Province condemned for inaction on moose dangers

Barb Sweet & James McLeod
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John Neil holds a picture of his son, Johnathon, who lost his life in a moose-vehicle accident in 2010. At left is Johnathon's grandmother Joyce Neil. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

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.

See NOT, page A2

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.

Organizations: SOPAC, RCMP, Western Transportation Institute Montana State University People Action Committee Department of Transportation and Works

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, South River, Barrens Road Canmore Banff National Park.According U.S. New Brunswick Mount Pearl Goulds

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Recent comments

  • Angry
    April 03, 2011 - 12:36

    Is everyone speeding, not paying attention, and wreckless?...I think not. Time to wake up people. You can't put a price tag on a human life. Could be your loved ones next. Here was a young man with a head on his shoulders... bright future ahead of him, 1 month to getting his journeyman electrician, just bought a new home, going to be married and start a family... all gone in the blink of an eye. How many more people have to suffer and live with the consequences? Something has to be done now. Every time your loved ones go through the door, it's nothing but a worry until they reach their destination. Are we going to continue to live in fear? NOW IS THE TIME TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!!! Fencing obviously works. Do the research... stop complaining about the cost... it's going to be spent somewhere else that really doesn't matter. WAKE UP!!!

  • Ed
    April 01, 2011 - 18:07

    The answer it seems to me is to slow down when driving at night. Speed on the highways should always be determined by current road / visual conditions. That's the only real solution to moose/vehicle and vehicle/vehicle accidents. We are always asked to do something to protect people who do not seem to want to take some sensible actions to protect themselves. I certainly would support a significant increase in hunting licenses to reduce the moose population. Memorial University supposedly is populated by the best and brightest of the province but a few years ago we (the taxpayers) paid to have a chain link fence installed through the campus to stop them from walking out in front of vehicles on Prince Philip Drive. Geeez, we don't even do that for our primary schools. Now we have a class action lawsuit against the government (read this as the taxpayers of Newfoundland) by people who were involved in accidents or had family members involved in one of those accidents. If some judge is foolish enough to agree with them, the taxpayers will pay again. Not that they are suing for the money ... they say. No, they are suing to ensure things are done to protect drivers who will not slow down to protect themselves. I would however be very surprised if, having won, they were given a choice of taking the money or using it to construct the fence , they elect to fund the fence construction. Lets recognize the fact that lawsuits against the "government" are really lawsuits against the taxpayers of this province, they are the ones who fund the government. The suits are not against the government employees, the politicians or the ministers. So for all residents who support these suits, you are telling them to sue you and your neighbours whose taxes fund our provincial government. I certainly do have empathy for the people who have lost family members due to road accidents or any other means but the taxpayers of Newfoundland are not at fault.

  • stephen
    April 01, 2011 - 17:55

    I think a bigger cull would be advisable and allow the meat to be sold(,WITHOUT TO MUCH BS).I don,t hunt moose,but i would certianly buy a quarter of meat,especially packaged and reay to cook. Like a lot of Nlfders up along there may be a viable market,as well as the province itself.. just a thought.

  • Penney
    April 01, 2011 - 17:04

    Why won't people accept responsibility for their own actions? Why must they always blame others for the consequences of their own actions? I travel the TCH to St. John's on a regular basis. I always adjust my speed to take into account the road and climatic conditions. The posted speed LIMIT is the MAXIMUM speed a motorist may drive under IDEAL driving conditions. In the dark, rainy, icy, snowy conditions, you have to slow down and adjust your speed accordingly. I do so, and there is always a steady stream of cars, SUVs and trucks hauling out and passing me like I was standing still. Five minutes down the road, I'll see the same vehicles off the road, with their hazard lights on because they had to drive 130 km/h on an icy road, with drifting snow and in the dark.l Since getting my driver's license 20 years ago, I've probably had several hundred moose run across the road in front of me. I had some close calls, but I always managed to brake or avoid the animal, because I had those extra few seconds of reaction time that are everso crucial. Speeding, talking on your cell phone, putting on make-up, fiddling with your GPS or watching a DVD, etc... ensures that if an animal pops up out of the ditch, you aren't going to have time to stop or swerve. Who's fault is it in that case? The moose? Government for not killing all the moose? Or, perhaps it is the driver? Just as in rear-end collisions, legally, it doesn't matter if the driver in front stops suddenly/short. It is the responsibility of the driver following to have care and control of his vehicle and to ensure that he has sufficient time/distance to safetly stop in time. Mr. Nippard and his organization may have their hearts in the right place, but we need less emotionalism and more logic interjected into this debate. We don't need to spend hundreds of millions on moose fencing. More police on the roads and heftier fines for speeding, negligence with 100% enforcement will save far more lives. If the government has an extra $100-$200 million dollars floating around, I'd much rather they spend it fixing the ruts in our highways, along with the potholes and eroded shoulders.

  • linda
    April 01, 2011 - 16:42

    I really was annoid to read that some of you put a dollar amount on human life.....I believe the government should be cutting back in their own sandbox and forking out the money for these fenses.......instead of blaming an accident on the driver......Im sure if one of the politician's loved ones was killed or injured there would be something done lickety split.......I personally dont live in NFLD but I have relatives and friends there and I say keep fighting eventually something has to give.......

  • Bill
    April 01, 2011 - 16:30

    Does the government have a deal with the owners of supermarket chains to keep moose off the tables of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. A large cull of moose could significantly affect the bottom line of these interests. I wonder? I have never heard one,-- not one intelligent reason as to why moose are left to proliferate on the island or the mainland as they do. Can anyone tell me? I'd love to have a rational explanation. One sane person tell me. Please!!! I do recall when the only way to get a moose licence was to have a letter from Jesus signed by the devil. I could be hung for writing that but it was probably true. Is there an argument? a discussion? a conversation? about this whole mess. If social networking can get Kha'daffy' out of Libya maybe we can farm the moose, package him up and and sell our troubles to the starving peoples of the world. There's an industry there, boys. No fish? I think I'll sell moose nets. We have to investigate other resources. If moose had white fur and flippers there wouldn't be too many of them around, I'll guarantee you that. Where's Greenpeace now ? No interest in protecting little tiny children from 2000 lb. behemoth highway monsters. No boy, the moose is too ugly. No good exposure there. The sad thing is that as the population of boomers grows older the interest in the moose hunt will certainly decline only lending to the increase in the population of moose. Maybe someone should come up with a video game to teach our little computer nerds how to bag a moose. What a contribution that would be. I'm working on a 'moose zapper' myself. Too bad we can't domesticate them and keep them as house pets. "Hey Freddy, the moose wants to go potty." But that might be the next proposal from all these well educated politicians who seem to know so much as they draw big fat salaries and pensions and seem to have no trouble dismissing other peoples horrors and sorrows with nar'y a damp eye. Election issue?? I think so. The timing could not be better. After all, they are your children; and mine.

  • Judy Benson
    April 01, 2011 - 14:32

    You can't blame government for everything that goes wrong in your life. A cousin of mine had more than a few accidents involving moose, and he still drove too fast. He wrecked a lot of cars, but was lucky enough to walk away from each accident, and he still didn't slow down. You won't eliminate moose vehicle accidents by building fences.

  • Edward F. Hiscock
    April 01, 2011 - 13:15

    Fencing is definately not the answer to moose accidents. It would be a waste of money and it would not work. There would still be accidents no matter how much fencing is done. High speed is the cause and people have to learn to slow down and be a lot more careful than they are or sooner or later speeding drivers will have accidents, moose or no moose. There is far to much wreckless speeding going on. I've seen it first hand. I have driven from St. John's to Vancover and back five times and have witnessed speeding and moose accidents in northern Ontario as well as NL. Moose DO NOt attack vehicles on the road as some people would like to make us think.I beleive that speedind drivers who hits a moose should be ticketed. "Good luck with the law suit against the Gov. "

  • nfld resident
    April 01, 2011 - 12:12

    didn't our federal government spend a small fortune putting a fence around down town Toronto last year to protect world leaders from migrating herds of protesters? .. maybe we can get that used fencing at a bargain?.. all joking aside, this is a serious issue and my deepest sympathies to those that have been hurt or killed and i mean no offence to them...but having driven Moose infested highways most of my life, i need to agree with our province's stance and put the onus on drivers to be more aware and to slow down, while staying off our unlit highways after dark... i have had many encounters with these beasts and if not for my greatly, reduced speed, i would not be making this comment today.

  • Blue Note
    April 01, 2011 - 12:00

    Well I visted New Brunswick last year and they have a fence along a certain parts of the highway and this seems to have really helped to cut down on vehicle collisions with moose. Our government is not interested in doing anything unless it is a grand scheme like the Churchill Falls project which is actually going to cost NL more for electricity in the long run. Good luck to

  • DON
    April 01, 2011 - 10:37

    It appears that Minister Wiseman is an expert at dissembling and spinning the facts. Does anyone remember his dismal performance during the Eastern Health scandal? The RCMP/RNC stats may be inaccurate, so what? How many collisions with moose which caused property damage were never reported? How many near collisions with moose have never been reported? What is the Minister's point? Is Wiseman saying that we should not worry because there were less than 771 moose/vehicle collisions? Is Wiseman content with only 700 or 650 or 234 collisions? Is Wiseman blaming the victims here like he did during the Eastern Health scandal? Even one injury or death caused by a moose collision is unacceptable just as even one injury or death caused by faulty medical tests or cover-ups of medical incompetence is unacceptable. It appears that Minister Wiseman clearly does not live up to what his surname implies. Minister Wiseman should have been removed from Cabinet years ago and should resign now!

  • Flingo
    April 01, 2011 - 09:35

    "...fencing costs about $60 a metre, with an extra $30 to install in rock." So call it $100.00, all in. $200.00 to do both sides of the road. One kilometre of fence is $100,000. How many kilometres of moose-plagued highway do we have in this province? Now double that. What are your priorities for the money.

  • MBC
    April 01, 2011 - 09:24

    Every NLer should support SOPAC. We are stressed out driving the road in NL due to the moose problem. Its stressful enough with drivers on cell phones and texting while driving. I do not drive after darkness because it too stressull with so many moose. All I can saw is that Minsters Hedderson and Wiseman should get off their rearend and take action recommended by SOPAC.

  • brett
    April 01, 2011 - 09:08

    The other big issue regarding the accidents is small communities and lack of population density. It seems poorly done to mention it, but when you live in an area without people, you are going to get more wildlife. The lack of people doesn't discourage the wildlife from being near you, and it also means you have a smaller pool of people from whom to collect taxes to pay for services.

  • Brett
    April 01, 2011 - 08:54

    $60/meter + $30/meter installation where there is rock... everywhere... so $90/meter... Ok - about 1200km from one end of the TCH to the other in NL. 2 sides of the highway... That's: 1200*2*1000*90 = $216,000,000 to install. Sure maybe we don't need the *whole* way with fencing, but once up - the moose will try to pass at other areas. What will be the cost of maintaining the fencing? Say 10%? Will we build fences on any of the long stretches of road off the TCH? 500,000 people live in NL/Lab. That's $432 a person, or at a labour utilization rate of 65% $664 per paying taxpayer. What while this is insensitive to the couple who lost their son (but to me so is tying action you want to their pain to try to meet your agenda). How many accidents involved excessive speed, speed in poor weather conditions/lighting, or inebriation? I am not saying anything about this individual who lost his life, but I have seen other accidents in the paper of the last number of years and alcohol has been a factor. Instead of trying to make an emotional decision why don't we look at the facts. Just the facts. I already posted to the farce of the idea that the province is flush with money since we still have a debt/gdp ratio of 35%.

  • Sparky
    April 01, 2011 - 08:37

    It is really sad to read of there son,they say time heals but you guys will never forget. Alot of families have been affected by the moose problem in this province but the only thing that I have heard of over the years is "cutbacks in moose licences", but during election time,they all make promises! Those animals are UGLY & STUPID LOOK`N,I say have a large moose kill & really cutback on the population!

  • flexxa
    April 01, 2011 - 08:29 disrespect to the Neil's and to others injured but speed and driver attention are the most significant factor in these accidents. Do we need to cull the moose population? Sure - but $100/m for fencing along our highways? We can't afford schools, hospitals, infrastructure nor the wages to keep up with inflation.

    • Holly
      April 01, 2011 - 17:57

      But we're talking about the loss of lives and no dollar value can be assigned to that.

    • Christine Baldwin
      April 01, 2011 - 20:29

      Cull the moose population??? YES!! And Flexxa!! If speed is a factor then Government has to reduce the speed limit; put more RCMP out to enforce new limits! OR do they need to reduce the moose population as guv allows us?? to expand into wilderness areas? I see a poster on a school staff room that says: if all of your students are failing (through your methods) then who is the SLOW learner?? OOps! I think? that comes from the dept of Education!

  • Sad Heart
    April 01, 2011 - 07:56

    Not only is it the danger of the potential accident, but also the nervousness that comes from having to drive the highway at night. Over the years I have seem many moose on the highways after dark and for those of us who reside outside of St. Johns, we find that we must often travel the highways for shopping, appointments and the like. Now with more bypass roads going through and around St. Johns & CBS, there is an increased concern for residents using those roads too. It is not a nice feeling of being anxious when driving just incase you might see a moose. While I know the government has been proactive in cutting back the trees along the highway, I think they should be checking to see what else can be done - issue more hunting licences maybe, make it year round hunting. In my opinion - no one's life has a price on it and no one should have to deal with such a tradegy. I see how the Neil family is grieving for the loss of their son and I hope that I never have to deal with anything like this. My heart goes out to them. Johnathon was a wonderful young man with a very bright future! His life cut short when maybe it could have been avoided. God bless his family!

  • Robert
    April 01, 2011 - 07:50

    200 years ago our own Beothucks understood a fence will direct caribou to where they needed them to go. The fences they used simply used the trees in the immediate area. There were no nails, no wire and were maintained for many hundreds of years. There are numerous "make work projects" all over this province each and every year. We have inmates doing nothing. We have traffic fines going unpaid for years. Surely a project that saves lives and life is not too much to expect.

    • Student
      April 01, 2011 - 16:34

      It's actually pretty interesting that I just finished a report regarding this fencing, and it can't be compared to BC and New Brunswick, as our highways are more complex. Fencing Systems are more economical to install on new highways rather than existing highways. And as for the cost, it ranges anywhere from $80,000 to over $100,000 to install one kilometre of the fencing. And as for brush being cleared, I am a night, highway driver, and I think it is wonderful. You can see the sides of roads clearer and spot a moose more easily. I think our tax dollars can be better spent on upgrading roads, pavement, and more signage. Just my opinion.

    • Student
      April 01, 2011 - 16:37

      And as for the maintenance, I seen someone made a comment below, and he/she is absolutely right. Annual maintenance costs average 10% of installed cost. After Unusuable snowy and icy winters, it can run more.