Moose research flawed, expert tells court

Published on April 8, 2014

Serious flaws have marred the province’s strategy to reduce moose-vehicle collisions, says wildlife expert Tony Clevenger.

According to Clevenger, Newfoundland’s moose control policy between 2003 and 2011 was based on flawed science. And the collision mitigation methods in place at that time — public awareness campaigns, signs and brush cutting — were ineffective and poorly managed.

Clevenger, a Montana State University research scientist based in Alberta, testified Tuesday in the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador as part of the ongoing class-action lawsuit involving moose-vehicle collisions.

“I can see no explanation why the Newfoundland Department of Transportation and Works has not implemented the most effective and proven measures to mitigate (moose-vehicle collisions),” he said in a report presented to court.

“Proven mitigation methods are available today and have been for 10 years or more.”

Clevenger outlined a number of ways to reduce wildlife collisions, focusing extensively on highway fencing.  

It is by far the most effective way to reduce wildlife-vehicle collisions, he said, citing a 1996 report based on data from transportation agencies across the United States.

“Fencing was believed to be successful by 91 per cent of them,” he said.

That’s compared to only 24 per cent who reported public awareness campaigns to be effective and only seven per cent who reported having success with highway signs.

Brush cutting is regarded within the scientific community as a potentially effective way to reduce wildlife collisions, said Clevenger. But it must be used in concert with other measures. And there is no conclusive evidence that the cut area, while increasing visibility, does not attract more moose to the highway to graze.

Newfoundland’s departments of Transportation and Works and Environment and Conservation were “grossly inaccurate when indicating that the best mitigation measure is public awareness/education … and by clearing brush from sides of highways,” said Clevenger.

Beyond choosing strategies not endorsed by the most up-to-date science the government was not diligent in collecting data about its policies, Clevenger said.

“For over a decade, there is no information as to how effective their measures have been at reducing (moose-vehicle collisions) and there has been no change in strategy.”

Seven of 10 provinces have begun fencing sections of highway. B.C. has almost 500 kilometres fenced and since 2006 New Brunswick has fenced about 360 kilometres. Newfoundland, which has almost two moose per square kilometer — the highest density in North America — has 16 kilometres of highway fenced.

Several reasons put forward by the government for not fencing, said Clevenger, include high levels of snowfall and the remoteness of highways.

He contended, however, that a large amount of snow does not change the effectiveness of fencing, citing 60 kilometres of highway between Quebec City and Saguenay that has been effectively fenced despite snow levels similar to Newfoundland.

And remoteness is not an issue, he said. “It doesn’t require (fencing) all 900 kilometres of the highway.” Moose collisions are often localized in certain “hotspots,” so it’s most effective to locate these hotspots and fence them, he said.

Clevenger will be cross-examined by the province’s lawyers