A moose crossing sign on the Maine Turnpike northbound in Kennebunk on Friday Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Q: Are the moose crossing signs along the Maine Turnpike in York County just a ploy to excite tourists? Are there even moose that far south in Maine? 

A: No, those signs aren’t just for tourists. And yes, there really are moose that far south – and they’ve been known to mosey into the road and cause crashes.

Those warning signs, whether on the turnpike or a more rural road, are usually posted in areas with high concentrations of wildlife and where collisions are a problem. On the 109-mile stretch of the Maine Turnpike from Kittery to Augusta, there are a total of nine moose crossing signs. Six of those signs are south of Scarborough.

“We definitely have (the signs) up to make people aware there could be moose in the roadway,” said Erin Courtney, spokesman for the Maine Turnpike Authority. “While we hope someone never sees a moose in the roadway while they’re on the turnpike, it can happen.”

Years ago, the Maine Department of Transportation would put up animal crossing signs on the roads it cares for in response to citizens requests, but that practice has stopped and most of those signs have been removed. Now, transportation officials work with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to identify the locations where they are needed to warn drivers to be on the lookout for moose, deer, bears and turkeys.

Putting up signs in places where there really is no danger just to excite tourists would actually encourage motorists to ignore the warning signs everywhere, and that would be a problem.

“We want motorists to take notice of these signs, so that means they should be in areas where there are, indeed, frequent large animal sightings or strikes,” said Paul Merrill, spokesman for MDOT.

It is certainly true that there are more moose, and more collisions with them, north of Portland. But cars run into moose every year in York County, too. And collisions with moose are extremely dangerous wherever they happen.

Maine’s moose population has fallen from 76,000 six years ago to between 60,000 and 70,000 today. Western and northern Maine are more densely populated with moose than southern or coastal areas, but they live all across Maine. So, while you may be more likely to see a moose in Aroostook County, it’s also possible to catch a glimpse of one in the southernmost reaches of the state.

There are hundreds of crashes involving moose each year, according to MDOT, which tracks collisions with moose, deer, bear and turkeys. The number of crashes involving moose has dropped dramatically over the years, from 618 in 2003 to 256 in 2019. There have been 164 crashes involving moose so far this year.

Most of those crashes are reported up in Aroostook County, which has averaged 131 crashes a year over the past decade. In York County, that average is seven crashes a year.

There have been 71 collisions involving moose on the turnpike in York County since 2003. Most of the moose-involved crashes on the turnpike in York County since 2003 have been in Wells, Saco, Arundel, Kennebunk, Wells and York.

The last crash involving a moose on the Maine Turnpike happened in July 2015 near the southbound ramp in Saco. The last fatal crash involving a moose on the stretch of turnpike that runs through York County happened in July 2010, according to MDOT.

While it’s great to spot a moose moving majestically through its habitat while you’re out hiking or kayaking, it can be unnerving to see one in or near the road while you’re driving.

Drivers should always be on the lookout for wild animals, especially in areas marked with animal crossing signs, but it may also help to know when moose are typically on the move. You’re most likely to see moose at dawn and dusk, when they are most active. You may also see them looking for food or a salt lick.

Moose are herbivores and survive on browse, the leaves and twigs of woody plants, but sodium is also an important part of their diet. Because natural salt licks are rare in Maine, moose are often seen along roads using the salt runoff as an artificial salt lick, according to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Because moose are so tall, you might not see your headlights reflect from their eyes the same way you would with a deer or smaller animal. Unlike deer that dart across the road, moose tend to move more slowly, moseying along the roadway or even standing right in the middle of it. And they are darker, blending into the shadows along the shoulder of the highway.

The way to avoid a collision with a moose in the road is common sense, of course. You slow down and go around.

But there are two other pieces of advice that many Mainers, especially northern Mainers, are familiar with.

If a crash is unavoidable, Maine’s transportation department says you should apply the brake, but let up just before impact. And you should aim to hit the tail of the animal, if possible, and duck down to minimize your injuries. The idea is to increase the chances that the moose goes over your car and not into it, head first.


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