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Wired moose

By TIM MOWRY, Staff Writer

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s a bull moose hanging by its antlers from an electrical power line in the middle of the Alaska wilderness.

In one of those only-in-Alaska stories that will shock even the sourest of sourdoughs, a trophy-sized bull moose was accidentally strung up in a power line under construction to the Teck Pogo gold mine southeast of Fairbanks. The moose apparently got its antlers tangled in electrical wire before workers farther down the line pulled the line tight about two weeks ago.

The moose was suspended 50 feet in the air when workers, recognizing something was wrong, backtracked and found it.

The moose was alive when it was lowered to the ground but was later killed when officials from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game decided against tranquilizing it to remove the wires because they were worried the moose, already stressed, would die and the meat would not be salvageable as a result of the drugs.

The incident happened Oct. 5 at about 40 Mile Pogo Mine Road, which leads to the gold mine about 80 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

“It’s just an unbelievable story,” said Gabriel Marian, president of City Electric Inc., the contractor erecting the power line to the mine. “The only unfortunate part is we had to shoot the moose.

“It would be more of a feel-good story if we had let it down and it ran off,” he lamented.

The moose reportedly had an antler spread of 62 inches, a trophy bull by Alaska’s big game standards, though Dave Davenport, a technician for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Delta Junction who handled the original call on Oct. 5, is still in the process of finding the antlers, which are state property.

“I haven’t seen the antlers,” said Davenport. “I’m in the process of trying to get City Electric to turn over the antlers.”

The prevailing theory is that the moose came across the sagging and swaying wires and, in a testosterone-filled moment, decided to challenge the power line to a fight, as bull moose are known to do during the rut, or mating season.

“My guess is he was in full rut and probably seen that line moving out there,” and decided to fight, said Marvin Pickens, line construction manager for City Electric in Anchorage.

Workers didn’t know the moose was tangled in the line until they tightened it and detected a problem.

“There was nobody there to observe this happen,” said Marian, noting that workers were much farther up the line when they tightened it.

Crews can lay up to five miles of line at a time before tightening it with a giant hydraulic winch, said Pickens. It’s similar to stringing fishing line through the eyes of a fishing pole, he said. The line is pulled through leaders on the crossties at the top of the power poles and then winched tight with as much as 5,000 pounds of pressure, he said.

“As you’re pulling, it constantly droops up and down,” said Pickens. “My guess is that he was right in the middle of one of the sections when it got pulled up.”

The moose, which probably weighed in the neighborhood of 1,200 pounds, was likely suspended in the air for only a matter of minutes, said Marian.

“They figured it out right away,” he said. “It was just kind of hard to pull and it didn’t feel right to them, so they went out and investigated.”

The moose actually was tangled in what is known as static, half-inch cable that is strung up next to the power lines to serve as a lightning rod, said Pickens.

“I’ve been in this state 28 years and I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Pickens. “City Electric has been in business for 52 years and never had an incident like this.

“I can’t see how it could happen but it happened,” he said.

A pair of photos showing the moose hanging by its antlers began circulating on the Internet on Thursday. The first time Davenport saw a picture was Friday.

“Nobody told me he was hanging 50 feet in the air,” said a surprised Davenport.

“That’s one heck of a meat pole,” he quipped. “No bear is going to get that moose.”

State wildlife biologist Tom Seaton thought it was a hoax when he first saw the photos.

“If you believe in UFOs you might believe in this,” Seaton said on Thursday.

After being told the photo was authentic on Friday, Seaton was still skeptical. “I still find it hard to believe,” he said.

Fish and Game information officer Cathie Harms’ first thought when she saw the picture on Thursday was that it was computer-enhanced.

“I thought somebody did a Photoshop thing,” said Harms.

When she found out it was real, Harms still had a hard time fathoming it.

“Absolutely bizarre,” she said. “It’s unbelievable the combination of factors that came together for this to happen. That moose was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

It’s not uncommon for bull moose to challenge inanimate objects to a battle during the rut when testosterone has taken over. Most Alaskans have seen pictures of bull moose with swing sets, tire swings, lawn chairs and Christmas lights tangled in their antlers at this time of year, said Davenport.

“We’ve had them running down the main streets of Delta with shirts and pants hanging from their antlers after they get caught up in clotheslines,” he said.

Likewise, both Davenport and Harms have seen moose that died after getting tangled up in old telegraph wire that is strung through the woods.

Karl Hanneman, manager of public and environmental affairs for Teck-Pogo, called Davenport with the news. Hanneman had gotten a call from City Electric on Oct. 5 informing him “they had a problem” and he called both Fish and Game and the Alaska Bureau of Wildlife Enforcement in Delta Junction.

Davenport talked to Hanneman about two hours later and made the decision to have City Electric workers shoot the moose, based on reports he got about the animal’s condition.

“It was in pretty rough shape in talking to them,” said Davenport. Tranquilizing an animal at that point can be deadly, he said.

“If they’re really wore down, they’ll succumb to (the drugs) and die,” Davenport said. “Then you can’t salvage the meat because of the drugs in it.”

The meat was salvaged and donated to a local resident, he said.

City Electric workers did everything they could do to try and free the moose once it was lowered to the ground, but that proved impossible, said Marian, the company president. The moose was thrashing about trying to free itself, posing a threat to anyone who got near.

“They did their best to untangle it, but there wasn’t any possibility of doing that,” he said.

It remains to be seen how quickly the photos will spread on the Internet but there’s little doubt they will be a big hit, ADF&G;’s Harms said.

“It’s going to go nuts,” she said.

Now that the news is out and photos have hit the Internet, Marian is worried animal rights groups will get involved.

“There’s going to be people who figure we’ve done something wrong,” he said. “There’s no way we would ever have done this on purpose.

“This was a phenomenal surprise to everybody,” Marian said.

Submitted by R A C


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