Deer, black bears, wolves electrocuted
One after another, a dozen animals and one vulture walked into an odd but "perfect storm" of electricity, all of them getting zapped to death in the Pinkham Creek drainage south of Eureka over a period of months.
Roger Pitman, operations superintendent at the Lincoln Electric Cooperative, said the situation wasn't discovered until Oct. 10 when a dangling power line finally was knocked out.
The utility's responding crew found - next to a downed power line - the carcasses of five whitetail deer, four black bears, two wolves, one coyote and a turkey vulture.
Sometime during the summer, a dry tree had fallen on the high-voltage line in a steep, isolated area about eight miles up the Pinkham Creek drainage, Pitman said.
"When it hit the line, the wires kind of floated about a foot off the ground," Pitman said, noting that had the line hit the ground it would have knocked out the power. "It was kind of a perfect storm."
Pitman and Tim Thier, the Eureka area biologist for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said that most likely the whitetail deer accidentally walked into the line first. And their carcasses attracted the predators one by one.
"I've worked here for 30-some years and I've never seen anything like it," Pitman said.
Thier said there have been similar cases involving deer being hit by trains and their carcasses luring in predators. "It's sort of a chain reaction," he said. "But I've never seen it relative to a power line before."
All of the animals were in varying stages of decomposition, an indication that they died over time.
Pitman said all of the animals made direct contact with the line, but that contact was not enough to ground out the power and neither was the dead, dry tree.
"It was such a hot, dry summer and it was on a dry, steep slope that is really rocky," he said.
"I suppose the folks up there might have seen a flicker every time something happened into the line," he added.
When the power was finally knocked out early Oct. 10, there was some snow on the ground. Amidst all the other carcasses, the Lincoln Electric crew found a large dead wolf, "still warm," Pitman said.
"There was snow on the ground," he said. "It was wet enough to cause an outage."
The situation would have been dangerous for people if it had been in a more accessible area.
"We're just thankful there weren't any two-legged creatures up there, except for the turkey vulture," Pitman said.