RESIDENTS of several New England states have been having close encounters with creatures of the large, furry, and wild kind: Moose populations are growing steadily in northern New England.Although many people see the growth as a boon to tourism, it is also creating some problems. More of the animals are wandering onto roadways, causing collisions and fatalities, both animal and human. Wildlife officials say they expect the number of moose roaming into residential areas to rise. These events used to be unusual, says Howard Nowell, chief of the game management and research division at the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. But "we're beginning to see [these things happen] more and more as moose expand across the Northeast." So far at least 11 moose have been sighted in residential sections of Massachusetts this fall. That's a significant increase from last year, according to state environmental police. Last week a bull moose showed up in Ludlow, a town in western Massachusetts. Police were able to tranquilize it with a dart gun and cart it off to a wooded area. In September, a moose that rambled into Natick, a Boston suburb, was not so fortunate. Police stirred public ire when they decided to shoot the animal. They were con cerned lest tranquilizing cause it to react violently before succumbing to the drug, thus endangering the onlookers. Moose visits are more common during the fall mating season, when bulls tend to travel hundreds of miles. By the end of the 19th century, unregulated hunting and loss of forest habitat to agriculture decimated moose herds in Vermont and New Hampshire, while Maine's moose population diminished substantially. Vermont began protecting the animals in 1896; New Hampshire and Maine followed in the early 1900s. Northeastern moose herds are thriving now. Although all three Northern New England states say they are far from the point where moose populations are out of control, New Hampshire and Vermont are increasing public education efforts and starting moose management plans. In New Hampshire, which has an estimated 4,000 moose, 174 moose - an all-time high - and four people have been killed in vehicular collisions this year. "Brake for moose" signs are prominent on state roads. Recreational areas, restaurants, and motels provide bumper stickers, posters, and pamphlets that list safety tips and facts. The state, which reopened its moose hunting season in 1988, is considering extending the season. Vermont is examining whether to begin a limited hunting season. The moose population there is estimated at 1,000, and moose deaths from vehicle collisions have almost doubled from last year, says Cedric Alexander, chairman of the moose management team for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. In Maine, a hunting season helps control the moose population, which is estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000.