Kodiak cables a snack for bear

James BrooksJuneau Empire

Kodiak residents are used to garbage-tossing bears and bears that prowl hiking paths, but one bear in the Buskin River valley is causing a different kind of problem for the Coast Guard Communications Station.

Early this month, a bear chewed on communications and control cables, damaging them so severely that one of the Coast Guard's antennas was disabled. Thanks to winter weather, the partially buried cables can't be repaired until spring.

"From my understanding, it happens fairly regularly," said Lt. Cmdr. Paul Salerno, commander of the communications station. "It has happened in the past and it is something we have to manage; we are working right in bear valley."

Salerno arrived in Kodiak this summer, and while he's dealt with other outages before, he admitted that a bear-caused outage was pretty unusual for him.

The outage was first reported in a Coast Guard blog posting by Seaman Justin Hergert, who speculated that the bear might have been attracted to a cable by its electrical current or the hissing sound of air through the cables.

Bear biologist and Alaska Department of Fish and Game supervisor Larry Van Daele has a different theory.

"They like rubber for some reason," he said.

Van Daele has seen cases of bears eating rubber rafts and even four-wheeler seats.

"I don't know if it's the mouth feel or the taste they like," he said.

Kodiak residents have long tried different methods to protect rubber objects from bears, even going so far as to rub cayenne pepper on them.

The only sure-fire method, Van Daele said, is to store them inside or, in the case of cables, to bury them or encase them in metal or concrete.

In the Coast Guard's case, the cables are mostly underground but emerge from the ground just before they reach the antennas.

"Sometimes we can patch them but if we can't, we pretty much have to run the entire length again," Salerno said.

Until spring, the Coast Guard will rely on other antennas to communicate with far-flung ships and aircraft; the bear damage is not expected to cause problems.

Salerno said he'll continue to think of long-term solutions.

"We have to coexist with them," he said of the bears.

Kodiak Daily Mirror