Nancy and John Neil, clutching a photo of their son Johnathon, wept as they listened to research wildlife biologist Tony Clevenger condemn the provincial government Thursday for its inaction on reducing moose-vehicle accidents.
“This has got to stop before more people lose their lives,” John Neil said before the news conference.
The South River couple’s son was killed in September 2010 on his way to work across Tilton Barrens Road.
The 22-year-old had planned to write his journeyman electrician’s test in October and had just bought a home with his fiancée, Kayla Evans.
This province is wealthy and there’s no reason why its government shouldn’t be doing more to reduce moose-vehicle accidents, Clevenger said.
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Not using proven methods: researcher
Clevenger, a researcher in Canmore, Alta., who works with the Western Transportation Institute at Montana State University, wrote a report for the Save Our People Action Committee (SOPAC).
He said while moose densities in the province are among the highest in the world, the provincial Department of Transportation and Works is not using proven highway mitigation practices — such as fencing — to reduce the accidents.
“The Newfoundland government is misleading public and inaccurate when indicating that there is little that can be done (practically nothing) other than rest sole responsibility on motorists to avoid collisions with moose (be aware and informed; slow down) and by clearing brush from the sides of highways to increase driver visibility,” Clevenger wrote in his report.
He said clearing brush might actually make the problem worse by drawing moose to highway right-of ways.
“Fencing can be put up very quickly. It’s relatively inexpensive and it’s extremely effective in reducing animal-vehicle collisions,” Clevenger said.
“I don’t know what it will take for government to do something here. … Maybe it is (former premier) Danny Williams getting in a moose-vehicle collision or someone important to raise the awareness.”
Clevenger said Newfoundland and Labrador’s terrain is no different from other jurisdictions where wildlife fencing has been erected. He said the fencing or a combination of fencing and wildlife over- and underpasses have been proven effective.
He said he has been studying them for 15 years in Banff National Park.
According to SOPAC, which obtained numbers from the RNC and RCMP, there were more than 771 moose-vehicle accidents in this province last year.
However, when the issue was raised in the House of Assembly Thursday, Environment Minister Ross Wiseman said the numbers given by the RCMP were wrong.
Wiseman produced a letter from the RCMP which in which Chief Supt. Rick Noble said that the number reflects every accident report which contains the word “moose.”
“This has got to stop before more people lose their lives.” - John Neil
“Unfortunately, the files where the word ‘moose’ appeared were not reviewed for context or content,” Noble said.
In question period, Liberal Leader Yvonne Jones sparred with Wiseman, asking where the government’s moose management plan was.
Wiseman responded by saying the government is managing the issue, and is increasing the annual number of moose licences.
Clevenger said the provincial government hasn’t done adequate research on the feasibility of making the roads safer from moose-vehicle accidents, while U.S. states and other provinces, like New Brunswick are investing in methods like fencing. While moose is the primary danger here, deer, elk, caribou and bear are threats in other jurisdictions.
“The measures may seem costly, but they pay for themselves in a relatively short term,” Clevenger said.
He has said fencing costs about $60 a metre, with an extra $30 to install in rock.
SOPAC founder Eugene Nippard said the government stopped talking to the lobby group last July.
A class-action lawsuit related to the most serious moose-vehicle accidents was filed earlier this year by lawyer Ches Crosbie.
Watching video clips of news reports the highway danger of moose, including the story of how west coast musician Ben Bellows became a quadriplegic in 2003, Nippard said he was shaking recalling his own accident.
Nippard said there are roughly 150,000 moose in the province and hunting licences don’t even keep up with the annual birthrate.
“It should be on the election platform,” he said of the upcoming fall provincial election.
“We are not all stupid drivers … Government loves to chalk it up to speeding.”
Mount Pearl Coun. Lucy Stoyles, whose daughter was seriously injured in an accident, became emotional watching the Neils hold the photo of their son.
“We are not giving up,” she said. “We’re going to fight government to the end.”
Linda Bishop of Goulds had to give up her 35-year pyschiatric nursing career six years ago when vertebrae in her back were shattered after hitting a moose five minutes away from her home.
She attends two physiotherapy sessions a week just to function.
“I’m just a statistic,” she said of government’s response.
Among the measures SOPAC has asked for is it wants the provincial government to issue more moose hunting licences, create an emergency number for motorists to call to have “nuisance” moose removed from highways, install lights where possible on major highway intersections, put flashing lights on warning signs and enforce a reduced speed at night between dusk and dawn.