Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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Bears have hankerin’ for the power poles

By Joe Albert

Staff Writer

Bigfork, Minn. – Berries, nuts, and human garbage, it turns out,
aren’t the only things that attract bears.

In Bigfork, located north of Grand Rapids and east of Red Lake,
power poles that belong to a local power company seem to draw them
just as well.

‘They’re just chewing the dickens out of (the poles),’ said
Brian Buria, conservation officer in Bigfork. ‘For the 15 years
I’ve been up here, they’ve been having trouble with bears; it’s
always been a few poles, but never this many.’

Buria noted the North Itasca Electric Cooperative reported it
may need to replace as many as 20 power poles because bears have
chewed them so much. Neither he nor Jeff Ortman, CEO of the
cooperative, know why the bears target the power poles.

Damage to power poles has occurred in each of Ortman’s 32 years
with the company. The bears will stand on their hind legs and chew
as far as 6 feet up the pole. Eventually, they will chew enough of
the pole away that there’s a 5-inch core left and the company has
to replace it.

That costs between $700 and $800 per pole, but can cost up to
$3,000, depending on the time of year, Ortman said.

‘I guess we would kind of like to know ourselves (why the bears
like the poles),’ he said.

But theories abound. One is that the bears are attracted to the
humming, thinking honeybees are inside; another is that bears are
marking their territory; and one is that they’re attracted to the
preservative on the poles.

The last theory makes the most sense to Dave Garshelis, DNR bear
biologist in Grand Rapids.

‘We’ve always sort of speculated that it has something to do
with the particular poles that attract the bear and make it want to
rub or bite it,’ Garshelis said. ‘The better explanation is that it
has something to do with the smell of it.’

Though he can’t point to another area in the state where bears
have taken a liking to power poles, Garshelis assumes it happens
elsewhere. He also said that U.S. Forest Service signs have been

In other states, bears will mark trees, but that doesn’t happen
in Minnesota.

‘They don’t routinely do that in Minnesota, yet they do hit
these other man-made objects,’ Garshelis said. ‘The fact that we
see it as well on Forest Service signs – they use some sort of
preservative (on their sign poles) – and bears for whatever reason
are attracted to that and bite on it.’

While black bears are responsible for chewing the Minnesota
poles, there’s a study ongoing of brown bears in Greece, where
researchers are exploring a similar phenomenon. There, nearly 3,000
telephone poles have been chewed extensively, Garshelis said.

Around Bigfork, the hardest hit area has been about a 10-mile
stretch around Northome.

‘There might be one stretch that maybe one particular bear just
hammered a bunch of poles,’ Garshelis said.

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