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Woodpeckers Pound Out Peck of Problems in Idaho Power Poles : Mountains: The vigorous birds knock out huge holes for their nests, thus weakening supports.

ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

That drumming in the woods along the Salmon River is the pileated woodpecker drilling holes in wooden power poles.

It could also be the sound of ratepayers’ coins rattling away to pay for the damage.

The 18-inch-tall woodpecker knocks huge holes in the poles for its nests, undermining the supports for power lines that serve central Idaho mountain towns, including Sunbeam and Stanley.

“We’ve had woodpecker problems in the past, but nothing of this magnitude,” said Frank Corrales Jr., finance and administration director for the Salmon River Electric Co-Op.

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“It definitely has an effect on our cash flows.”

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It could also wreak havoc for customers such as those in Stanley, often the nation’s coldest point, if the weakened poles fall.

The pileated woodpecker is black and white with a red crest. When it gets busy pecking logs for insects or making a nest, it knocks out chips the width of a pinkie, Corrales said.

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It may peck out a nest five feet down from the hole’s entrance. That leaves just a wooden shell standing up against wind, ice and snow on the cables.

The woodpeckers have always caused some damage.

However, wildlife biologist Chuck Harris of the state Fish and Game Department said Idaho’s long-running drought has probably dramatically increased the population because drought-weakened trees bring insect infestations, and the birds flock in to feed on them.

On a fall 1993 inspection of the power poles between Holman Creek upriver to Stanley, linemen found 100 in need of repair, including six that had to be replaced. That was about a third of the poles on that line.

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That damage cost ratepayers about $200,000 in 1994, about $350 per customer. No one will even venture a guess what the bill will be in 1995.

Corrales said the co-op, which gets its electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration, is working with the Fish and Game Department and other agencies to find a solution.

The woodpecker is a nongame species, protected by federal law and therefore off-limits to hunters. Shooting them, a last resort, would require federal approval.

Plastic mesh was wrapped around the poles, but the birds drilled right through it.

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A heavy-gauge wire mesh could be used, but officials fear that would make it too hard for linemen to scale the poles with cleated boots.

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And the wire mesh would become hot from being that close to the power lines.

Steel poles would solve the problem, but they cost 50% more than wood and the power would be out to customers for an extended period during installation.

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And the co-op has failed to find a wood preservative or chemical that keeps the birds from jackhammering away at the poles.

“It isn’t just a matter of them having a place to live,” said Mark Collinge, state Animal Damage Control director. “They live to drill holes.”


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