Moose and the Alaska Railroad

by Frank Dewey

Frank DeweyEach winter as the snows grow deeper and deeper many creatures of the "Far North" move toward trails established long ago. These trails allow them to move from one feeding area to the next. Moose being the longest legged of all the northern creatures usually arrive in late November. The winter snows have driven them from the high passes where they spend their summers. Eventually they arrive at the roads and railroads since they were plowed clean of snow. As winter lengthens, the animals begin to eat all the food resources within easy reach. Food is scarce and if the snows are deep the animals will not even move a few feet to reach it. They begin to weaken and prefer to stay close to areas free from snow. Cows, pregnant or with first year calves are the first to suffer hunger and have encounters with trains or automobiles. Each year 500-1000 moose are killed on Alaska's roads and railways. The heavier the snow, the higher the number of fatalities. During Alaska's worst year (1989-1990), 749 moose were killed by the railroad, 1200 by highway traffic and 4400 starved to death in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.

Locomotive engineers do their best to avoid moose, but many times it is not possible. The Alaska Railroad runs pilot cars ahead of trains to scare off moose during heavy snow winters. Whenever larger animals are hit, the train dispatcher is contacted and given what, where and when it was hit. If it is deemed salvageable, a section hand is dispatched as soon as practical to salvage the animal. He then will drag it to the nearest crossing to be picked up by needy families and individuals. If it is not salvageable, it is left to give life to other creatures. Nothing goes to waste. Nature consumes it down to the very last piece. Even the bones are eaten by the shrews and mice.


© 1998 Frank Dewey