Prickly problem: PGC may reclassify porcupines as furbearer
Harrisburg — In theory, Pennsylvania could have a porcupine trapping season sooner rather than later.
That doesn’t mean it will, though, apparently.
Pennsylvania Game Commis-sioners have given preliminary approval to a proposal to reclassify the prickly species as a furbearer. Final approval of the measure could come when the board next gets together in Harrisburg for its summer meeting in July.
That doesn’t mean there will be trapping this fall, said Commissioner Dave Putnam. Nor does it mean trapping will ever be allowed.
That’s all a maybe that depends on what the commission’s biologists say, he added.
“We’re authorizing a trapping season. We’re not mandating a trapping season,” he said.
The intent – and the idea was his – is to address some ongoing problems and perhaps create a solution, Putnam said.
For years, camp owners and others have been able to kill porcupines in “defense of their property,” so long as they reported them.
The animals can be destructive, he said.
“They will eat anything but steel in my experience,” Putnam said.
“Aluminum is like candy to them and I can show you where they have eaten aluminum diamond plate.
“They cannot use aluminum culverts in many areas in the north central and aluminum signs will be eaten there if a porcupine can get to them.
“I have seen them chew through a full jug of Clorox on more than one occasion. They shut down logging jobs frequently when they knock out the log skidders by eating through a hydraulic line.”
Putnam suggested – and commissioners adopted – a hunting season on porcupines several years ago in response to complaints about them and their damage.
It remains in effect. Currently, hunters can shoot porcupines in a season that runs from Sept. 1 to March 31. The daily limit is three, the season limit is 10.
The “primary purpose” of also making them a furbearer is to permit those who take them on accident to use them, Putnam said.
“The furbearer classification will permit the carcasses to be utilized when taken incidentally by trappers,” Putnam said.
He doesn’t expect trappers will target them specifically. Whereas western porcupines from places like Montana are valuable in the fur trade, the eastern ones are not nearly as valuable, he said.
If a commercial market develops for them, however, the commission could address that, he added.
Not everyone is convinced.
When commissioners last met in April, one of those who testified at their meeting was Keele Roen, a wildlife technology professor at Penn State-DuBois and chairwoman of the mammal technical committee for the Pennsylvania Biological Survey.
She said that group of scientists – who independently keep tabs on wildlife and wildlife issues – is not opposed to the harvest of porcupines in general.
But members are worried that the commission is moving too quickly on an animal it knows very little about, she added.
Commission estimates suggest hunters have taken 51,000 porcupines since 2011, she said.
What those numbers don’t say – and can’t say – is what the impact of that harvest is, she added.
The commission has no porcupine management plan, no estimate of populations size and no handle of range of distribution, she said.
Given that porcupines are long-lived and therefore slow to reproduce, more caution is on order, rather than opening the door to trapping, she said.
“We’re concerned it may be premature,” Roen said.
Putnam said the soonest the state could have a porcupine trapping season would be next fall, in 2017. Even that won’t happen unless biologists recommend one, he added.
They won’t, Putnam said, without answering the questions Roen said scientists most want answered, Putnam said.
But the only way to get that data is to allow for porcupine harvest, he said. That, he added, is how the commission deals with all game species.
Again, Roen wasn’t buying it. She said there are other ways to gather data, without having to harvest any animals.
As things stand now, the harvest from hunters alone might already be “potentially unsustainable,” she said.
She also said that no other nearby state manages porcupine as a furbearer.
That’s true, Putnam said. But that’s because most don’t even classify them as a game animal. Instead, they can be taken any time, regardless of seasons and bag limits.
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation, for example, lists porcupines – and red squirrels, woodchucks, English sparrows, starlings, rock pigeons and monk parakeets – as unprotected species.
“Unprotected species may be taken at any time without limit” so long as the taker has a hunting license, its rules read.
A hunting license is required to hunt unprotected wildlife with a bow, crossbow, or firearm.
The state is home to more old forest now than at any time in decades, Putnam said, and porcupines have expanded their range greatly as a result.
He suspects they’ll be fine, trapping or not.
“Personally, I don’t think the porcupine is in any great danger,” he said.