 200,000 since they were first introduced to Newfoundland from New Brunswick in 1904.

An unproven statement of claim filed in the class-action lawsuit accuses the province of negligently failing to manage a population of animals "with no natural predator (other than black bears which prey on very young calves)."

Collisions with the long-legged, top heavy animals can be devastating at highway speeds of 70 to 110 kilometres per hour. Adult moose weigh between 360 to 450 kilograms — 800 to 1,000 pounds — or more.

The province has posted warning signs and urged motorists to respect speed limits. But the unpredictable animals have been known to dart in front of vehicles with little warning, and are frequently seen loping down city streets or in urban parks in spring.

Eugene Nippard formed the Save Our People Action Committee two years ago to push for government action.

He was driving with his niece and a friend in his Mercury Sable in 2002 when he struck a 180-kilogram female moose on the Trans-Canada Highway. Broken bones and lacerations have long since healed, but Nippard says he has never recovered psychologically from the ordeal.

"When I drive on the highway in the daylight, I'm still a little bit scared," he said from Grand Falls-Windsor, N.L., about a four-hour drive from St. John's. "At night, I panic.

"But there's people that have got to drive for a living. We can't shut down the highway because we've got moose."

Nippard said the pilot project is a good start, but he wants the government to commit to further action if moose fencing cuts the number of accidents. He has met with wildlife officials in New Brunswick, where the government has built more than 324 kilometres of fencing since 2007.

"I've been up there, I've seen how it works," he said. "They've got the moose accidents cut to zero where there's fencing."

Hedderson said the government has been studying options for several months and is not acting to fend off criticism ahead of the coming election.

Crosbie says the province could have done more and needs to consider culling the growing moose population. He said he avoids highway driving at night whenever possible.

"I don't think any person with their wits about them is comfortable with it or would choose to do it if they could avoid it. We live in a state of fear in Newfoundland. That's the reality of it."