ROXBURY — With the onset of spring, moose are emerging from the woods looking for food — and getting in the path of drivers.
On Friday night, Maine State Police responded to two car-moose collisions that occurred within an hour of each other on Route 120.
In the first accident at about 6:48 p.m., Rodney Canwell, 63, of Roxbury, was driving a 2007 Dodge pickup truck when he collided with an adult moose near the Maine Department of Transportation’s sand and salt station, Trooper Tom Welch said.
Canwell wasn’t hurt, but the moose was. It crawled 25 to 30 yards into the woods despite broken rear legs. Welch said he put it out of its misery.
While tending to that accident, Welch received another call at 7:40 p.m. Deborah Judkins, 56, of Northfield, N.H., had struck a moose a few hundred yards beyond Canwell’s accident, Welch said.
“That moose stepped out from the shoulder onto the fog line and she sideswiped it,” he said.
The animal fled into the woods.
“This all happened 0.2 miles from the new sign going north,” Welch said. The sign that Roxbury Selectman Michael Worthley recently installed warns drivers to slow down because frequent moose collisions happen there.
Moose come out of the woods in the spring seeking young plants and salt along roads, so drivers ought to use extreme caution, said Mark Latti, MDOT spokesman.
“In late spring, moose frequent roadways for several reasons,” Latti said in a report released Thursday. “After a long winter of eating poor-quality food, their bodies crave the salt that is found along roadsides.”
“The sides of roads are also the first areas to green up in the spring, offering tender plant shoots as another source of food for moose,” Latti said. “And yearling moose, recently forced away by their mothers as the mothers prepare to give birth to this year’s calves, often travel and find themselves around roads.”
Crash data from MDOT reveal that moose-vehicle collisions are a statewide problem each spring. The frequency of collisions increases in April and continues to climb until it peaks in mid-June, Latti said.
Nighttime is also prime time for moose-vehicle collisions. Latti said the number of moose crashes peaks between 7 p.m. and midnight.
“Moose move more during the evening after it cools from the daytime high temperatures,” he said.
According to MDOT crash statistics, Maine has averaged more than 600 moose-vehicle crashes per year over the past decade, and nearly 2,000 during a three-year period. More than 100 people are injured in moose-vehicle crashes every year, Latti said.
Last year, a moose-vehicle collision caused one fatality, Latti said. But in the past five years, nine people have lost their lives in such crashes on Maine roads. Nineteen of the 22 fatalities in the past 10 years happened after dark.
“Due to a moose’s large size, every moose-vehicle accident has the potential for serious injury,” said Duane Brunell of the MDOT Safety Office. “Drivers need to be alert when driving at night, especially in wooded or marshy areas. You need to slow down, scan the roadsides for moose, and always wear your seat belt.”
To minimize chances of being involved in a moose-vehicle collision, Latti said that drivers should:
• Reduce speeds when it is dark.
• Use high beams where appropriate.
• Always have everyone wear safety belts.
• Search the roadway ahead to identify potential problems.
“With their dark-brown color, moose are difficult to see at night, and because of their height, their eyes do not readily reflect oncoming headlights,” Latti said.
They also tend to move in groups, he said. “If you see one, slow down, because there may be another; and be on the lookout for tall silhouettes along roadsides.”
Moose can turn up on any type of road, from local roads to high-speed interstates, he said.