Collisions between vehicles and moose have dropped 55 percent in Maine over the past decade, in part because of efforts by state officials to alert drivers to the danger of the crashes.

The decline is evident in Saturday’s moose-permit lottery in Caribou. The state will allot 2,080 permits, but none will be issued for three hunting districts in midcoast Maine where a dramatic decrease in moose-vehicle collisions indicates a drop in the region’s moose herd. The districts are chiefly in Waldo, Lincoln and Knox counties, where moose-vehicle crashes fell from 16 in 2007 to one in 2016.

Statewide, moose-vehicle collisions were down from 646 in 2007 to 289 last year. Fatalities in those crashes were down from five in 2007 to no more than one in each of the past four years.

Maine’s moose population has been declining, largely because of the winter tick parasite. State biologists estimate the statewide population is between 60,000 and 70,000, down from 76,000 in 2013. This year, the state is allotting 60 fewer moose permits than in 2016 – with all of the reductions coming in the three midcoast hunting districts.

‘GOT TO GIVE SOME CREDIT TO DRIVERS’

In 2006, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife estimated the moose population at 29,000. But moose biologist Lee Kantar said the methods used to estimate moose numbers before 2012 were not as accurate as the ones today, which are aided by the use of aerial surveys and a radio-collar telemetry study.

Kantar recently cited several reasons for the decline in vehicle collisions.

“There are probably less moose, and there’s been a lot of active management by (the Maine Department of Transportation) with all kinds of things from reflective lighting to moose signs,” he said. “And over time, I’m sure over the past two decades, people have became more aware of them. You’ve got to give some credit to drivers.”

Kantar said moose populations in midcoast and southern Maine are thin, chiefly because there is little suitable habitat in those developed sections of the state.

In York and Cumberland counties – home to 37 percent of the state’s 1.3 million people – moose crashes fell from a combined 42 in 2007 to 12 last year. There has been just one fatality in those counties in the past decade, in York in 2010.

Aroostook County accounted for 45 percent of the annual moose crashes in Maine in 2016, even though it has just 5 percent of the state’s population. Total crashes in Aroostook dropped to 129 last year, from 247 in 2007.

Kantar said the moose population appears to be thriving there because of the commercial forestland that provides an abundance of the nutrition moose need. The population at the northern tier of Maine has remained “stable,” Kantar said, despite declining numbers elsewhere because of winter ticks.

MOOSE SIGHTINGS COMMON IN THE COUNTY

Ted Talbot, spokesman for the Maine Department of Transportation, said that despite installation of new forms of reflectors along Aroostook County’s main roads, crashes still occur frequently because there are more moose in the region.

“We’ve done some dynamic signing, reflective roadside delineators where the movement of a moose will break the reflective pattern and help a motorist detect a crossing moose,” Talbot said. “We’re still looking at new ways to inform the motorist and aid them in detection.”

Law enforcement officers in Aroostook County said there are still plenty of moose to avoid on the roads.

“My fiancée lives in Fort Kent and works in Caribou. She sees one at least once a week (while she’s) driving to Caribou,” said Chris Cyr, a dispatcher for the Fort Kent Police Department.

In Madawaska, Officer Ross DuBois said moose sightings are still common, and traffic accidents seem to be just as much a problem.

“It’s a common thing between Madawaska and Van Buren to see a moose just about every day,” said DuBois, a 29-year veteran of the police force.

And in Presque Isle, Sgt. Mark Barnes said moose sightings are an everyday occurrence.

“You never know where you’ll see one. We had one right in downtown yesterday or the day before,” said Barnes, a 27-year veteran of the department.

“The crashes are typically just property damage now. I can’t recall a crash with a personal injury in quite some time,” he said. “But the moose will leave the car totaled in the middle of the road, and just get up and walk away.”

Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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