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Moose are doing well on the prairies of North Dakota, and motorists should be on the look out for the large animals and slow down, especially at night, officials say. Photo courtesy of North Dakota Game and Fish Department

Moose collision a reminder for motorists to watch out

GRAND FORKS—It's difficult to quantify how many moose are hit by vehicles every year in North Dakota and Minnesota because records aren't kept, officials say, but when collisions occur, the damage can be extensive.

The most recent incident occurred Tuesday night, June 12, when two people were injured near Manvel, N.D., after hitting a moose on U.S. Highway 81 near the intersection with 20th Street Northeast, according to Lt. Gary Grove of the Grand Forks County Sheriff's Office.

Blossom Contreras and Juan Noles were injured and taken to Altru Hospital for treatment of face and head injuries from broken glass and the impact of hitting the moose. They were released by the next day.

The moose flew over the top of the vehicle, smashing the front and rear windows and was killed on impact, Grove told Forum News Service. No further information on the moose and whether it was a male or female was available, he said.

North Dakota doesn't offer the traditional woodland and swampland habitat moose are supposed to prefer—according to the literature, at least—but the animals are doing well in much of the state.

"I wouldn't say you see moose regularly, but our troopers, when they're out patrolling, they come across them probably once a month," said Sgt. Adam Dvorak of the North Dakota Highway Patrol Northeast Region office in Grand Forks.

The North Dakota Game and Fish Department offers a moose season everywhere except the far southwest part of the state and the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Hills, areas with more traditional habitat where moose populations are in decline.

Game and Fish issues the once-in-lifetime licenses by lottery and this year offered a record 334 moose tags, an increase of 89 from 2017 and 203 more than in 2016.

Moose numbers in Minnesota have declined to the point where the Department of Natural Resources no longer offers a hunting season.

Moose incidents

Over the years, Grove said he's responded to maybe a half-dozen moose-vehicle accidents, including one several years ago on U.S. Highway 2 near Grand Forks Air Force Base.

He was driving east toward Grand Forks when he met a westbound vehicle.

"There were only two cars on the road," Grove said. "All of a sudden, I see brake lights going on in my mirror and I'm like, 'there's nothing to stop for there,' so I take the median, go around and I come up behind this guy in the middle of the road."

Approaching the vehicle, Grove recalls seeing the smashed windshield, and a stunned driver still behind the wheel.

"I had to pry the door open, and the windshield's about a half-inch from this guy's nose," Grove said. "I said 'Sir, are you all right?'

"He said, 'What the hell did I hit?' and there's about 60 pounds of moose (dung) on his hood. He had no clue because moose are black and brown, and you don't see them."

Dvorak said the Highway Patrol receives reports of about two moose collisions a year in the Northeast Region, a number that has held steady in his 16 years with the department.

"There might be a few more that aren't reported to us, but generally moose strikes are reported," Dvorak said. "I bet if you averaged it out over the years, it would be two a year every year."

North Dakota no longer tracks such collisions and only requires motorists to file an accident report if there's personal injury, Dvorak said. Minnesota doesn't specifically track moose-vehicle collisions, either, said Dave Boxum, a public information officer for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety in St. Paul.

High-risk times

Typically, collisions are most apt to occur in the fall during breeding season, when moose are in rut and on the move; the risk increases at night.

"A moose is a big, black animal so during the day, they're very visible, but at night, they're completely camouflaged," Dvorak said. "They're very hard to see, and your headlights are usually down below the body.

"It's kind of like a horse—that high-profile animal is difficult to see for motorists, and if you're not paying attention or you're driving too fast and outdriving your headlights, hitting one can be catastrophic."

His advice: Slow down at night.

"If you can drop that speed 10 to 20 miles an hour if you're in a known area with animals, that's going to greatly increase your safety traveling at night," Dvorak said. "If you're riding a motorcycle at night, definitely drop that speed limit down.

"Just because it's the speed limit doesn't mean you have to travel that fast. You can definitely drive slower."

Brad Dokken

Brad Dokken is a reporter and editor of the Herald's Sunday Northland Outdoors pages. Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and joined the Herald staff in 1989. He worked as a copy editor in the features and news departments before becoming outdoors editor in 1998. He also writes a blog called Compass Points. A Roseau, Minn., native, Dokken is a graduate of Bemidji State University. 

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