PA’s porcupine debate: how best to study unique creature

Posted on: May 2, 2016 | Bob Frye | Comments

Blog--PorcupinesShould porcupines be classified as a furbearer in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania’s porcupines are one step closer to being classified as a furbearer.

Not everyone’s happy about it.

Pennsylvania Game Commissioners gave preliminary approval to a measure at their April meeting to consider porcupines the same as coyotes, foxes, raccoons and such. Final approval could come when the board next meets in July.

Keele Roen, a senior instructor in wildlife technology at Penn State-DuBois and chairwoman of the mammal technical committee for the Pennsylvania Biological Survey, took exception to the move.

The commission has no porcupine management plan, she said. It has no way of knowing how porcupine hunting – which has led to an estimated take of about 51,000 animals since 2011 – is impacting populations, she added. Nor does it have a real handle on where porcupines exist and in what number.

The scientists who serve on the Survey’s technical committee aren’t convinced classifying the animal as a furbearer – which could lead to trapping – is a good idea for those reasons, she said.

“We’re concerned it may be premature,” Roen said.

Commissioner Dave Putnam of Centre County, who’s been the chief proponent of the reclassification, defended the move, however.

For starters, he said the change does not mean porcupine trapping will commence immediately.

“We’re authorizing a trapping season. We’re not mandating a trapping season,” he said.

There is not one scheduled for this fall. The earliest a trapping season could occur would be 2017-18, he said, and only then if commission biologists recommend one. If that comes to pass, he said, having the porcupine classed as a furbearer will make it easier to collect information on the species and those pursuing them.

Roen there are other, non-consumptive, ways to get that information without trapping. The committee would prefer the commission pursue those first, she added.

Members are not opposed to taking porcupines overall, she said. But the animal is a long-lived, slow-to-reproduce species, and there are fears that the harvest already occurring in “potentially unsustainable.”

Putnam said that’s unlikely. The state is home to a lot of old forest right now, and that’s allowed the species to greatly expand its range over the past 40 to 50 years, he said.

“Personally, I don’t think the porcupine is in any great danger,” he said.

But the work commission biologists will put into studying the animal, before or after trapping begins, will provide more answers, he added.

“Our knowledge of porcupines will increase greatly over the next five years,” Putnam said.

Bob Frye is the everybodyadventures.com editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or bfrye@535mediallc.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodyadventures.com.

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Bob Frye is a storyteller with a passion for all things outdoors. He hunts, he fishes, he hikes, he camps, he paddles, backpacks and snowshoes depending on the season. If he’s not an expert at anything, it’s because he’s passionate to try a little bit of everything.